Google has released the first developer preview for Android 11, the next version of its mobile operating system. It’s the earliest Google has ever done a preview like this, so the updates here aren’t that front-facing, but Google’s making some big promises, like improved support for 5G, better privacy features, and new messaging interfaces.
Also: this is really, really a preview meant for developers only — it’s just for the Pixel 2, 3, 3A, or 4, and it can only be installed with a full flash that will wipe all your data. In other words, you shouldn’t install this on your main device, unless you like using a busted phone.
Fortunately, we’ve got a spare Pixel around and dug up some neat features in the early beta. Here’s what’s new so far:
Bubbles — Reminiscent of Facebook’s chat heads, the “bubbles” feature was originally meant to be part of Android 10 last year. It’s a new UI for messaging apps that lets you keep several conversations easily accessible anywhere through a floating bubble. Right now, it seems that just Google’s own messaging app has support, but the idea is that any app — like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Signal — could take advantage of the feature.
Conversations — To go along with the bubbles there is a new conversations section of the notification shade that breaks out new messages into their own area ahead of all your emails, Instagram likes, and app updates. The idea is to make the communication parts of your phone more accessible because, well, it’s a phone, and that’s what it does — help you talk to people.
Better app permissions — Taking a page out of iOS’s book, Android 11 is adding the option to just give apps temporary permission to your camera, microphone, and location data. It’s a simple addition, but one that makes Android a lot more secure.
Screen recording — Google already had a version of this in Android 10’s betas that didn’t make its way to the final version. But screen recording is back and has a whole fancy UI this time, which means that the feature may finally be shipping in Android 11. It basically does what it says on the can: records your screen.
Smaller tweaks and changes:
- Automated dark mode toggles
- A new Motion Sense gesture for the Pixel 4 to play or pause music
- An “increased touch sensitivity” setting for the Pixel 4, meant for use with screen savers
- The option to pin apps to the top of the share sheet is back from the Android 10 beta.
- Turning on airplane mode no longer disconnects Bluetooth audio connections.
- XDA Developers reports that there’s also a hidden new screenshot UI, but it’s not enabled by default (or fully functional yet).
There are also plenty more changes that are simply under the hood, like better support for folding, waterfall, and pinhole displays, 5G integration, scoped storage, improved privacy and security, and more. We’ll continue to update this post as more hidden features in Android 11 are discovered in the coming days.
But remember: the current Android 11 developer beta is a very early version of what we’ll be getting later this year, so don’t get your hopes up for any major new features or big redesigns just yet — expect Google to have plenty more to say on that front when Google I/O rolls around in May.