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Android 12 Beta 3 has a wild new way to handle auto-rotation

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Plus, it will finally support scrolling screenshots

Google is releasing the latest beta for Android 12 right on schedule. Beta 3 for Android 12 continues adding features, including scrolling screenshots, faster on-device universal search for apps, improved auto-rotate, and more. Google says this version of Android 12 has the “Android 12 APIs and the official SDK,” which means there shouldn’t be major feature changes in the upcoming betas. That should mean Android 12 is still on track for a fall release.

The most interesting new feature in Android 12 Beta 3 is “better, faster auto-rotate.” Google is now using the front-facing camera and face detection to determine what orientation you’re trying to hold the phone (instead of just depending on the accelerometer).

“This is especially helpful for people who are using their devices while lying down on a couch or in bed,” writes Dave Burke, VP of engineering for Android. That means you could be lying on your side in bed with the phone in a horizontal position but because the camera can see your face is also horizontal, it will stay in portrait mode.

Burke is quick to emphasize that this face detection happens locally in Android 12’s “Private Compute Core, so images are never stored or sent off the device.” When I first previewed Android 12, I had to spend a bit of time explaining what the Android Private Compute Core (APCC) is: a special and secure area of the operating system for running algorithms that might contain sensitive data.

The APCC’s prominence in the original announcement was a clear hint that Google intended to create more Android features that might potentially raise privacy concerns — and here we are, seeing that hint become reality. As I wrote then, “an easier way to think of it is if there’s an AI function you might think is creepy, Google is running it inside the APCC so its powers are limited.”

Burke says Google has also “optimized the animation and redrawing and added an ML-driven gesture-detection algorithm.” He claims that will reduce auto-rotate latency by 25 percent. Auto-rotate on Android has historically been fairly janky — and wildly inconsistent across different manufacturers — so hopefully these claims will be accurate.

The auto-rotate wizardry is cool, but the feature that will probably elicit the most cheers from Android users is a consistent, system-level way to create scrolling screenshots — aka screenshots that let you grab more than one screen in a single image like on a webpage.

How scrolling screenshots work in Android 12
How scrolling screenshots work in Android 12.
Image: Google

Android 12 has new toggles that let you turn off the camera or microphone at a system level. With Beta 3, now the enterprise administrator in charge of your business (or government) phone will be able to control those toggles, locking you out of access to them if that’s appropriate for your device.

Google is also pushing developers to use a new AppSearch on-device search engine both within their apps and across the entire phone. Developers will be able to pick and choose what parts of their apps get indexed for universal search across the device or within other apps.

Google also recently announced that Android 12 will allow users to begin playing games before they’ve finished downloading. And as with Beta 2, there may be some smaller, unannounced tweaks yet to be uncovered. Beta 3 should be rolling out to Pixel phones today, alongside a small handful of devices from Oppo, Realme, Sharp, OnePlus, and others (but not Samsung, of course).

As for the final release of Android 12, it will arrive on Pixel phones first but may also hit some of those manufacturers early on. Google has been improving its release cadence for Android updates — but it is still never going to match the speed you see on iOS.