Looking forward to some much-needed refinements
It feels like Android 12 has just been released, and the new OS still hasn’t made its way onto the vast majority of phones out there. But Google’s development cycle calls for a new Android version every year, and to ensure it’s free of bugs and applications are ready for it, the company opens up developer previews in the early months of the year, with more fully-featured betas following later on. Given the open-source nature of Android and the fact that there are so many people involved in the massive project, there are quite a few things we already know about Android 13 long before its official release date.
The first developer preview for Android 13 arrived in early February, granting us an early look at Google’s next major release. A month later, as expected, Google dropped Android 13 DP2, continuing to lay the groundwork ahead of the first beta release currently planned for April. Meanwhile, the company’s developer conference, Google I/O, is set for May 11th. Plan on getting an extensive glimpse into what’s to come with this year’s update. Generally speaking, Android 13 is likely to be focused on behind-the-scenes changes, especially in the wake of a total redesign with last year’s Android 12.
Unlike Android 13 DP1, which didn’t include a lot of changes not already seen in earlier 12L betas, DP2 has a lot going for it, both on and beneath the surface. While Google picked just a few changes to highlight as OTA files went out everywhere, we’ve found plenty of changes on our own, both big and small.
If you’re looking for visual changes, we’ve got them. Android 13’s new media player and output picker are finally here, and they’re as gorgeous as we’d hoped. Power and settings shortcuts have a new placement in the Quick Settings menu, making them easier to find and reach. We got our first official look at Material You’s new color choices, with three new modes for dynamic themes. Lock screen notification overflow has a new look, with a bar that adaptively resizes to the number of notification icons in it. Android’s getting an app drawer icon back in the taskbar, though only on tablet-sized displays. And although we haven’t seen it in action yet, a fancy new 3D wallpaper mode definitely sounds promising.
From left to right: DP2’s media player, profile icon picker, and per-app language settings.
If you dive into Android’s various settings, you’ll find even more that’s new. Do Not Disturb has been renamed “Priority mode,” continuing the ever-frustrating trend of Google messing with its names. Per-app language settings are now live, though they don’t work with every app. A handful of new vibration settings seem intriguing, especially with the new “media haptics” slider, though right now, it doesn’t seem to do much. Google has pushed its display and font size options together under one menu, and the screen saver picker has an all-new look. Finally, Android’s touch indicators when recording have returned after they went missing in 12L.
As with any developer preview, there’s a bunch of unfinished and hidden features as well. A new “kids mode” taskbar brings back some classing Android elements from yesteryear. Smart home controls will finally be usable without requiring your phone be unlocked, though it’s not ready in this build. A split-screen feature from 12L lets you puill up two apps at once in multiple windows from notifications. Android 13 will warn you about excessive battery usage, particularly from apps running in the background. And a whole slew of hidden features, including an automatic dark mode and new placement for the app drawer’s search box, help round out a substantial release.
That’s a lot to cover, and always, you can dive even deeper into our Android 13 DP2-specific coverage to learn more.
Aside from all the new additions in DP2, we know a lot about what’s coming down the line for this year’s update.
All Android versions used to come with delicious, sweets-based codenames; remember Android 4.4 KitKat or Android 9 Pie? While Google doesn’t use these codenames for marketing purposes anymore, its developers still use them internally. For Android 13, this name is confirmed to be Tiramisu, following up on the not-publicly used Snow Cone for Android 12, Red Velvet Cake for Android 11, and Android 10’s Quince Tart.
Remember Android Beam, which allowed you to tap two phones to send links, files, and more to each other? It was replaced with Nearby Share, which doesn’t rely on NFC technology but instead on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct. But this tap-to-transfer method is just too handy and intuitive to vanish into Nirvana, and it looks like Google wants to resurrect it. As we exclusively covered, a similar method for sharing and playing media is bound to return to Android 13. At the moment, it’s codenamed “Media TTT” (tap to transfer), but it’s unlikely that Google will market it under this name.
So far, we’ve only got our hands on some non-functional demo process created by Google, showcasing how you need to move closer to a device to send or even play media, so it’s possible that you’d also be able to use it to connect to future smart home devices a la Apple’s Home Pod. We don’t know which technology it will be using, but NFC and UWB seem like the obvious candidates.
Android 13 could give us a selection of new palettes for extracting colors from the wallpaper. In addition to the existing so-called “tonal spot” colors, Google might give users or Android manufacturers access to three other methods: “Vibrant,” which differs ever so slightly in supplementary accents, “expressive,” which offers a wider range of colors that apparently even extent to colors not seen in the background, and “spritz,” a desaturated, nearly monochromatic theme. We got all the details and samples on this in our exclusive coverage, along with a more extensive preview in DP2.
Alongside the launch of Android 13 DP1, we’ve learned Material You themes are coming to devices from Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, and more. Seems like as good a time as any to get some new color choices.
Android has historically always been better at managing and displaying notifications than iOS, but there’s one thing we appreciate in Apple’s ecosystem — applications need to explicitly ask you for permission before they’re allowed to send notifications. It looks like Android 13 is set to follow suit, as XDA has spotted a new permission asking you to allow notifications for newly installed apps.
We’ve since also learned what this prompt will look like. Like most other permission prompts, it will pop up when an app first runs and requests the POST_NOTIFICATIONS permission. Your options will be binary, with you being able to either allow or deny notifications altogether — it’s unclear if you’ll be able to select specific channels only at this stage.
With Android 13 DP1, we’ve learned these new permissions won’t be mandatory for a while. Based on API requirements, the change won’t be enforced until sometime in 2023. And with DP2, we finally saw them go live, with apps prompting users to grant notification permission when first running.
Most of us tech-savvy folks know that we can just use our phones’ camera apps and point them at most QR code to scan it, but it looks like Google wants to make this a bit more obvious for those who might not be in on this. We exclusively covered that Android 13 could get a QR code scanning quick settings tile and some kind of lockscreen functionality. We’re unsure if this will just be a shortcut to a dedicated QR code-recognizing camera mode or if this will allow you to simply point your phone at a QR code while you’re on the lockscreen. In any case, with QR codes becoming so incredibly commonplace these days, anything that will make it easier to interact with them is probably a welcome addition for those who don’t live and breathe Android like we do.
In Android 13 DP1, we got our first real glimpse at the QR scanner quick settings toggle in the notification shade, though currently, it’s grayed out and inaccessible.
This is an exciting one for me, being someone who juggles English and German on my phone. As we exclusively covered, Android 13 could introduce an option that allows you to set your preferred language on a per-app basis. This might not sound too significant if you’re someone who can confidently use any and all features of an app in English in the US, but internationally, there are tons of apps that are optimized for some other native language, with their English versions being a badly translated afterthought. If you’re someone who still prefers to use their device in English but would love for some apps to work in a different language you’re just as fluent in, Android 13 might be a game changer. For me, that would be incredibly helpful for things like banking, public transit, and car sharing.
It took until Android 13 DP2, but we finally got our first look at these in action. They aren’t working on every phone
Android 12 introduced new draconian battery saving measures that make it even harder for apps to run in the background, summarized under the so-called PhantomProcessKiller. While this helps keep rogue developers in check, it also leads to unintended consequences for apps that absolutely need to run multiple heavy processes in the background, like the Linux terminal emulator Termux. Android 13 might introduce a toggle in developer options that will allow power users to turn off this measure for edge cases just like Termux.
Google is also developing a new feature called “TARE,” short for “The Android Resource Economy.” It’s supposed to monitor how apps run in the background and which tasks they perform, awarding and taking credits from apps to limit their ability to schedule unlimited jobs for the future. Since this is still in active development, we’ll likely have to wait until Google gives us proper documentation to understand exactly how it works.
Android 13 also looks to warn you about rogue apps taking advantage of excessive battery drain, specifically in the background. It’s only in Google’s documentation right now, so we’ll have to wait to see how it functions in the real world.
Ultra-wideband, or UWB for short, is an exciting technology enabling a whole slew of new applications: It can turn your phone into a car key, helps you find lost gadgets that also support UWB, and augments features initially made possible by NFC and Bluetooth. The Pixel 6 Pro already has a UWB antenna on board, but it doesn’t use it to its full potential just yet. Here, Android 13 is supposed to add a generic hardware abstraction layer that will give all Android devices a shared foundation for how UWB works, making it easier for all manufacturers to implement these futuristic features.
For the Pixel 6 Pro, a few UWB features will make their way into the Android 12 January security patch, but the full system-wide abstraction layer should only come in Android 13.
As spotted by Mishaal Rahman, Android 13 could be the first version of Android to introduce fully-fleshed out support for Bluetooth Low-Energy Audio. The standard is meant as a replacement for regular Bluetooth audio streaming, and it brings a whole slew of improvements to the table: lower energy consumption at the same audio quality, multi-stream support to send signals to both of your earbuds at the same time (or to multiple headphones/speakers at once), and full support for the features introduced in Google’s hearing aid protocol.
Of course, devices will need to be equipped with the appropriate hardware to provide you with Bluetooth LE Audio streaming, but this will only be a question of time as new phones, tablets, headphones, and speakers are released.
Gesture navigation may be the future of interacting with your phone, but many people still prefer the three-button navigation of old, whether for accessibility reasons or just because they’re used to it. The three-button navigation is in for the return of an old option in Android 13. According to leaked screenshots in our possession, there will be an option to disable the gesture that lets you long-press the home button for Assistant. That makes sense for the Pixel 6 series, as the new phones have switched to invoking the Assistant by long-pressing the power button, removing the option to long-press the home button for Assistant altogether.
Android 10 introduced an output picker for audio and other media, allowing you to easily choose how you’d like to listen to something — on your phone, your wireless headphones, or your Bluetooth speakers. Android 13 has an all-new look for this feature, with a total redesign for both selecting destinations for your audio and the media player itself. It looks even better than we expected based on early screenshots, and even includes additional functionality.
Android 12’s new Material You design and all the interface changes coming in tow have left the community divided, with some wishing for a way to tone things down just a bit. If you’re particularly annoyed by the overblown clock that shows up on your lockscreen when you don’t have notifications on Pixel phones, this Android 13 change might be for you: Google appears to be working on a toggle for disabling the huge clock, labelled as “Double-line clock.” This won’t be exclusive to Android 13, though. The option has already made its way into the Android 12L beta.
Another change possibly coming to the lockscreen (or, more specifically, to the keyguard where you enter your PIN or pattern) is the addition of an account switcher. We can’t confirm whether this will come to all form factors or, say, only tablets, but it’s a much appreciated change nonetheless. It will make it much easier to switch to another user right when logging in on shared devices.
While we still don’t know much about the state of mobile gaming on Android 13, Esper’s Mishaal Rahman has found an interesting tidbit of information regarding devices that will launch with the upcoming release. According to his findings in the AOSP code, a new API will allow games to temporarily boost the CPU speed while they’re loading, making it possible to launch titles more quickly than before.
It looks like some current Pixel phones will also get updated to take advantage of this API, but this isn’t a given for most phones that are currently available. We’ve got all the details on this in our dedicated coverage.
Announced alongside Android 13 DP1, Google’s new photo picker seems destined to be controversial. Although we have yet to try it for ourselves — it’s not actually live in DP1 just yet — it sounds pretty similar to how Apple handles photos on the iPhone. Rather than displaying all of your documents in a single layout, Google will separate your photos into their own menu. Whether this turns out to be a downgrade from how Android currently handles its photos remains to be seen. With any luck, it’ll be live in a future developer preview, where we can actually give it a spin.
We’ve complained extensively about how Material You limits its app icon theming to Google’s services and nothing else. It clashes with the rest of your home screen, resulting in an unfinished look that’s pushed some AP writers back to third-party launchers and icon packs. With Android 13, Google will bring dynamic icon themes to all apps, assuming developers choose to support it. It’s not live in DP1, so we’ll have to wait and see what results from this change.
Developers have had the option to add tiles to Android’s quick settings menu for years now, but with this year’s update, prompting users is getting even easier. The Quick Settings Placement API allows apps to advertise their tiles with a pop-up notification, making the existence of these tools and shortcuts a whole lot more obvious to the average smartphone owner. While there’s always the risk of abuse with prompts like these, it seems like a great way for devs to make better use of an underutilized part of Android.
It’s clear Google has really refocused on tablets lately, even after the official launch of Android 12L. For its next big update, Android is getting a ton of changes to how multi-user profiles work, and so far, it all sounds pretty promising. From a redesigned profile picker screen for tablets to colorful new icons for your avatar, there’s plenty to love here. “Hub mode” sounds like it’ll make it easy to share apps between profiles, while guest accounts are getting a list of accessible apps ready from the jump. And then there’s a new “kids mode” on the way that brings back an old-school nav bar. We’ll have to wait to see what all this adds up to, but it’s too many puzzle pieces not to be part of a larger picture.
There weren’t any major changes in the first developer preview for Android 13, but there’s a handful of small ones worth rounding up. The quick tap shortcut initially added to Pixels in Android 12 is getting support for turning the flashlight on and off. Last year’s update brought about some significant privacy improvements, and Android 13 is keeping the momentum rolling with 7-day views in Privacy dashboard and auto-clearing clipboards. Silent mode now disables nearly all haptic feedback — a controversial change, to be sure, but one that has plenty of time to be undone — and the notification drawer media controls are getting a new look.
We finally got our first glimpse at Android 13 with these first two developer previews, but there’s a long way to go before it’s officially released. We expect the bulk of changes to be publicly acknowledged in May, when Google usually holds its I/O developer conference. It’s almost safe to assume that we’ll have a lot more rumors, leaks, and hacks to look at before that happens, though.
Manuel is a tech enthusiast and Android fan based in Berlin. When he’s not writing articles for Android Police, he’s probably out and about as a videographer.