The official model of Android 11 is starting to roll out right this moment. It’s hitting Google’s personal Pixel telephones, in fact, however in a nice shock, there are a number of others getting it immediately, too. Most essential amongst them are the OnePlus eight and eight Professional. It’s a welcome enchancment for the tempo of Android updates, although the overwhelming majority of Android telephones gained’t be getting the total OS replace for a while.

When (or, sadly, if) the replace arrives in your Android telephone, what you’ll discover is that a number of essential issues that used to get misplaced within the interface at the moment are simpler to seek out. You’ll additionally see that Android continues to be taking part in catch-up with iOS on the subject of privateness restrictions, however progress is nonetheless being made.

Principally, although, you’ll get a really acquainted interface that does very acquainted issues. That’s not a criticism, only a recognition that Android 11 is a mature OS, so year-over-year enhancements are usually within the “gradual and regular” class.

As I famous in my unique preview, Android does so many issues now that it may be overwhelming. It’s additionally the most-used OS on the planet proper now, so Google has numerous duty because the steward of the platform. That’s why the vast majority of Android 11’s updates fall into the “easy however mandatory” class: managing complexity.

Discovering conversations

It wouldn’t be a brand new model of Android with out some type of a change to the notification shade. Google’s willingness to experiment with notifications is likely one of the causes I like Android a lot — though a few of these concepts finally find yourself being lifeless ends, a few of them change into so important that I’m aggravated after I use a telephone with out them.

The 2 main enhancements to the notifications you get from chat apps are within the latter class. Google has completed two seemingly easy issues that make an enormous distinction within the exercise I care most about on my telephone: texting family and friends in apps like Android Messages and Fb Messenger.

The primary is simply placing notifications from chat apps into their very own part on the high of your entire different notifications, referred to as Conversations. Android’s system is sensible sufficient to acknowledge completely different chat threads after which prioritize inside that part. So you may set one chat thread as a “Precedence Dialog,” and it will likely be extra insistent about its notifications.

You too can mute notifications for chat threads. That is significantly helpful as a result of it means you may have a really energetic chat thread that gained’t blow up your telephone but additionally gained’t get misplaced solely — as a result of though notifications have been muted, that thread continues to be up there along with your different conversations.

Google has completed a good sufficient job with the defaults on these new sorts of dialog notifications that most individuals will be capable of follow them. However if you wish to tweak issues, there’s a stunning quantity of depth to this technique. You possibly can, for instance, now let sure individuals or apps provide you with a warning even when you have Do Not Disturb set to it. You positively can get misplaced in the entire settings, however it’s not too onerous if you happen to simply regulate them over time as notifications are available in.

The second main enchancment is named “Bubbles.” It helps you to take a dialog and have it float above no matter else is in your display screen in a bit window. Once you reduce it, it turns into a bit bubble that hangs out on the facet of your display screen. It’s just about the very same factor as Chat Heads in Fb Messenger.

That description could make you recoil, however in follow, there are numerous issues to like about Bubbles. For one factor, Android 11’s Bubble system works throughout apps: so I can have an energetic dialog in each Messenger and Messages, they usually’re each accessible in the identical place by tapping on the bubble.

The opposite motive I like Bubbles a lot is that it suits nicely with how I truly discuss to individuals in chat apps: in stints whereas I’m doing different issues on my telephone. It’s the phone-sized equal of getting a bit chat window within the nook of your laptop computer display screen. Once you’re completed speaking, you may toss the bubble away.

Android 11’s energy menu provides good dwelling controls.

Energy Menu

With Android 11, Google is lastly expressing an opinion about what ought to occur once you maintain down the ability button. Most Android telephones have three bodily buttons: two for quantity and one for energy. Given how each Android telephone does one thing completely different on an extended press of the ability button, I hope this new system turns into an enforced commonplace.

It brings up the ability choices like shutting down and resetting, in fact. Emergency lockdown for briefly disabling biometrics is there, too, however it’s sadly hidden underneath an additional button press.

Beneath it, although, Google has stuffed in two new sections. The primary is for Google Pay. Cost terminals usually fail to only work correctly with Android’s NFC system, so having Google Pay there to provoke the cost instantly from the telephone is handy.

Beneath which might be good dwelling controls. Google guesses which of them you’ll need there, however you may customise it your self. If these buttons are for lights, you may also slide your finger throughout them for dimming.

Google says these three features type of grasp collectively thematically as your telephone’s connection to the surface, bodily world. That looks as if a little bit of a stretch, however I’m not going to interrogate it as a result of it’s tremendous handy to have entry to these issues.

Within the quick time period, my larger concern is what Android producers are going to do with that lengthy press of the ability button. It appears extremely unlikely that Samsung will use the Google Dwelling-powered good dwelling buttons or Google Pay. However will or not it’s keen to drop Bixby from the ability button and use Android 11’s Energy Menu?

Google has strictly enforced sure UI paradigms in Android — all of them have docks, notification shades, and many others. I believe we’re getting near needing to do the identical with these three bodily buttons.

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The brand new music controls in Android 11.
Picture: Google


Android has lengthy allowed music and podcast apps to put customized, themed controls into notifications. It’s tremendous handy, however some apps have abused the privilege by leaving their controls in your notifications lengthy after you’ve used them. Google’s personal YouTube is a horrible offender on this regard as a result of it places in controls you may’t swipe away in any respect; you must know to increase the notification and faucet an X.

The result’s which you can find yourself with a stack of media controls cluttering up your notifications. Android 11 solves this by pulling out media controls and placing them into the Fast Setting space that sits above them. Extra to the purpose, it places these controls into playing cards you swipe via horizontally.

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Android 11 encourages apps to not ask for background location and provides one-time permissions.

Extra restrictive permissions for apps

With Android 11, Google is following Apple’s lead by altering how apps can entry knowledge from sure sensors. For location, microphone, and digicam entry, Android 11 provides you with the selection to solely grant permission whereas the app is in use or give the app a one-time permission.

In truth, if you wish to give an app permission to entry your location within the background, you must head into that app’s information web page inside settings. It’s an additional step designed to make you assume twice.

After you improve to Android 11, apps are going to need to ask your preferences once more the primary time they attempt to ping a type of sensors. That can function an efficient reset on what the apps can do.

Google goes a bit additional with permissions resetting, too. In the event you’ve granted an app entry to that sensor however haven’t opened it in fairly a while, Android will silently reset that app’s permissions again to having no entry to any of your sensors.

Options by the dozen

So these are essentially the most noticeable options in Android 11, however there are lots of extra I’m not protecting right here. Screenshots look and act much more like they do on the iPhone now, and Android lastly can do display screen recording with out recourse to a third-party app. Google is radically enhancing voice controls, which is a big win for accessibility. Android will now additionally give higher info on a telephone’s 5G standing and make it simpler for enterprise customers to have a private house on their work telephones.

Google’s additionally constructing in additional assist for unusual shows. Android will do a greater job of avoiding unintentional faucets on these wraparound “waterfall” shows, for instance. And it’ll additionally change into conscious of hinges — particularly what angle they’re set at.

Standardizing how hinges work is essential for the numerous folding and dual-screen units that I count on will hit the market within the coming months and years. Sadly, it doesn’t go fairly far sufficient.

Proper now, I’m within the technique of reviewing each the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the Microsoft Floor Duo. I’ve additionally spent a while with the Z Flip and LG’s dual-screen case system with its Velvet smartphone. Each single certainly one of these units has a distinct method to serving to customers with multitasking. Some have overlays, some attempt to mimic the iPad in small methods, and a few attempt to remake Android into a real multiwindow system.

Many of those concepts are nice, however they’re additionally divergent. Google hasn’t expressed a powerful opinion about how Android must deal with these bizarre new kind components, and I fear that it would already be too late to stop one other season of Android fragmentation.

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A Pixel four XL displaying the Android 11 emblem.

Each time I evaluate a brand new model of Android, I finish with some type of finger-wag about how Google must get higher at forcing your entire Android ecosystem to supply well timed updates. I nonetheless want to try this, however first, a small spherical of applause. Google’s announcement put up for Android 11 ends with information that’s fairly enormous within the context of Android’s horrible observe document on updates: “Android 11 will start rolling out right this moment on choose Pixel, OnePlus, Xiaomi, OPPO and realme telephones, with extra companions launching and upgrading units over the approaching months.”

The telephones getting updates aren’t simply minor ones, both. OnePlus says it can launch an Android 11 replace for the OnePlus eight and eight Professional on the similar time that Pixel telephones are getting that. That may be a very massive deal, and hopefully it can put stress on opponents like Samsung to attempt to catch up. Plus, it’s getting extra widespread for Android producers to commit to a few generations of updates, which is an enormous deal given how persons are upgrading much less usually.

Android isn’t simply an OS; it’s a complete ecosystem. And inside that ecosystem, there are many massive forces pushing varied pendulums round. Fragmentation could also be growing, Microsoft is a frenemy to Google’s ecosystem of providers, replace cadences are enhancing, the stress to lastly work out an excellent pill answer is getting actual once more, regulators are involved about Google’s energy, and but updates are more and more coming instantly from Google itself by way of its Play ecosystem. And who is aware of how the present political combat between the US and China will have an effect on Android’s future.

Amid all that, Android 11 isn’t a lot a product that I can suggest or not; it’s simply one other a type of forces within the ecosystem — albeit a robust, foundational drive. For essentially the most half, I believe it exhibits that Google is pushing in the suitable instructions. However the firm nonetheless may do a greater job of pushing these OS updates out to all telephones.

Pictures by Dieter Bohn / The Verge


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