Google surprised many when it released the first developer preview of Android 11 this week. The forthcoming version of Android has loads of new and changed APIs for developers to sink their teeth into. The biggest features tackle fifth-generation wireless, privacy, folding phones, photography and machine learning.
"With Android 11 we’re keeping our focus on helping users take advantage of the latest innovations while continuing to keep privacy and security a top priority," said Google's Dave Burke, VP of engineering, in a blog post. "We’ve added multiple new features to help users manage access to sensitive data and files, and we’ve hardened critical areas of the platform to keep the OS resilient and secure. For developers, Android 11 has a ton of new capabilities for your apps, like enhancements for foldables and 5G, call-screening APIs, new media and camera capabilities, machine learning, and more."
Here is an overview of what's fresh in Android 11.
5G garners two updated APIs: the Dynamic meteredness API and the Bandwidth estimator API. The former allows apps to check whether a connection is unmetered. Apps would do this to determine what resolution to playback video over cellular networks, for example. It can help identify those networks (and their customers) that truly offer unlimited, unmetered data. The latter API has been updated so apps can more easily check to see what the upstream/downstream bandwidth is without using metered data. The API can make estimates if the modem doesn't support polling the network.
Google hopes Android 11 will help developers do more with the ever-expanding variety of displays out there. The Display cutout API was updated with new support for pinhole and waterfall screens, and a brand new API called the WindowsLayout.Params API makes it possible for developers to use waterfall screens (including the edge) to their benefit.
Android 11 should make messaging apps more attractive. How so? Chat bubbles. The new Bubbles API makes it easier to manage multiple conversations at a time thanks to better visual separation. This can be applied specifically to the notifications shade, where many people find themselves chatting. Google says the Conversation shortcuts API works together with the Bubble and People APIs to facilitate multitasking.
The Neural Networks API jumps to version 1.3 and adds three new operations. Moving forward, the Quality of Service APIs will support priority and timeout for model execution; the Memory Domain APIs will help reduce memory copying for consecutive model executions, and the NNAPI also gains expanded quantization support thanks to signed integers that are used in place of float numbers to permit faster performance. More information on these operations is available here. These will help machine learning and artificial intelligence applications.
On the privacy front, Google looks to be clamping down big time on location access. In Android 11, for example, users can allow apps to only ping their location a single time. This level of control means the app can access the associated data while the person is using the app. Once the user changes apps, the permission is revoked. This applies to the microphone and camera, as well.
Google is targeting security in Android 11, too. For example, it has expanded support for more biometric devices, which are now subject to three authenticator types. Moreover, all apps that rely on biometric authorization will need to move to the BiometricPrompt API. Google says it has taken steps to harden the Android platform, secure storage, and data sharing, as well as protect identity credentials.
There are myriad updates and changes to the Google Play System. For example, there are new greylists on restricted non-SDK interfaces, new dynamic resource loaders, and new platform stability milestones. The Wi-Fi suggestion API has been improved to give connectivity management apps more control over their networks. It can also now better enforce Passpoint profile expiration dates.
The ImageDecoder API lets developers decode and render image animations stored in HEIF files. New NDK APIs can decode a wider range of file formats, and fresh APIs can mute notifications and other interruptions when using the camera.
As always, Google warns that the developer preview is in fact for developers. It is not meant to be a daily driver for anyone. To reiterate that fact, the platform can only be installed via side loading. All the downloads you need are right here. Android 11 is compatible with the Google Pixel 2, Pixel 3, Pixel 3a, and Pixel 4.