The Android tablet will soon get good, or at least it seems like Google is hoping it will with Android 12L. This new version of Android is designed for tablet-sized screens and anything above 600dp, and is available for developers today.
For everyone else, Android 12L should arrive early next year—just in time for the “next wave of Android 12 tablets and foldables,” writes Google in a blog post. The full release should arrive sometime in Q2 2022.
Android 12L looks and feels like Android 12 on a smartphone, but it’s been optimized for larger screens under the hood. The notification shade, lock screen, and other parts of the system utilize a two-column layout so that no part of the screen remains unused.
Android 12L includes a new taskbar at the bottom of the interface, akin to the one available in Chrome OS. You can pin frequently used apps and access them as you move between windows. You can even drag and pin an app to either side of the screen, like on a desktop OS, which will make it much easier to work between two apps. Google cut down how many steps it takes to split the screen, which was a significant pain point for Android tablet users before. By default, all apps can enter split-screen mode regardless if the app is resizable.
Android 12L will also work with folding displays. Smartphones like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 can take advantage of this mode when it’s opened up. Letterboxing and Material You adaptive theming will also be used to make apps look good. And older versions of Android will be backwards-compatible with the apps optimized for 12L.
You’ll have a simpler time finding tablet apps in the Play Store, too. Google is updating the Play Store so that its search results give priority to apps that follow the large screen app quality guide. The store will give you a warning prompt to let you know if you’re about to download an app that isn’t developed for use on a large screen.
Sales of large-screen devices, including Google’s own Chrome OS laptops and hybrids, have increased in the last few years. But not everyone wants to use Chrome OS. As Apple, Microsoft, and even Samsung, which has its own take on Android, have optimized their interfaces for the tablet, Google’s Android has fallen behind.
As we saw with the Pixel Slate, it’s clear Chrome OS wasn’t the answer to Android’s tablet woes. It’ll be interesting to see if a bit of overhaul of the existing OS will be enough to help a person decide between the cheapest iPad and an Android tablet. At the very least, it will make Android much more usable on screens larger than 7 inches.
For those curious to tinker with Android 12L before it’s widely available, the developer preview is coming soon to the Lenovo P12 Pro. At its Developer Summit keynote, Google also announced that some features would soon make their way to the Galaxy Z Fold 3.