The goal of the mobile experience has always been personalization. From a software perspective down to the size of the phones themselves, one size fits all has never been the case.
Fifty years from now, if phones still exist and the nanobots in our blood deem it healthy–the proliferation of artificial intelligence could mean a different version of Android for everyone who wants one. For me, the perfect software could be “John’s Phone”-OS, with regular updates, like the Tuesday-morning-after-a-night-of-sitting-on-my-porch-drinking-wine-and-staring-at-fireflies Beta. For now, though, the recently-released Android 12 Beta (stable version out this fall) will have to do. At this year’s Google I/O, Sundar Pichai and the gang demonstrated how they were using this new OS version to take one step closer to that deep personalization experience.
Starting with the look and feel, the biggest announcement this year was the advent of Material You, a revamped design system that prizes intuitive usage and accessibility. Its large, in-your-face, UI components serve as a palette for an exciting new feature that allows your system UI colors to reflect those of your background photo.
Integral to this new design system is the reintroduction of Android widgets, which never really left, but were long neglected until Apple’s announcement that the same concept (known as App Clips) was coming to iOS 14. Android has re-committed to these helpful pieces of UI that allow users to quickly access information and perform simple tasks without having to open the full app experience.
Taking another cue from Apple, Android announced new privacy features, even if they aren’t necessarily the ones we’re craving at the moment. Recently, Apple announced a feature that would ask user’s permission to be tracked across mobile apps and websites for ad targeting purposes. While not announcing anything similar in the ad space–as much of Google’s revenue comes from ads–Android is offering protection against supposed malicious–or even just nosy–apps by giving users greater control over their camera and microphone. Users of Android 12 will now see Quick Settings actions to enable/disable their microphone and camera, and a little green dot in the upper right corner if either one of them is on, similar to indicators that you might find on a laptop computer.
For Google, personalization also means inclusivity. For years, the hundreds of small decisions that go into creating camera software have yielded systems that work for those in the majority, while often leaving people of color behind. Last week, Google announced new camera software that will be more inclusive of various skin tones and hair types, likely coming to the new Pixel in the fall. This move seems to be part of a greater push for inclusivity in the Google ecosystem as a whole, as a presentation at I/O on new features of collaborative work with Google Docs highlighted inclusivity of language, one example suggesting the usage of “chairperson” over “chairman.”
Exciting things are happening for developers as well, making it easier to achieve this vision of personalization. After years of frustration at the divergence between the two platforms, Google announced that its WearOS would be merging with Samsung’s Tizen, which should simplify the creation of smartwatch apps that work across original equipment manufacturers.
It was also announced that Jetpack Compose, the new declarative UI toolkit for creating Android apps, would reach a stable version in July. The aim of this system is to make it easier to develop Android apps, which it certainly should, but it has broad implications for the developer space as a whole. Since Compose follows concepts from frameworks React Native for cross-platform apps, and Apple’s SwiftUI, programming languages for the mobile experience are starting to look a lot alike, potentially making it easier for a developer to handle tasks outside of a traditional single sphere of Android or iOS.
Announcements and updates will continue to pour out over the summer until the stable release of Android 12 in the fall, but we’ve seen the bulk of the capabilities of the new version. So the only thing left to do is dig into the new Beta and see what else it has in store for us and our clients. Perhaps somewhere in the release there’s the beginning of a need-a-smoothie-after-writing-a-blog-post patch.