The Android 11 developer preview was recently released. Learn about the standout features in this upgrade to the Google platform.
By Jack Wallen | March 20, 2020, 10:20 AM PST
It seems like Android 10 only just hit the mobility airwaves. Android 10 is baked in and working to perfection--at least that's the case on my Google Pixel 4. But as is the wont of Google, Android is always moving forward. The developer preview of Android 11 was released, and it includes interesting features that may or may not make it to the final version.
This Android 11 release is only meant for developers, so don't bother searching it out and installing it on your supported device; otherwise, you will wind up suffering endless frustration.
SEE: Top Android security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Android 11's most interesting features
Scheduled dark theme
I'm going to confess: I'm not a fan of the dark theme on Android. But that has nothing to do with the platform, or its take on the feature--I just don't care for the stark contrast of the look. Also, I rarely use my Android device in the dark. My Kindle stays in dark mode most of the time, so I understand the appeal of the feature.
That being said, Android 11 is reported to now have the ability to schedule when your device shifts to dark mode. You can either set a custom time or have Android shift between dark and light mode based on sunrise/sunset times in your time zone.
Chat Head bubbles are back
Most Android users have used the Chat Head bubbles found in Facebook's Messenger app. Many hardcore Android users have known about the possibility of such a feature creeping its way into other applications, and that time has finally come.
With Android 11, the bubbles feature will make its way to mass rollout. Google has informed developers to start using the bubbles API, so once Android 11 ships, apps should be making use of the tool.
I hope our Android screens aren't inundated with bubbles. If so, hopefully, they'll be easily "popped."
In Google's quest to perfect Android security and privacy, the company will release a new option in the platform's permission system. In Android 10, you have the option to grant an app two different permissions for location access: While Using The App or Deny. In Android 11, a new permission will appear: Only This Time.
In other words, users will be able to grant an app permission to use location access once. There's no indication if this permission request will happen every time you open the app, or if it's a one-and-done option, which means you would have to re-install the app to give it location access.
No matter how the feature winds up, at least we know Google is working to improve the security and privacy of the platform.
In order to capture screen recordings on Android, I've had to use a third-party tool like AZ Screen Recorder; with the release of Android 11, that app may no longer be necessary.
This screen recording feature briefly appeared in one of the Android 10 builds, but quickly disappeared--there's no way to know if it'll pull off the same vanishing act by the time Android 11 rolls out. Hopefully, this time the developers will leave the feature in, so users can take video screen grabs of their devices to share with others.
Motion Sense gesture
This feature will only be on the Pixel line of devices, at least in the beginning. The feature allows you to pause/play with a Motion Sense gesture. So while listening to music, you could gesture with your device to pause or play the current tune. This will be handy if you constantly need to pause your music to converse with an actual human.
Share Menu pinning
The Android Share Menu has always been a point of contention for me. Although Android's Share Menu has vastly improved from release to release (Android 10 is the best yet), it has never failed to frustrate. Why?
I tend to share with a select few people, using a select few apps, and yet the Share Menu rarely shows the correct combination of shares. For instance, when I share with Contact A, I always use App B; however, the Android Share Menu never fails to show Contact A with App C. And the app I most often share to is Google Drive, though Google Drive is always buried in the Share Menu until I share with the app in question the first time that day. Even then, it can still get buried.
With Android 11, you'll finally be able to pin apps and shortcuts to the Share Menu. This feature briefly appeared in the Android 10 build cycle but never made it to final release. Hopefully, this time around the feature will remain.
SEE: Google is already making Android 11. What we know about about security, notifications, more (CNET)
Airdrop-style file sharing
One of the most highly anticipated features to come to Android in some time is a take on iOS's Airdrop, called Fast Share (or possibly Nearby Sharing). This new addition was confirmed in the Android 11 Developers release notes and also indicates some of the issues the developers are currently having with the feature. When it is fixed, Fast Share will make it incredibly easy to share files between Android devices.
There are two important API additions coming to Android 11. The first is the 5G state API, which will make it possible for Android to see if a user is currently on a 5G network. This API will make it such that developers can activate certain experiences available to the platform when on the faster, next-gen network.
Another new API is focused on foldable devices. With this, the API can read data from a hinge-angle sensor such that apps will be able to adapt to the angle of the device hinge.
Other APIs include those for screening robocalls and variable refresh rates.
Resume On Boot
There's one more new feature coming to the Android 11 second developer preview, which is called Resume On Boot. With this addition, any time an Android 11 device reboots after an overnight OTA update, it will be able to immediately access Credential Encrypted storage so it can start receiving messages right away.
Android 11's release date
As of now, there is no official release date for Android 11. The developer preview for Android 11 was released one month earlier than it was for Android 10, so it could be easy to presume Android 11 might be released a month or so earlier. Does that mean the Android 11 beta program will start earlier than usual? I don't know, though I predict Android 11 will be released in September 2020. And, as you all have come to expect, that will first hit Pixel devices and then ever so slowly roll out to other devices. So, if you want first dibs on Android 11, it's time to get to a Pixel.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 26, 2020 and was updated on March 20, 2020 to reflect additional features.