When will Android 12 be released?

The latest version of Android is usually first seen in developer previews in March, then publicly previewed at Google’s I/O event in May, with public beta versions releasing shortly afterwards and the final, full release of the software coming in either August or September.

The first developer preview of Android 12 went live on 18 February, granting developers their first chance to really sink their teeth into the update, while Google continues to develop it ahead of general release later this year.

In the past few years, Android has adopted the following release pattern:

Android 9 Pie

  • First public beta: 8 May 2018
  • Full version release: 6 August 2018

Android 10

  • First public beta: 7 May 2019
  • Full version release: 3 September 2019

Android 11

  • First public beta: 10 June 2020
  • Full version release: 8 September 2020

Android 12

  • First developer preview: 18 February 2021

With this in mind, it’s reasonable to expect Android 12 to make its first public outing in May 2021 and be generally available in September.

What will Android 12 be called?

Sadly Google has long since abandoned the official dessert names for Android versions, but the company does still use those names internally - Android 11 was unofficially known as Red Velvet Cake, for example.

Android 12 is 'S', and XDA Developers claims that this stands for 'Snow Cone' - pretty disappointing when they had shortbread, s'more, and sherbet sitting right there.

Which phones will get Android 12?

Now, this can get complicated. Android still suffers from horrendous fragmentation which means some phones get the new software straight away, others follow-on weeks or months later, while a fair chunk won’t get it at all.

If you want to guarantee moving to the next version of Android then you’ll want to buy one of Google’s own Pixel phones, such as the Pixel 5, Pixel 4a or Pixel 4a 5G, all of which get preferential treatment due to the fact that Google knows the exact make-up of each phone’s hardware configuration and software.

To reflect this, compatibility for the first Android 12 developer preview is as follows:

  • Pixel 3
  • Pixel 3 XL
  • Pixel 3a
  • Pixel 3a XL
  • Pixel 4
  • Pixel 4 XL
  • Pixel 4a
  • Pixel 4a 5G
  • Pixel 5

Any phones on the Android One platform, such as many Motorola and Nokia handsets, also get the newer versions quickly, although only for up to two years after they were first released (in most cases).

You can read our guide to the best brands for Android updates to give yourself a clearer indication of whether your particular device will make the leap. Of course, you can also get in touch with the manufacturer’s customer support, as they may be able to help too.

Android 12 release date and rumours: Pixel 4a

What features will Google add to Android 12?

One of the main areas of excitement for any new version of Android is of course which new features Google will introduce.

There’s still a little while to go before we see the public beta in May, but with the first developer preview now out in the wild, not to mention the existing stockpile of leaks and rumours, we're able to build a pretty clear picture of what Android 12 will be bringing to the table.

Along with a slew of privacy and security improvements the following features were confirmed in the February Android 12 developer preview:

Compatible media transcoding

Despite an increasing number of devices encoding video in HEVC (which offers superior compression and reduced loss in quality compared to older codecs), compatibility is still an issue. In spite of this, Android 12 will automatically transcode HEVC files into the more compatible AVC format for apps where HEVC isn't yet supported.

AVIF image support

As for images, in a similar vein to above, AV1 Image File Format (AVIF) is now being adopted by Android as a new, more efficient image container that offers higher quality, more efficient compression compared to standards like JPEG.

Foreground service optimisations

Essentially an effort to tidy up background apps executing processes that a user might end up seeing in the foreground. Google's added commands to help developers transition from the existing way of handling these actions to the new way.

This enhancement also includes adding a delay on certain background process notifications of up to ten seconds, again as a way to reduce the likelihood of a user seeing a process notification in the foreground unnecessarily.

Rich content insertion

The ability to copy and paste richer bodies of content (such as images, videos and audio) by way of a new API that accepts content from multiple sources: clipboard, keyboard or drag-and-drop, in order to move it between apps.

Haptic-coupled audio effects

Haptic feedback (precise vibrations) governed by audio files, which can be used to control vibration strength and frequency to create more immersive experiences. Examples provided by Dave Burke, VP of Engineering for Android, include a video calling app using custom ringtones to identify a caller through haptic feedback or you simulating the sensation of rough terrain in a racing game.

Immersive Mode improvements for gesture navigation

Immersive Mode is effectively full-screen mode, where the notifications bar and on-screen navigation buttons are temporarily hidden while an app occupies the entire screen.

In Android 12, aside from when gaming, all other full-screen/immersive apps/experiences (such as video playback, reading, photo galleries etc.) will be easier to exit out of with a simple swipe; in an effort to better accommodate Android's prior move to gesture navigation over button navigation, by default.

Notification updates

One which the leaks expand upon further down in this article, Android 12 intends to render notifications "more modern, easier to use, and more functional." As well as reworked UI elements, and optimised system-wide transitions and animations, notifications will support custom content and more.

Android 12 will also prevent the use of "trampolines" - an intermediary process that can cause delays between a user tapping on a notification and the appropriate action being executed - by developers. Instead, developers are being pushed to create a more direct cause and effect between user interaction and process execution.

Improved Binder IPC calls

In a nutshell, optimisations to Android focusing on latency and workload distribution, culminating in a faster Android experience for the end-user.

More of Android updated through Google Play

A continuation of Project Mainline, Android 12 will better allow for various components of Android to be updated via Google Play going forward, without the need for subsequent full OS upgrades.

Optimising for tablets, foldables and TVs

Android on tablets is famously 'meh', filled with incompatibilities and user interface issues borne from poor app optimisation. New tools should help developers build better Android 12-based experiences for Android tablets, foldables and TVs and includes a new Android 12 for TV preview to tinker with too.

Platform stability milestone

Google is hoping that Android 12 (including the final SDK, NDK APIs and app-facing system behaviours) are all ready to go by August 2021, giving developers time to dress their apps with the finishing optimisations needed to be ready for release in September (presumed launch window).

Android 12 development timeline | Source: Android Developers
The Android Developers site includes a timeline for Android 12's development - confirming the first public beta release will arrive in May 2021

The following features have been mentioned via leaks and rumours:

Better compatibility with third-party stores

There are a range of app stores available besides the Google Play Store. For example, there's Samsung's Galaxy Store and Huawei's App Gallery, plus other variants that often come pre-installed on some handsets.

For Android 12, Google has stated that it will open up how these are available to users, with a spokesperson telling 9to5Google ‘we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year's Android release) to make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future’.

Android 12 rumours

Scrollable screenshots

For a while it looked like this simple tool would appear in Android 11, as companies like OnePlus, Huawei and Samsung already have the feature in their versions of the operating system.

But it didn’t quite make the cut in time, so now we’re confident that the next version of the OS is when you'll see the ability to capture images that encompass the entire page of a site or app, not just what you can see on the display.

In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, conducted by Google’s Android engineers, they confirmed as such by saying, ‘Rather than cranking out a quick hack that works for one or two hand-picked apps on a particular device, our goal on the platform team is to build this in a way that _any_ app can plug into, whether they’re using a bog-standard RecyclerView or have implemented their own OpenGL-accelerated scrolling engine. We investigated this throughout the R [Android 11] timeline, involving folks from the window manager and System UI teams; you’ll be able to see this scrolling capture framework start to take shape in the AOSP source.’

One-handed mode

Much like scrollable screenshots, one-handed mode is another feature that's already widely available on Android handsets, but as of yet doesn't have an official Google version.

XDA Developers reports that a one-handed mode is on the way to Android 12, which will make the feature available to every handset manufacturer - though that doesn't necessarily mean that every OEM will include it on their phones.

Few details of the mode are known, but it's assumed it will be similar to existing third-party versions, which create a shrunk-down version of the full display in one corner - Google's version is known to reduce to display to 40% of its size. It will also be accessible through either gesture controls or the three-button navigation system.

A single, native media-player

Android is a system with many options, that’s what we like about it, but it also means there can be a confusing amount of approaches and apps when it comes to things like media playback. On the Reddit AMA the Google engineers hinted at a single, unified player that could appear soon.

‘We recognize the confusion resulting from having multiple player options with different APIs and capabilities. We have begun efforts to converge them into a single solution based on ExoPlayer. The converged player will be full featured and easy to use - and we’ll share more info with the developer community as this progresses!’

Wi-Fi Sharing

Keen-eyed devs and fans often find potential new Android features within the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which often hides code for features being developed by Google engineers - though doesn't confirm that they'll necessarily end up officially included in the next OS version.

That's the case for Nearby Wi-Fi Sharing, spotted in a submission to AOSP from Google engineer Abel Tesfaye. It's essentially a way to simplify the process of adding new devices to your Wi-Fi network through sharing the network login details. You've been able to do this since Android 10 by sharing a QR code, but Tesfaye's submission would automate this process a little more and send the password over Android's Nearby Share feature.

Restricted Networking Mode

This is another feature dug up from AOSP. It appears to be a setting that, when enabled, restricts networking only to apps with a specific high-level permission - which will in effect limit network access only to default system apps, and none that the user has installed. 

We're hoping this will be joined by a customisable permission list that allows you to specify which apps have permission to use the network, but even if not this could be a useful new networking safe mode.

Back double-tap gesture

9to5Google claims to have seen information suggesting the return of the double-tap gesture, available within beta releases of Android 11, last year. When enabled, users can double-tap with a finger on the back of their device to activate the Google Assistant, take a screenshot, play or pause media, open the notification shade or open the recent apps view.

The feature - codenamed "Columbus" (after the Zombieland character) - was expected to feature in the public build of Android 11 but was pulled prior to release, so word of its resurgence in the Android 12 beta suggests that it might stick around this time.

In its Android 11 beta form, it's thought that Columbus was too sensitive and that the Android 12 iteration will require far firmer and more deliberate taps to function. Whether the gesture is guaranteed to see the light of day and whether it's intended to be a Google Pixel-exclusive feature all remains to be seen.

System-wide colour themes

There are already a number of baked-in Android features that change the colour of the user interface for various reasons: Night Light, Focus Mode and Dark Mode are all present within Android 11 but yet another find by 9to5Google points to a new theming system, currently in the works too.

The system would supposedly allow for the selection of both a main theme colour (affecting things like the background of the notifications and quick settings shade) and an accent colour. In terms of which colours users can choose from, it seems that's up to the device manufacturer and could vary not just by brand but on a model-by-model basis.

There's also scope for automatic theme colour adjustment based on your home screen wallpaper and room for app developers to allow for theme colour control over their apps - rendering Twitter in the same red and black of your Deadpool home screen, for example.

Microphone and camera access indicators/notifications

Following the leak of an alleged early draft of a document made by Google (submitted to XDA Developers by forum member RKBD) summarising the changes found in Android 12, we've gleaned few more Android 12 features, including possible microphone and camera access indicators and notifications.

Android 12 privacy indicators | Source: XDA Developers
Mock-ups made by XDA Developers showcasing Android 12's privacy indicators/notifications, based on alleged leaked Google documentation

It's a feature that iOS has already implemented, but one that Google has up until now, only toyed with, without implementing it into a final release of its mobile OS as yet.

These indicators serve user privacy first and foremost and appear as small indicators near the top corner of the screen, or can be expanded into a fully-fledged notification. These notifications appear to log recent access to a device's camera and/or microphone, as well as active use.

New quick setting design

Additional screenshots from XDA's mock-ups suggest a reworked quick settings panel that drops the existing iteration's transparency in favour of a light beige (although the colour may be dictated by the aforementioned new theming options) background.

Android 12 quick settings | Source: XDA Developers

The setting icons themselves also appear to be reworked (along with notifications) presenting themselves with more rounded corners and only four settings in place of the current six.

'Conversations' widget

Another addition appears to be the 'Conversations' widget, which will consolidate missed calls, status updates from multiple social platforms and messages from multiple platforms (including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) for a single contact (or potentially a small group of contacts).

Android 12 Conversation widget | Source: XDA Developers

Native support for WireGuard VPN

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are becoming more and more the norm in these digitally surveilled times in which we live. So, it’s good news that the new, fast encryption protocol WireGuard looks like it will have native support in the new version of Android.

App pairs

This is a new split-screen multi-tasking feature that will allow you to save shortcuts to specific pairs of apps so that they open together. First reported by 9to5Google, app pairs are another feature you can already find in some Android phones, but Google is now building an official implementation.

No doubt there will be plenty of other features that appear when Android 12 finally arrives.

Smart auto-rotate

Here's a welcome new feature: Google is reportedly adding some AI smarts to Android's auto-rotate, in an overdue update to a feature that's currently only based on your phone's gyroscope and accelerometer.

9to5Google reports that the feature will use the phone's selfie camera to detect which way your face is relative to the phone and rotate - or not - correspondingly. The site does however warn that it's possible this will be a Pixel-exclusive feature, rather than opening up to all Android devices.

Game mode

Google is also reportedly set to introduce a basic Android-wide game mode, which would likely manage settings like Do Not Disturb and auto-rotate to help you game undisturbed. As with many of the reported Android 12 features, this is already available on plenty of third-party devices.

Until then, be sure to check out our in-depth look at Android 11 so you get the most out of the current version of Google’s software, plus there's our guide to the best Android phones if you want to ensure that Android 12 is in your hands very soon.