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Android 12 and the ‘Android Pixel’ era

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Google’s Android 12 software has technically been around for a while — since February, in fact, when its first developer preview release plopped out into this musty virtual world. This week, though, we’re getting our clearest look yet at what Google’s next great Android version is actually all about.

At a jam-packed online I/O convention, Google officially pulled back the curtain on Android 12 with the launch of its first public beta offering. And goodness gracious, is there a lot to digest about what’s changing with this saucy little operating system of ours.

For the first time in quite a few years, the biggest evolution of all for Android is right on the surface: Android 12 introduces a sweeping reimagining of the entire system interface, with a whole new design language and a wildly different look and feel for the platform. It feels like the most significant shake-up to Android’s appearance since the launch of Android 5.0, Lollipop, way back in 2014 — and it’s no wonder: That was the first Android version to feature Google’s Material Design standard, and this release is the first to use an updated take on that visual language called Material You.

To say that Material You is a fresh coat of paint would be one heck of an understatement. This is Android, all right, but it’s kind of like Android on some super-mellow mood enhancers. Everything feels lighter, fluffier, rounder, and more fluid. Colors work in different ways. You notice the effect of light and shadows in ways that were never apparent before. (All right, so maybe it’s something a teensy bit stronger than a mere mood enhancer. But you get the idea.)

And here’s the kicker to it all: The dramatic new design and all the improvements around it — including a clever theming system that pulls complementary colors from your wallpaper and then creates a custom system-wide palette that stretches across the entire Android experience — won’t be available on just any phone running the Android operating system. Nope: It’ll be available in its entirety only on Google’s own self-made Pixel devices.

The idea of Android features revolving around Pixels is nothing new, of course. Some of the most inventive and impressive Assistant-related advancements of recent years, like Google’s automated call-screening system and call-holding genie, launched as Pixel-only affairs and remain that way today. Other features, like the more capable new version of Assistant introduced in 2019, were initially described as coming to Pixel phones “first” — but, well, nearly two years later, they’re still mostly just on Pixel phones. And more and more software-driven camera improvements and Photos capabilities are coming out only for Pixel owners, too, at least to start.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 COMMENT

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