Android 12 might be the biggest and most polarizing update in years

Google took the virtual stage today to host its annual I/O developer keynote, and we got a slew of exciting announcements. One of them happens to be Android 12, which has officially entered beta stages after initially being released as a developer preview.

I just got it up and running on my Pixel 5, and let me tell you: it’s perhaps the most polarizing update to Android in years.

You can take that word “polarizing” however you’d like. When I first began writing this article, “polarizing” felt like the right term to describe my feelings toward Android 12’s new aesthetic. Google is completely changing how its Material design works – it’s even giving it a new name: Material You.

The whole idea is to create an aesthetic more centered around you and your personality. Almost every UI element you can think of – buttons, headers, notifications, keypads – have received a redesign as a part of this effort. And at first, yeah, it’s definitely polarizing.

Take the notification shade for example. This looks nothing like it did in Android 11. Notifications now live in a section of the pane that fills the background according to your system’s theme (light or dark). Meanwhile, quick settings have gone from small circle icons to large rectangular buttons.

Then there’s the lock screen, the first thing you see when you take out your phone. The clock is now gigantic, so long as you don’t have any waiting notifications. The keypad to enter your pin is also new and changes shape when you press on a number, going from a circle to a square and back to a circle.

Some stock apps like Settings also get a new look with large headers and easy-to-reach controls. These UI elements are extremely reminiscent of Samsung’s One UI and OnePlus’ OxygenOS. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good, but it’s clear where Google gets its inspiration from.

But perhaps the make-or-break feature for those trying to decide whether they like Android 12’s new look is the color pallet. With Android 12, you have much wider options for how you want your phone to look.

There’s a setting you can toggle that can read the colors in your wallpaper and have the system adapt accordingly so everything matches. This is where expressing your personality is on full display. You can seriously make your phone look like your own with these tools.

Everything feels a bit more responsive, too, thanks to lots more animations like when over-scrolling in a list. Google says Android 12 optimizes CPU performance as well to be up to 22 percent faster, which is really nice considering the latest Pixel phones don’t have the most impressive specs.

There are also plenty of new features, as you can imagine. You can now press and hold the power button to activate the Google Assistant, quick settings gain Google Pay and Home controls, and there are new customization options for notifications. One of the biggest new features are the redesigned widgets which adapt more natural-looking shapes and aesthetics.

As is the case with every Android update, Android 12 also has plenty of new privacy enhancements. From Google’s blog post:

The new Privacy Dashboard offers a single view into your permissions settings as well as what data is being accessed, how often and by which apps. It also lets you easily revoke app permissions right from the dashboard.

We’ve added a new indicator to the top right of your status bar so you know when your apps are accessing your microphone or camera. And if you want to remove app access to these sensors for the entire system, we’ve added two new toggles in Quick Settings.

We’re also giving you more control over how much information you share with apps. With new approximate location permissions, apps can be limited to seeing just your approximate location instead of a precise one. For example, weather apps don’t need your precise location to offer an accurate forecast. 

Beyond these new privacy features in Android 12, we’re also building privacy protections directly into the OS. There are more opportunities than ever to use AI to create helpful new features, but these features need to be paired with powerful privacy. That’s why in this release we’re introducing Android Private Compute Core. It allows us to introduce new technologies that are private by design, allowing us to keep your personal information safe, private and local to your phone. 

Private Compute Core enables features like Live CaptionNow Playing and Smart Reply. All the audio and language processing happens on-device, isolated from the network to preserve your privacy. Like the rest of Android, the protections in Private Compute Core are open source and fully inspectable and verifiable by the security community. 

There are more features coming later this year, and we’ll continue to push the boundaries and find ways to maintain the highest standards of privacy, security and safety.

Android 12 will serve as one of the biggest updates to Android ever. From the new design to the updated animations to the better security, this upgrade will be making headlines for months to come as new betas are released and it eventually rolls out to the public.

If you wanna give Android 12 a whirl, you can enroll your Pixel phone in Google’s official Android beta program. A select number of other devices from third-parties will also be supported thanks to Project Treble.