Android 11 starts rolling out with focus on simplicity, accessibility and control

Over half a year since it was announced and started public testing, Android 11 is finally rolling out to devices, according to Google.

The rollout is expected to span the next couple of months as most of Google’s Android partners, the various device makers that rely on the company’s mobile operating system, are still testing the new operating system version’s compatibility with existing devices and tweaking it in line with their existing custom user interface guidelines.

Samsung, for instance, is testing One UI 3, its own custom take on Android 11. Several of the Korean company’s devices, released over the last one and a half years or thereabouts, are eligible for the bump up to Android 11 going by the company’s recent stance on supporting its devices across 3 major software upgrades.

According to Google, Android 11, in its final release, is geared towards making it easier for users to converse, capture content, control how they engage and interact with on-screen and off-screen elements and, for those with various impairments and disabilities, not miss out anything.

Expanded, that means that users get to have the old Facebook Home/now Facebook Messenger-style “chat heads” i.e. conversation bubbles that pop up over existing app windows thereby making it easier to multi-task and never miss a message. Messages/conversations from multiple apps are also now available in one place, making it easier to catch up as well as to take advantage of Android 11’s focus on making conversations easier to follow to sort them by order of priority. For instance, you might want to have messages from your boss, significant other or baby’s caregiver prioritized over those of random services you subscribe to.

While features like smart reply have been baked into Google apps like Messages and Assistant, others that are being highlighted by Google as exploiting the company’s expansive understanding of Artificial Intelligence like app suggestions and smart folders are new, at least to the “Google Android” experience. Users of devices from brands such as Tecno, vivo, Oppo and others are already familiar with the automatic sorting of apps, when they are installed, as well as folder name suggestions when they group apps. For instance, putting apps like WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter in one folder should have that folder automatically renamed to “Social” on most devices with custom Android builds. In Android 11, the feature is now native to Android and users of “pure” Android devices like Google’s own Pixel smartphones, are now joining the fold, finally.

Another feature we have previously highlighted that is becoming native to Android with version 11 is screen recording. Even better, as we have seen with custom add-ons from device makers as well as third-party screen recording apps, Google is giving users the chance to choose whether to capture what’s going on on the phone or what’s going on outside it (like your own voice, for instance) or a mix of both.

On the privacy front, a key area of focus by Google over the last 3 versions of Android, in addition to one-time permissions being granted to apps that ask for access to sensitive things like microphones and cameras, permissions for apps that a user hasn’t used for a while will automatically be revoked and reset.

The update also integrates Nearby Share, Google’s own Apple Airdrop-like feature, bringing the ability to instantly share files, videos, map locations and more with other nearby Android devices.

Here is a quick rundown of other features making their way to Android with Android 11:

  • When you turn on Airplane mode, connected media devices such as headsets won’t disconnect and need to be reconnected again.
  • Android Auto will work wirelessly with any device running Android 11. And here I was the other day looking at this Indiegogo project that is meant to eliminate wires.
  • For those using company-owned devices, thanks to the Android Enterprise Recommended programme, they can now set a schedule to automatically turn their work profile on and off.
  • It is now possible to type Braille using one’s Android smartphone/tablet with no need for any additional hardware.
  • Notification history is now accessible from the settings.
  • “Share a tethered internet connection with a USB ethernet dongle.”
  • Picture-in-picture windows can be adjusted to fit the size one needs.
  • Optimization for 5G connections so that applications can adjust accordingly and take advantage of the increased bandwidth.
  • The ability to set a schedule for when dark mode kicks in. Say, as is the case on macOS automatically, one wants dark mode from the evening all the way to the morning, they will be able to specify as such.
  • Better support for foldable devices.
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Android 11 is rolling out immediately to all Google Pixel smartphones (except the first generation Pixel devices) and should be coming to more devices, especially those that partook in the public testing, soon. As far as we know, of those devices, only the Tecno Pouvoir 4 is officially available in the Kenyan market.

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