Despite multiple setbacks, cancellations and the coronavirus, Google has finally given users a first look at the new Android 11. The public beta of the software was launched on June 12th, without any fanfare. Developers managed to get their hands on the software back in February, but now anyone can test out what’s new in Google’s latest operating system.
Android 11 was supposed to debut on May 12 at the 2020 Google I/O, which was cancelled due to the coronavirus. The digital version of the conference was also scrapped shortly after. The company then announced “The Android 11 Beta Launch Show” on June 3rd, which was also cancelled due to the protests against the death of George Floyd. Just like the OS, it seems like Android 11’s launch is destined to be without much attention. In terms of obvious features, there’s almost nothing of note in the new OS. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing new at all. Most of the improvements are under-the-hood.
New Media Player
The biggest update is a new media player in the Quick Settings interface. In its System UI guidelines video for developers, Google mentions a “dedicated persistent space” for key phone functionality. It seems like the media player is one of those spaces. The new player will be available above all the settings toggles, and works pretty much like in older versions of Android. Users will see developer-defined controls, seek bar and song info.
A new addition is the audio output picker, letting users choose between multiple BlueTooth devices and the phone speaker. Arstechnica noted that in this build, the picker does not identify Chromecast devices. Google has also added the ability for multiple media players at once, so users can easily switch between two music, podcast or video apps. The player remains persistent even after a reboot, which can be useful. Arstechnica noted that the player is persistent on the lock screen, even when there is no audio playing due to this. Right now, that could just be a bug Google will fix eventually.
In Quick Settings, the media player has two modes. The first is a compact display at the top of the notifications panel, where the player is squished on the left side of the display. This is very different from the mockup Google showed off in its developer blogs, so it’s likely that it will change. In this view (both in the mockup and beta), users get song info, controls and album art. Google’s mockups also show that users will be able to see the app name and audio output, but this is missing in beta 1. The expanded view lives above all the Quick Settings controls, but the mockup shows it will live below them. It is unclear if that is their final place, or if Google will tinker with it. The expanded player gets a seek bar and more controls.
Taking a cue from iOS 7, Google is bringing suggested apps to the Android 11 home screen. The apps will pop up in the dock, differentiated by a coloured circle. Any apps on the home screen get pushed one row upwards. Previously, suggestions lived in the App Drawer, and by moving to the home screen, Google has made the feature more prominent and easy to use. Suggestions dynamically change throughout the day, based on the users location, time and various other factors. Long-pressing a suggestion allows you to pin it to your home screen. To tailor suggestions, users can long press on the home screen > Home Settings > Suggestions.
Holding the power button now brings up a new Quick Controls interface. When tested on a Pixel 11, CNet found power options, Google Pay and cards, and finally controls for smart home devices. Users can fully control their smart home from this interface, and even view live video feeds from integrated cameras. It’s unclear right now how this will change for users without integrated smart home devices.
Google announced ‘Bubbles’ with Android 10, but cut it from the final release. The feature makes a return with the latest OS. Similar to Facebook Messenger’s Chat Head feature, the bubbles provide small persistent windows across the operating system. It allows users to continue a conversation no matter what app they are using.
Tapping the bubble opens a small window to read and send messages. Users can place the bubble anywhere on the screen when not in use, and drag them to the bottom to delete the bubble. To enable bubbles from a notification, tap on the bubbles icon on the bottom right corner of the notification. Right now, only Facebook Messenger works with bubbles, but other apps are expected to integrate with the feature before the full release of Android 11.
There are a few other interesting updates to the OS as well. Users will be able to schedule Dark Theme, based on sunrise/sunset in their timezone. There’s also a new privacy feature: One Time Permission. This will enable users to allow apps to access certain features like location, camera, microphone etc. for a single-use. There’s no word on whether the notification will pop up every time you open the app, but at least Google is giving you the option.
Screen recording is also coming to Android 11, which can be accessed from the Quick Settings option in the notification shade. There’s also Share Menu pinning, allowing users to pin apps they use frequently when sharing with a particular contact.
Of course, as with all things beta, things are very likely to change before Android 11 is released to the public in the coming months. If you want to test it out, you will need a Pixel 2 or higher or OnePlus device. Simply head over to the Beta Program website and sign up today. By the end of June, OPPO Find X2, Xiaomi Mi 10, Realme X50 Pro and Vivo NEX 3S users will also be able to run the beta.
Google is expected to launch the OS around September, in line with previous years. There’s no word on exactly which devices will support the OS, or when each OEM will release the software. Right now, most manufacturers promise two years of software support. So expect the following devices to eventually get the Android 11 update:
Samsung: Galaxy Z Flip, Galaxy Fold, Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy S20+, Galaxy S20, Galaxy S10 Lite, Galaxy Note 10 Lite, Galaxy Note 10+, Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy S10+, Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10e, Galaxy A71, Galaxy A51, Galaxy A31, Galaxy A21
If you liked this article, please check out more of our tech coverage!