Delayed by civil unrest in the US, a week after Google originally intended to unveil the Android 11 Public Beta the software has finally gone live, available for Pixel owners to download and try out immediately.
Through the Public Beta it’s possible to get a good look at some of the new features coming to Android, which it says are based on People, Controls and Privacy.
We’ve found Android 11 to be largely focused on the areas of notifications and conversations, and privacy and permissions, but in the latest version we’ve also enjoyed improved voice access and the addition of media controls in the notification drop-down.
This Public Beta follows three Developer Previews that have arrived since Android 11’s initial announcement back in February. Many of the changes we had seen previously were cosmetic, with some changes to how wallpapers are selected and larger notification preference windows, for example. Google had also added new 5G and network APIs, some feature improvements for foldable devices, and various tweaks to technical processes that run in the background.
When is Android 11 coming out?
With the Public Beta available now, Android 11 is still on track for a summer release – likely in late-July/early-August.
With the release of Android 7 Nougat back in 2016 Google brought forward its release schedule for Android operating system updates, for the first time unveiling the final consumer release ahead of its October hardware event. Since then we’ve seen Android updates arrive in August, with a 3 September launch in 2019 the sole exception to this rule.
This earlier schedule has necessitated Google also rethinking when it first releases code to developers, and having previously remained tight-lipped until the public beta release during its annual developers conference – Google I/O – we have now got used to seeing the Developer Preview go out in March.
Related: How to get Android 11 right now
As it happens, Google I/O 2020 was cancelled due to coronavirus, but we were given even earlier access to the first Developer Preview back in February.
In the timeline it has set out for future updates and betas Google has committed only to a Q3 2020 release. We have already seen three Developer Previews and one Public Beta go live, but we can expect two more Beta releases before the final code is made public.
Previous Android OS release dates
Android 5 Lollipop
First Beta: 25 June 2014
Full Consumer Release: 12 November 2014
Android 6 Marshmallow
First Beta: 28 May 2015
Final Consumer Release: 5 October 2015
Android 7 Nougat
First Beta: 9 March 2016
Public Beta (Beta 3): 18 May 2016, with updates on 15 June and 18 July
Final Consumer Release: 22 August 2016
Android 8 Oreo
Developer Preview: 21 March 2017
Public Beta: 17 May 2017, with updates on 8 June and 24 July
Final Consumer Release: 21 August 2017
Android 9 Pie
Developer Preview: 7 March 2018
Public Beta: 8 May 2018, with updates on 6 June, 2 July and 25 July
Final Consumer Release: 6 August 2018
Developer Preview: 13 March 2019
Public Beta (Beta 3): 7 May 2019, with updates on 5 June, 10 July and 7 August
Final Consumer Release: 3 September 2019
Developer Preview 1: 19 February 2020
Developer Preview 2: 18 March 2020
Developer Preview 3: 23 April 2020
Public Beta 1: 10 June 2020
Public Beta 2: June/July 2020
Public Beta 3 (Release Candidate Build): Q3 2020
Final Consumer Release: Q3 2020
When can I get Android 11?
Although the Public Beta is out now, it is currently available only to owners of Pixel 2/2 XL/3/3 XL/3a/3a XL/4/4 XL phones. We expect it to roll out to more devices imminently and, as a guide, in 2019 you were able to install the Android 10 beta on 21 devices, including select models from OnePlus, Xiaomi, Asus, Huawei, Sony, Nokia, Oppo, LG, Essential, Vivo and Realme.
To enrol in the Public Beta visit Google’s sign-up page.
Following this we expect a final release for Android 11 in late-July/early-August 2020, but do note that unless you are running a Google Pixel, Android One or one of the beta-supported phones it is unlikely that you will get the update immediately. Although phone makers have been much better at rolling out updates in recent years, older and cheaper phones almost certainly won’t make the cut.
The time taken to roll out updates and the fact some devices will never get the upgrade at all has meant that Android has long been criticised for still having users running older, less secure platforms.
What will Android 11 be called?
Quite simply, Android 11. Gone are the days we used to have great fun guessing after which sweet treat Google would name its latest Android update.
Since the first Android OS was released the naming system followed two rules: it must be in alphabetical order; and it must be a tasty treat.
Fact is Google was always going to have a problem when it got to ‘Q’ in 2019, with Android 10 Quiche not having quite the same ring to it as Android 8 Oreo or Android 5 Lollipop. And, let’s face it, Google had already struggled with Android Nougat in 2016, reaching out to the public for help in naming its next OS and then settling on a word half its customers couldn’t even pronounce, and then in 2018 struggling to come up with anything more tempting than a pie for the letter P.
You might see some tech sites referring to the next instalment of Android as Android R over the next few months as we approach release, and though it would be much easier to find an appropriate name for this, we can’t see Google overturning last year’s decision to desert the desserts. A great shame.
Here are the previous Android OS names:
Android 1.6 Donut
Android 2.0 Eclair
Android 2.2 Froyo
Android 2.3 Gingerbread
Android 3 Honeycomb
Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Android 4.4 KitKat
Android 5 Lollipop
Android 6 Marshmallow
Android 7 Nougat
Android 8 Oreo
Android 9 Pie
What are the new features in Android 11?
New conversations features
One of the highlights of Android 11 is Bubbles, which sounds very much like a feature borrowed from Facebook Messenger, keeping conversations in view onscreen until you dismiss them. As you await a friend’s next reply you’ll be able to more easily get on with other things, without forgetting all about the ongoing chat.
The notifications drop-down menu is also getting a bit of a revamp, first with a new dedicated Conversations section, which makes it easier to continue chatting with friends, and second with the ability to copy and paste images into replies right within the notification. You can long-press to promote a conversation to a bubble, create a home screen shortcut for the conversation, silence or snooze notifications for the conversation, and mark a conversation as very important.
Android 11 will be able to offer a post call screen to add a caller to contacts or mark a call as spam.
Muted notifications during video recording
Android 11 will be able to turn off vibration alerts for ringtones, alarms and notifications while the camera is operating. Other image and camera improvements include HEIF animated drawtables, a native image decoder and the ability for apps to access a camera’s bokeh mode for video and stills.
Existing Android users will be familiar with pop-ups that require their permission for an app to do a certain thing, such as access their location. Having last year added the ability to grant permissions only while the app is open, in Android 11 Google takes this up a gear with the ability to grant that permission on that occasion only. In other words, they will be asked for their permission every single time.
Enhanced 5G support
Google is updating its connectivity APIs to take fuller advantage of the faster speeds of 5G. In particular, the Dynamic meteredness API can check whether you’re on an unmetered tariff and deliver higher-resolution and higher-quality content as appropriate, while the Bandwidth estimator API makes it easier to obtain download and upload speed data without needing to measure the network or the device.
Support for new screen types
Pinhole (where the selfie camera is housed in a small punch-hole cutout in the display) and waterfall (where the screens curve around the phone’s frame) screens are already catered for in existing APIs but without full functionality. New APIs will allow waterfall screens to use the entire display, including the edges, with insets used to avoid complicating any interaction at the edges.
Little detail was given on exactly what this means, but Google claims it has continued its work to “better protect app and user data on external storage, and made further improvements to help developers migrate more easily”.
Power menu smart home controls
Long-pressing on the power key currently presents you with the ability to turn off or restart your device, as well as access to the emergency button. In Android 11 you also gain access to your smartphone controls – as set up within Google Home.
With Android 11 Google will reach even more devices with monthly security updates, and builds more protections into the platform. It specifically calls out enhanced APIs for: biometrics, now reaching more devices and supporting three levels of granularity for authenticator types; platform hardening, expanding its use of compiler-based santisers in security-critical components; secure storage and sharing of data, through the BlobstoreManager; and identity credentials, adding support for secure storage and retrieval of verifiable ID documents.
Neural Networks API that assists in intensive machine learning operations on Android devices
Increased investment in Google Play System Updates to improve security, privacy and consistency
New processes that prioritise app compatibility to make updates faster and smoother
Lower-latency video decoding and HDMI low-latency mode
Not all Android 11 devices will have all the release’s features
One caveat to what Android 11 brings to the table – as spotted by XDA Developers – is that not every new feature is a compulsory addition that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), such Samsung or Oppo, will have to embrace.
The new device control settings power menu shortcut, the notifications conversations feature and the need to store documents such as drivers licenses on-device will all be optional extras.
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