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What’s New in Android 12: Material You

by
Siddharth Maganty
May 25, 2021

"Instead of form following function, what if form followed feeling?" "Instead of Material Blue, how about Material You?" Matias Duarte (VP, Material Design) posed these questions and set the tone for Android 2021 and beyond.

Touted to be the most significant overhaul in Android's design history, Material You brings with it a slew of surprises. It spurns Android's (now typical) minimalism and embraces big, bubbly, and colorful buttons. Privacy and the dialogue around it make a comeback as a dominant theme. The visually dense Quick Settings panel officially goes extinct. WearOS gets a big, big fillip with the recent Fitbit acquisition. And unified user experiences come under renewed focus with Google blazing past the 3 billion Android devices' milestone. Our team takes a closer look at these changes and what they could mean for your Android app's future.

BIGGER BUTTONS. MORE COLORS. FUN ANIMATION.

The bubbly buttons on Material You depart from their predecessors' sleekness to become more legible and playful. Nowhere is this more visible than in the Quick Settings panel, which trades button density for color and clarity. The brightness bar now sports a broader and fuller design. However, the stand-out additions here are the GPay and Home Devices buttons as defaults. Of course, the option to customize your Quick Settings exists, but this choice in defaults marks an intriguing shift.

The home screen is where the clever new clustering algorithm flexes its muscles and helps Google make good on its promise of making you Android 12's co-creator. As Sameer Samat (VP, Product Management, Google Play and Android) happily demonstrated, the algorithm identified the dominant hues in his wallpaper (a photo of his kids) and adjusted the system's colors to match instantly. And this customizability isn't restricted to Google apps or Pixel devices alone. Android will roll out access to Material You's design language to other app creators, device makers, and platforms like Chromebooks, tablets, and watches.

Android 12 UI
Android 12 Latest UI

THE PRIVACY PROMISE.

In the wake of Apple's path breaking announcement on app tracking transparency, Google responded with the mysteriously named Android Private Compute Core (APCC). The APCC is a walled-off portion of your OS that will house your device's machine learning functions. The functions inside it are not allowed any network access; Google's open-source APIs are the only way it communicates. This fences the data within the APCC's sandbox and never lets it reach the Cloud.

Another entrant into the privacy arena is a proactive Privacy Dashboard, now armed with more insights and toggles. Android will alert you if an app's using your camera or mic with status bar icons and will show a prompt asking if you want to shut access off. This applies to Google's apps, too, heralding the shift to privacy as the next major smartphone battle frontier.  

ANDROID, ALL AROUND YOU.

With over 3 billion Android devices in existence, it's no wonder that 'Better together' was one of I/O's dominant themes. In an attempt to counter Apple's chokehold on the smartwatch segment, Google announced a tie-up with Samsung. WearOS and Samsung's Tizen are now a unified platform where developers can make one app that works on them both. Bolstered by Fitbit's acquisition, Google announced giant strides toward making WearOS more focussed on health (knock-knock, Apple). On top of a revamped UI, WearOS threw open doors to more APIs, incentivizing developers to up their wearables game. However, that's isn't all.

80 million. That's the number of Android TVs in existence today. The renewed focus on more unified user experiences will soon turn your smartphone into an AndroidTV remote. But it won't end there. Android phones will also double as your car key — with only (for now) BMWs — the first carmaker Google tied up with. Chromebooks and smartphones will work better, thanks to cool new features. Incoming chat notifications from your phone will now show up on your laptop. Google Photos on Chromebooks becomes less cumbersome with a welcome alternative that gives you a quick glance at your most recent captures.

WHAT DOES YOUR ANDROID APP'S FUTURE LOOK LIKE?

Material You is a thorough design overhaul for Android. But it doesn't ride on the backs of loud upgrades that scream change. Instead, it's stitched together with a host of subtler and more minor tweaks. Taken together, these have the potential to transform app design and their in-app experiences. Here's a clearer picture:

  • User redirection: It's time to wave goodbye to the days of redirecting your users into browser oblivion when they clicked an URL. If a user has your app installed, Android 12 will direct them right into it instead of having the page open externally in the browser. The best part? You can even decide the app-screen they get ushered into, heightening your control over a user's experience.
  •  Seamless Refresh Rates: This buries that short-lived black screen that pops up when you open an app sometimes. Android 12 gives developers the option to transition instantly to a different refresh rate and ensure your app opens smoothly, accounting for any opening animations it may sport. This may not sound like much when you read it, but it goes a long way toward a cleaner user experience.
     
  • Audio-coupled haptic effect: Read: the long-pending marriage of audio and haptic. Android 12 will allow apps to generate haptic feedback by using the phone's vibrator. This creates a wide range of applications. For instance, the right mix of audio and haptic can help you identify when that one annoying telemarketer calls. Or, if you're playing a driving game, haptic feedback could simulate the feeling of bumpy terrain.

  • Way prettier notifications: Your app can now shoot animated images in user notifications, thanks to Android 12's support for enriched images. Another perk: you can now use an image or GIF when you reply to a message from the notification shade.
     
  • Splash screens get the You touch: Material You's staunch commitment to dynamism and personalization will reflect even in how apps open. The newly added SplashScreen API introduces a new app launch animation for all apps and makes standard design elements more customizable, allowing you to display unique branding.
  • The Rounded Corners API makes a debut: The antithesis of Material You is the One-size Fits All approach. And it is to counter the latter's stifling grip on your UI's flexibility that the rounded Corners API enters the ring. It protects your app's UI elements from getting truncated by a phone's rounded corners and maintains the sanctity of your in-app experience.

  • No more overlays: Now, you can actively choose to not allow other apps to overlay their screens over yours. This keeps your users from getting distracted and possibly leaving the app mid-use. It is the attention economy, after all.

  • Bandwidth estimation: One of those anti-rockstar features that drastically improve UX and refuse to hog the limelight. It helps your app get a realistic estimate of a user's expected throughput over both cellular and WiFi SSID. Your app can now gauge the internet speed available and decide the quality of media it loads. This lets your user's interaction with your app's core features remain largely independent of constricted bandwidth.
  • The Restrictive App Standby bucket: If something sounds bad, it usually is. And this is probably the only negative about 12 from a developer’s standpoint. Android divides your phone's apps into buckets: Active, Working, Frequent, Rare, and Restricted (in that order). An app is tossed into the Restricted bucket when a user doesn't engage with it much. This places a cap on how much of your system's resources the app can demand and restricts it to standby. Translation: user engagement is crucial for your app to avoid the Restricted sinkhole and capitalize on Android 12's improvements.

When taken together, this could spell a reinvention of how your app approaches UX design on Android. As experts in developing for Android, Mutual Mobile has launched apps on the OS for firms like The Economist, Under Armour, AccuWeather and Builders FirstSource, a Fortune 500 company. Our developers can help you explore Android 12’s underlying potential and upgrade your app in a way that capitalizes on Material You.

In our upcoming series of posts, we will delve deeper into Google’s 2021 I/O  to share what the announcements could mean for your app.