On Tuesday, Google is expected to announce Android 12 at its I/O 2021 developer conference, and we’re expecting a major update over last year’s Android 11 release with a new UI, a revamp of widgets, and better privacy.
But instead of evolving Android in the same ways it has over the past few years, Google will choose to play catch-up with other manufacturers, resulting in a major overhaul that strays farther away from the idea of “stock Android” than ever before.
Leaks (like this one from Front Page Tech) have highlighted Android 12’s new design, and there’s no denying that it looks extremely similar to Samsung’s One UI and OnePlus’ most recent version of OxygenOS. Large text headers and rounded corners make up a vast majority of the new design, as does reach-ability to accommodate for larger screens.
There’s nothing wrong with this new look, and it’s obviously something people like. I’ve used One UI and OxygenOS in the past, and their interfaces are very pleasant. Everything looks clean, bold, and modern.
But when you look at the evolution of stock Android over the years, you can tell there was no indication this was the direction Google’s software was going. They didn’t slowly add larger headers, rounder UI elements, or easier ways to interact with large screens. This was all stuff that was available on the market, and Google noticed that people like it. So instead of gradually adding a few features here and there, with Android 12, it’ll essentially copy its competitors right out the gate.
This means that feeling, that originality associated with stock/Pixel Android will be going away because Google wants to be included in the same conversations people have about other versions of Android.
Another area where Google is taking an incredible amount of inspiration for change are widgets. After over a decade of support on Android, Apple finally added support for widgets on your home screen in iOS 13. This basically meant widgets were cool again since they were sort of a dying art on Android.
That means Google has to copy Apple now. In Android 12, it looks like Google will be redesigning widgets to make them look extremely similar to Apple’s. It’ll also reportedly add new functionality to widgets, allowing apps to make them more information-dense and give you wider customization.
There’s no denying that Apple did a good job with the implementation of widgets on iOS, despite still limiting where you can place them. But because they went viral due to their new-ness to iOS users, Google has to revamp its version of the feature it hasn’t seemed to care about in years.
It’s abundantly clear Google wants people to talk about its next version of Android. I get it. The company’s Pixel phones, famous for running near-stock versions of Android, haven’t proven to be the most popular phone on the market, and that could be because of their software. Whereas companies like Samsung are finding success with phones that ship with different user interface decisions and way more features, Google’s devices have stuck with much more traditional-feeling software that focused on mastering fundamentals.
Plus, every manufacturer wants to steal iPhone customers. Now that Apple users are used to having widgets, it’s conducive to Google to make them seem familiar for those who may switch from an iOS device to one running Android.
Google wants people to realize that stock Android and their Pixel experience can go toe-to-toe with the top manufacturers. But it’s obvious the company is trying to play a game of catch-up, despite never really being behind in terms of quality. I’ve said time and time again Google’s version of Android was my favorite, and I’ve never had a problem with how it looks or worked. But that’s because I’m sort of a purist when it comes to my phone’s software, and there might not be enough people like me to sustain support for this look and feel much longer.
That’s why this version of Android could spark some angry reactions within Google’s own user base. They’ve been able to capitalize on users who’ve wanted a clean, minimal version of Android for years, but that time could be coming to an end, especially considering just how far Android 12 will stray from last year’s Android 11.
No doubt, these changes will get people talking, and those who like what Samsung and Apple have done to UI and widgets will probably like what Android 12 has to offer. But Google’s originality that made many people fall in love with Android will just go out the window, never to return.
That’s extremely drastic, but I understand what’s going on. Google’s gonna go big or go home. There’s a Pixel 6 Pro rumored to arrive later this year with some really powerful specs under the hood and a design that can rival the iPhones and Galaxies of the world. There’s never been a Pixel that could do that.
There’s no stopping Google at this point. They’re committed to going as big as possible this year. Let’s just see if catch-up and dismissing originality was the right decision.