Android 11 is here with us: What you need to know

Out with Android 10, in with the new!

Android 11 is here with us, sort of.

The first developer preview of the next version of Android is already out for developers to test and start optimizing their applications before its eventual release later in the year.

Android 11 marks the first time that we are entering a new Android version release cycle with no reference to a dessert-themed name after that was dropped last year.

The new version of Android will just simply be Android 11, even though developers have “Android R” to work with on Android Studio and, for those that also take Android 11 Developer Preview for a spin, the “R” will also show up in the About phone┬ápage.

What’s new

Of course, it’s not a new version of Android if we are also not getting any new features, right?

So, what’s new in Android 11 (at least from the user, not much to do with the developer, perspective)?

More support for 5G devices

Developers are getting access to the dynamic meteredness API. What this means for us ordinary people is that apps will be able to check if one is using a metered connection.

Given the way 5G is being implemented around the world, some carriers (and this is likely to be the case for us in Kenya when we finally get 5G, which should be soon) will be metering their connections and apps should be smart enough to know when the connection they are using to access the internet is limited or uncapped.

Better support for streaming services like Google Stadia thanks to low-latency video decoding

With Google expanding support for its cloud gaming service Stadia to more devices, we can expect to see Stadia working right out of the box on most, if not all, of the flagship smartphones that will be released this year.

One of the early criticisms that Stadia has had to weather since it went live months ago has been the lag occasioned by the high latency and the need for high bandwidth connections, something that may not be accessible to many of the over 2.5 billion people using Android devices.

If Stadia, and other cloud gaming services (like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now) are to truly take gaming to the next level, there needs to be an effort, starting at the operating system level to make things easy and convenient for end users. That is what Google is doing by providing developers access to tools that will allow them to configure low-latency playback for the specific video codecs their apps (and services) are using.

Better support for devices with pinhole and waterfall displays

We saw it with the Galaxy S10 last year and we have seen it with the Galaxy S20 this year. Heck, we even had budget devices like the Tecno Camon 12 Air arrive with it. We are talking about those so-called pinhole displays that have been occasioned by our unquenchable thirst for more screen real estate and fewer notches.

While device makers have so far done a good job of optimizing their custom takes on Android to accommodate hardware decisions like the punch hole displays they have been packing, third-party app developers haven’t had as much chances to optimize their apps to take advantage of them or just render correctly on devices that have them.

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The same is true for those using devices, like the Galaxy Note 9, that have the so-called waterfall displays. Those edge screens.

With Android 11, the promise to users is that of a better experience as app developers now have the means to improve the experience and optimize for those displays.

Does this mean it will become less fashionable for reviewers to say how the only bone they have to pick with the display is because of its “edge” features?

Bubbles

No, not that bubble that I am so fond of.

It’s bubbles like what you get when someone sends you a message on Facebook’s Messenger app (remember Chat Heads?). Or, if like yours truly, you use apps like YAATA for your SMS needs then you have the option to activate something similar.

Basically, floating bubbles that allow you to quickly jump into a conversation and respond without having to open the full app.

That is now becoming standard in Android 11 and apps that need it to stay visible – on top of whatever one is working on – will be able to do so without a lot of heavy lifting on the part of whoever is behind the app.

Image sharing from the notification dropdown

We’ve all been here, haven’t we? You get a WhatsApp text or a mention on Twitter and want to respond directly from the notification shade where that alert has been delivered with your favourite shrug meme but you can’t since you can only text…

That ends with Android 10. In Android 11, it is possible for users to reply with images directly from the notification dropdown. Yay!

Screen recording

This ought to have been part of Android 10 – and it was – but whatever happened happened so, here we go again.

Screen recording, just as we have seen it implemented on custom takes on Android like in Huawei’s EMUI, is accessible from the Quick Settings on devices that are running “pure” Android.

Privacy

Over the last few years, Google has doubled down on privacy. For a good reason. Android 11 is keeping that fire burning by picking up from where Android 10 left.

One of our favourite features on Android 10, the ability to set location permissions – accessible all the time, on-demand or never – is getting even better. Users won’t have to do anything. Just that from August, developers will now have to work with an extra layer of scrutiny if they specify that their app needs to constantly access user location. Those that fail to justify their need for always-on access to user location will have their apps removed from Google Play altogether.

A new addition to the location permissions introduced in Android 10 is the ability for users to allow an app to access their location information only at that given time. This, however, comes at an expense: the “Allow all the time” option has been removed and the process to get it, for apps that need it, is as described above.

Even better, apps that continuously nag users for access to their location information despite them having denied it the very first time will be blocked from having that privilege or even asking for it unless the user specifically heads over to the Permissions section of the settings app and grants it.

Security

“Android 11 adds platform support for secure storage and retrieval of verifiable identification documents, such as ISO 18013-5 compliant Mobile Driving Licenses,” reads Google’s post on its Android developer blog announcing Android 11 Developer Preview.

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Expanded biometric support that will see biometric authentication support strong, weak, and device credential security levels has also been added.

Others

You have probably seen those very long screenshots on social media that many of us don’t give second looks to (they’re a mess, honestly). It’s easy to assume that, since you have that feature on your Android device, it is universal on Android. It is not and has never been.

Much as the likes of Samsung have had the feature for over 7 years, Android itself has simply never caught up.

However, last year, Google promised to include the feature in the new version of Android. Android 11 being that version of Android, it may be time we saw it, right? It’s not included in the official list of what’s new that Google has provided but it has been sighted and our fingers are crossed that it makes it to the final Android 11 build.

In addition to rolling screenshots, those that have fallen in love with Android 10’s universal/system-wide dark mode feature will be glad to know that they don’t have to keep playing with the toggle in the settings app in Android 11 as the system can be set to automatically detect when darkness falls and adjust accordingly. How cool is that? Of course, this feature has been available on other custom takes on Android for a while now so users of such devices might be wondering what all that fuss is about.

Another important feature coming to Android in Android 11 is that notifications will no longer be a bother when one is using the camera app either to capture images or record video.

Supported devices

The Android 11 Developer Preview is immediately available for manual flashing on the Google Pixel 2, 2XL, Pixel 3, Pixel 3XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 4, Pixel 4XL.

As we have seen in recent years, especially with the release of Android 9 Pie and Android 10, several non-Google smartphones are likely to be part of the Android 11 testing phase at later stages. We’ll likely hear more about this in May at Google I/O 2020.

Timelines

The Android 11 Developer Preview is available for download and installation (no over-the-air updating, yet, but you can download OTA files here) on the devices listed above immediately.

While last year with Android 10 Google never mentioned anything to do with “Developer Preview”s, this year, they are back. There will be three of them. What’s available right now is the first developer preview. A second and third developer preview will follow next month (March) and in April.

After that, 3 beta versions will be made available before a final build rolls out mid-year as Android 11’s release schedule enters its homestretch.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com