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Android 12: New Features on the Horizon for App Developers

By Nick Epson on September 22, 2021

Just like Apple and the iOS operating system, Android 12 will soon be rolling out to devices around the world. This means that new features will be readily available for developers to leverage, thus allowing them to create better experiences for the user.

Knowing what’s to come could – and in many cases, should – influence a direction or certain aspects of upcoming features you plan to bring to your app. It’s also important to understand how to take advantage of the new tools and features coming to Android 12 (and really, all major OS releases) in your core app as well as supplemental features like widgets. So let’s take a look at some of the changes coming to Android after a quick explanation about how the new releases typically roll out for Android.

The Android 12 rollout

Unlike iOS, Android is modified by many manufacturers such as Google with their Pixel series, Samsung, HTC, OnePlus, and so on. As such, major OS rollouts typically happen in waves, with some manufacturers marking the new version of the OS immediately available to users while others hold off for a bit. In many cases, some manufacturers also bring new functionality into certain tools they package with their devices – a good example of this is Samsung’s Bixby assistant which usually gets an update around the time of a major OS release.

There will be several user-facing changes coming to Android 12 that will be immediately obvious to end-users. But beneath these changes are several additions and tweaks that will be available to developers to enhance their apps.

Notable Android 12 developer features and APIs

Quite a few new changes are coming to Android 12 that Google covers here. While everything is important (to varying degrees), we’re going to summarize some of the more notable changes we’ll see in this release.

Game Mode API and Game Mode interventions

Mobile gaming is a monster of an industry with revenues beating out of consoles with around $80 in global revenue, $10.73 of which is from North America. This smokes American football that’s revenue peaked in 2019 with $15.26 billion and it sits just a little below the film industry that peaked in 2019 with $101 billion before taking a dive in 2020.

Game Mode API that allows optimization around the battery and Game Mode interventions that provides OEM optimization tools for games that are no longer being updated. The former is a big deal for both serious and casual mobile gamers as this will enable developers to better modify power consumption and offer settings such as the ability to maintain a consistent frame rate in those glorious 60 FPS by sacrificing battery life and fidelity or other specific power options, depending on their needs.

This will also tie into a new identifier known as “performance class” that allows a device to easily declare its classification based on its specs. This will make it easier to apply configuration settings around a device’s actual capabilities which can be easily referenced by an app by simply calling on (“looking at”) this value during installation.

More robust widgets

The Widgets API is getting a pretty big overhaul in Android 12. One of the most noticeable changes will be a more rounded look which could cause issues with existing widgets, depending on how content is arranged. Further, the new personalization options that will allow users to apply themes and colors throughout the system will also be compatible with widgets. Developers will also be able to add more features for “stateful behavior” which basically means that they can be more interactive with the introduction of switch controls, checkboxes, and radio buttons.

Rich content insertion

Over the years, we’ve been able to take advantage of better and better content sharing as many businesses build these mechanisms into their apps however, moving certain items (except text, generally speaking) between apps on a device has been limited until now. The new unified API for rich content insertion will change this in Android 12 by incorporating a new interface that buffers a variety of content, serving as a better “clipboard,” enabling better movement content, such as video, between apps. 

Dynamic haptics controls

Haptic systems are becoming a popular way of bringing sensory feedback into devices as well as introducing resistance to certain physical controls. Perhaps one of the most popular applications at the moment is in the PS5 DualSense controller that introduces more dynamic vibrations than previous generations that allow a user to better “feel” certain parts of a game and most notably provide resistance in buttons like the rear triggers.

Phones equipped with haptics will be able to take advantage of these controls to provide a couple of new functions like audio-coupled haptics and actuator effects. These feedback systems will enrich gaming experiences and will eventually find their places in other apps to provide feedback for certain user actions. Apps will be able to provide haptic feedback around audio and many other triggers (e.g. how long a user presses something, an in-app event, etc.) using a variety of different controls for interfacing with motors throughout a device as well as be able to connected components that provide haptic systems such as compatible digital fitness equipment and game controllers.

Most likely, we’ll start to see haptics used more user accessibility further down the road with Android 12. It’s very likely, we’ll start to see it used in health and fitness app but it will likely be some time before a Samsung Galaxy will be able to provide a deep tissue massage.

New Splashscreen API

A splash screen is a term for a brief image you typically see as something loads – for example, many banking and payment apps seem to have splash screens such as Chase, PayPay, Chime, and others. With the new Splashscreen API, apps will all have an automatic launch animation plus, developers will now have access to a formal set of tools to customize this feature for their app. Right now, it’s mostly an aesthetic improvement but it could provide added functionality in time.

Improved picture-in-picture (PiP) functionality

Android 12 will now offer more controls for apps that offer PiP functionality, which will essentially allow these windows to be more user friendly (think the YouTube app when it’s “minimized” and running on top of the home screen or some other app.) Previously, PiP was a little lacking but the improvements should offer greater stability and smoother transitions when a window is opened, closed, or repositioned.

These new additions should prove useful to anyone that offers a media-rich app whether it’s something wholly dedicated to streaming video like Netflix or Disney+ as well as for improving news apps like Bloomberg which already uses PiP on Android (and iOS), allowing users to use their devices while either watching a BTV broadcast or listening to Bloomberg Radio.

We design apps to leverage the latest features

The capabilities of upcoming features and revisions to existing tools as well as portions of Android are crucial to our development process. At Blue Label Labs, we know that many features which come along in new releases will become integral to the UX of both established apps and newcomers on the market. To learn more about our process and discuss your idea, get in touch!