Home Android 3 Android 12 features you can bring to any phone today

3 Android 12 features you can bring to any phone today


Google’s Android 12 software is nowhere near ready for prime time, but Goog almighty: We’ve sure seen plenty of hints about some of the tantalizing touches it could include. And if you’re anything like me, that makes it tough not to feel at least a teensy bit hungry for a taste.

The current Android 12 developer preview, unfortunately, won’t do much to satisfy that craving. It’s basically just a barebones framework of the software, made mostly for developers, and most of the mouthwatering morsels are carefully tucked away, disabled, and not yet visible or available for regular-mammal phone-owner use.

But wait! Before you go off sulking and seeking out a consolation snack, take heed: A few of the treats that seem to be under development for Android 12 can actually be brought into any Android device, with any Android version — and with very little effort — right now. All you need is the right third-party app to emulate the same basic concept, and you can enjoy at least a small sampling of some of the flavors Android 12 might soon include.

So grab the nearest bib, get some grape soda standing by and ready to wash all this virtual deliciousness down, and let’s dig in.

Android 12 feature No. 1: Enhanced privacy indicators

The easiest Android 12 element to give yourself — and arguably one of the more consequential additions likely on its way to the software — is the Apple-inspired system of visible indicators that pop up anytime an app is accessing your device’s microphone or camera. It’s hopefully something you’ll never need or be especially surprised to see, but it’s a smart bit of added privacy protection and certainly something that can’t hurt to have in place.

The official feature is currently in an “experimental phase,” according to the code-studying sleuths over at XDA Developers, who first reported on its presence as part of an Android 12 leak last month and went on to find it out of sight and disabled in the first developer preview — but with about 60 seconds of setup, you can give yourself something almost identical without delay.

Just install an app called Access Dots onto your phone. Open it up and tap the toggle on its main screen to turn it on. You’ll be prompted to authorize the app to run as an Android Accessibility Service, which may sound scary but is genuinely required in order for it to be able to see what’s using your microphone and camera at any given moment and then report on that properly. The app doesn’t have any other system permissions, notably — including the ability to access the internet — and so it couldn’t do anything shady even if it wanted to (which I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t).

Once you’ve got that toggle, erm, toggled, that’s pretty much it: Anytime an app is accessing your microphone, you’ll see an orange dot in the upper-right corner of your screen. Anytime something’s using your camera, you’ll see a green dot in that same area. Just open up your Camera app if you want to test it out and see it in action:


See the dot, up there in the upper-right corner of the screen — way up above the beautiful bright beak of my executive assistant, Mr. Clucklesby? That’s it!

Before you set it and forget it, Access Dots has a few other noteworthy options worth exploring. First and most simply, you can change the colors used for both of its indicators — maybe to a lovely chartreuse, you fancy, fancy frog — and you can also even change their size and position, if you’re feeling especially saucy. You can make the dots bigger, too, if you want ’em to be especially eye-catching and impossible to miss.

Perhaps more significant, you can enable an optional third indicator that goes beyond what Android 12 is even believed to include — one that adds a dot onto your screen anytime an app is accessing your location. That one requires an extra location permission, for obvious reasons, which seems to be why it’s disabled by default. A nice little extra to have, though, wouldn’t ya say?

Access Dots is free to use, with some mildly annoying ads peppered throughout those configuration screens (which you’ll probably never look at again after this initial setup). You can disable those ads and enable some of the more advanced customization options with a one-time $2.50 donation to the app’s developer, if you’re so inspired.

Android 12 feature No. 2: One-tap app pairs

We’ve been hearing rumors about a revamp of Android’s now-rather-buried and underused screen-splitting feature for a while, and this earliest Android 12 preview does indeed show signs of such an effort being developed. Presently known as App Pairs, the system would let you — wait for it — pair any two apps together (see what they did there?!) and then have ’em open up on your screen at the same time with a single tap.

It doesn’t seem like a super-dramatic departure from the standard split-screen command that’s been in Android since 2016’s Android 7.0 (mmm….Nougat) release, but it could be a more convenient way to put the same basic idea into practice. And that, in turn, could make the feature much more user-friendly and likely to be used. Hey, we’ll take it.

If you want to experiment with the same concept now, grab a simple, free app called Split Screen Launcher. Open it up, and you’ll be greeted with a screen that empowers you to create any custom app pair you want:

Android 12 Features: App PairsJR

Just put whatever apps you want into the form, give your snazzy new creation a name, and follow the steps to create it. A second later, you’ll have your shiny new shortcut ready and waiting on your home screen — and anytime you tap it, well, take a look:

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.


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