Android 12 Developer Preview is live — here’s the biggest new features

android 12
(Image credit: Google)

It's that wonderful time of year again! Google has released Android 12 in preview form for developers. It's exciting because we get to see some of the new stuff that the company has planned for users, and trust us, there's a lot coming in this preview. 

We don't know what will make it to final release at this moment, but Google has plenty to share in the meantime. Unless you're a developer or the most hardcore Android fan, this Developer Preview isn't meant for you. It won't be fully stable yet and might break otherwise normal functionality on your device. We and Google strongly encourage you to temper your excitement and wait for future versions.

As such, this first release is targeted at developers and helping them get their apps ready. Most of the additions here are focused on that. But with that out of the way, let's dig into what's new with Android 12!

Android 12 new features

Android 12 developer preview

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In Google's announcement blog post, the company's VP of Engineering, Dave Burke, tackles what's new in Android 12. A lot of it is developer talk, so some of you might find it a bit boring to slog through. While we can't quite get around that, we've picked out a few things worth noting.

Compatible media transcoding: Android 12 will support automatic media transcoding to higher quality formats. For apps that don't or can't support the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) codec that many modern camera apps use, Android 12 will automatically transcode the video file into the more common Advanced Video Coding (AVC) format. There might be a delay on the user's end while the device transcodes the file.

Support for AVIF images: When you take a photo, your camera saves it in the popular JPEG format (the .jpg file extension). However, that format is a bit old, so Android 12 introduces support for the newer AV1 Image File Format (AVIF). This format sports high image quality yet with more efficient image compression. In some cases, it looks markedly better than a JPG counterpart while having a similar, if not smaller, file size.

New notification UI: From some of the early leaks about Android 12, we saw what could be a new UI centered around notifications and the notification shade. This is a critical part of Android, so users will notice any visual changes right away. Right now, the Developer Preview includes updates to the transitions and animations to make them smoother, plus some tweaks to the controls and templates. Again, this is interesting from a developer's perspective, but these changes will affect users in time.

More responsive notifications: Everyone wants faster notifications, right? When you tap that item in your shade, you expect to go to the app immediately. Except, that doesn't always happen. Google wants to change this in Android 12 by making it so that apps that target the new platform open their target activities immediately upon a tap instead of relying on the intermediary "trampoline" services that run first. In short, for the end user, this will theoretically mean faster, more responsive notifications.

Better app compatibility testing: This one is specifically for developers and it's unlikely that we the users will see this directly. However, it's important. Android 12 will let developers toggle some of the new opt-in features to test compatibility with their apps. These toggles will allow developers to test what happens when they enable or disable a specific feature.

Platform Stability milestone: Last year, Google made it easier for developers to have their apps ready for Android 11. This project timeline let them know when final SDK and internal APIs and system behaviors would be ready. Android 12's development cycle will be much the same. Google plans to have Android 12 stable by August 2021 and developers will have quite a bit of time before the final release to make sure their apps are ready to go.

Android 12: How to install the developer preview

Google Pixel 5 review

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If you're a developer or are just intent on ignoring the warnings that this isn't meant for consumers yet, these are the devices supported for the first Developer Preview:

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

Since this is aimed at developers only for the time being, Google is making the Android 12 Developer Preview 1 a manual download only. You can then flash the image to your Pixel with an unlocked bootloader, or sideload the OTA file if you have a locked bootloader. From then on, you'll get new preview and beta updates over-the-air as they become available.

You can download the Android 12 Developer Preview image for your device at the Android developer site.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.