Android 12 is bringing a new design called Material You, and it’s the most significant design change to Android since Google introduced the original Material Design in 2014.
While you can download the Android 12 beta right now, you won’t see Material You in its entirety. Even the much-teased color extraction feature still isn’t ready.
But there are other parts of the new Android 12 interface you can try right now. The Android 12 beta offers snippets of Material You, including bold-colored tiles in the Quick Settings panel, rounded corners for widgets and other menu items, and a sprinkling of new animations. Here’s what we’re digging so far.
The new interface doesn’t change any of Android’s basic navigation structure, but it will change the overall aesthetic. Everything from buttons to menu screens will appear more modern. Material You introduces a host of new shapes, colors, lighting, typography, and even animations across the board.
The new design is most evident right now in the notification shade. The pull-down menu has been reworked from an overloaded Quick Settings control center to what is effectively a menu screen that’s reminiscent of the Power Menu introduced in Android 11. The Quick Settings tiles start as four buttons within the first pull of the menu and then expand into eight larger buttons, with notifications and the built-in media player automatically populating below it. At the very top of the notification shade is a thick brightness slider, which is just as tedious to tap and drag as on the last few versions of Android.
Curiously, the Power Menu hasn’t been updated in the beta to reflect any of the UI changes, but it’s unclear if Material You will extend that far into the interface. The Volume slider has also been revamped a bit. It’s rounder and bolder, though Google plans to shrink it by the final release.
The Lock Screen also offers a bit of the new Material You flair without the colorized accent. The noticeable visual difference in the current Android 12 beta is an upgrade in typography. The current time has the largest heading, with the date and weather forecast stacked below it in much smaller font. The clock is centered if there are no notifications, however.
In the last few versions of Android, the Lock Screen remained somewhat simplified to make it easier to navigate for notification overload. The bigger font does crowd the Lock Screen a bit when there are numerous unaddressed notifications, but I imagine it will all look much more polished after colorization goes live.
Google has to compete a bit more with Apple now that iOS has unlocked widget customization. Android widgets have been remarkably all over the place, to both the fortune of folks who love customizing the OS as they like and to the detriment of everyone else who doesn’t have the time to do that sort of thing. The result is usually a page of widgets that function but don’t technically match.
The good news is that Google has updated the Widgets API to automatically conform new widgets placed on the Home screen to the Material You design specifications. In the current Android 12 beta, you’ll automatically get rounded corners on widgets, but nothing more. There will be color-theming available in a future beta update. The main widget selection menu has also been overhauled to appear more organized, with collapsible options for each available one.
Google also redesigned its own widgets, like the calendar and clock, to stand out among the sea of rounded boxes. But they’re not available to sample yet. According to The Verge, Google’s widgets change color as you move them around the wallpaper to effectively “tune” to the rest of the Home screen. I can’t wait to experience this in person.
The final release of Android 12 is liable to bring more movement than you’ve experienced throughout the last year of lockdown. Animations and the way you move between interface screens have long been a priority for Google’s mobile design, and in Material You, it’s doubling down.
There are some menu screens in the current beta where you’ll notice a subtle shimmering ripple animation happen in the background as you interact with an actionable button. The result adds a bit of tangibility to Android’s otherwise flat buttons. The Lock Screen also has some new effects, and if you use a PIN to unlock the device, you’ll see each number change shapes as you tap in your code. And like Android phones from Samsung and OnePlus have done for years, Android 12 will flash an animation when you plug in a charging cable to indicate it’s juicing up.
The animations add more flair to Android than might feel necessary, considering Google’s longstanding attempt to simplify the operating system for budget devices. I’m not sure if those animations will be a part of the Android Go experience, however. I am also concerned with how the animations will fare over time with older devices.
There are three more Android 12 beta releases scheduled for the summer, so this isn’t the last version of Material You. It’s unclear if Google will push through the new theming engine before the public release this fall, however. There are also other Android 12 features we’re eager to try that aren’t in this first beta, including the new Privacy Dashboard and kill switches for the microphone and camera.
What we have right now are baby steps toward Google’s new unified vision for Android. And though Google’s professional renders show a colorful, dynamic interface on the horizon, it remains a pipe dream until the rest of us can play with it and see how it pairs with everything else. As with every Android version, developers get to reconfigure their apps for the operating system first, while the rest of us brave enough to venture into pre-release land get to be guinea pigs for Google.
The Android 12 beta is currently available to tinker with for every Pixel device after the Pixel 3. The official beta page will point out your compatible devices and offer an easy switch to opt into the beta. Other phone manufacturers like OnePlus have also joined in for the public preview, though there have been reports of bricked devices. Remember, there’s always a risk with these things. But again, the trade-off is that you get to play with new features before everyone else does.