Google has just released the first public beta of Android 11 and it's packed with tons of very intriguing features. We would have probably seen most of these demonstrated on stage at Google I/O 2020, but those plans were nixed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, this didn't stop Google from unleashing the next exciting chapter in Android's life cycle.
Android 11 overview
Android 11 is all about quality of life updates to the world's most popular operating system. There's no new design language or any major new features that overhaul the whole system; instead, Google has focused on fine-tuning notifications, improving the messaging experience, toning down visual clutter, improving permission management, and so on. Let's delve in a little deeper with all the new and noteworthy Android 11 features!
Android 11 features
Android 11 Media controls
For a while now, most self-respecting Android music players have displayed a pretty dandy widget in the notification shade, containing media controls and info for the current music track that's playing, and that seems to be the default case for Android 11 as well. Yet, a new toggle in Developer options allows users to squeeze in the Now Playing widget within the notification shade itself. The six or so quick toggles, usually lad out in a row, get squeezed in a 3X2 configuration that surprisingly doesn't feel that claustrophobic and restrictive. Of course, album art has fallen victim to the tight spacing, but it's undoubtedly a more efficient layout, provided you can stomach it. Once you swipe down one more time, the Now Playing widget will expand in all its glory.
I, for one, like it a lot. Google says the feature will be enabled by default in the next preview build, and frankly, I can't wait to see how the rest of the Android manufacturers will implement this in their own custom skins.
Another quality-of-life improvement in Android 11 promises to organize your connected devices way better. A new button in the Now Playing widget lets you quickly choose which connected media device should play your tunes. Honestly, it's now a lot easier to switch between your phone's speaker, Bluetooth headphones, or your connected Bluetooth speaker. You can even pair a new Bluetooth device straight from the context menu that pops up, which makes it much more intuitive.
Android 11 Notifications
Android has been killing it as far as notifications come, and Android 11 will turn things to, well, 11. The most important type of notifications, those from messaging apps, will now be permanently stickied to the top; those notifications from other apps will be displayed right after the conversations section. That's actually a great idea, as conversation notifications are much more important and could easily get buried in the trove of visual clutter that lives in most phones' notification shade.
Android 11 Chat bubbles: Great idea, mediocre execution
Chat bubbles are great and probably the sole redeeming feature of the Facebook Messenger app. Now that Google has include the respective API in Android, we can expect more text messaging apps to employ this functionality and use text bubbles. That's very nice. You know what's not that nice just yet? Google's execution of said chat bubbles.
In its current state, it's a pretty bare-bones take on what Facebook Messenger had seemingly perfected. The red notification dots with a message count that appear on the chat bubble when someone texts you are nowhere to be seen, substituted for a rather nonchalant pale blue dot that you might seemingly miss across all the visual clutter. At this point, it seems that Facebook's take on the chat bubble is definitely superior as it seemingly does a better job at alerting you about any unread chats.
Which one is more prevalent? The regular Messenger app on Android 10 (left) or Google's Chat bubbles (right)?
Hopefully, this will be improved in future developer previews as Google improves these new text notifications as they carry a massive potential for multitasking. Instead of having to juggle between several apps in order to keep a conversation going while doing something else, bubbles will let you get back to the thread at hand from just about any screen, app, or activity. What's even better is that any messaging app will support these chat bubbles, provided that the developers implement it.
Android 11 Home screen app suggestions
You know how most Android phones have a dock with five or so apps that one rarely changes? Well, Android 11 is shaking things up. If you choose to enable the all-new Home screen app suggestions feature, your regular shortcuts will by moved upwards on your screen, while the regular dock row will now show you the apps that you're most likely to use based on your daily routines.
Suggestions are one way to spice up your home screen
Android 11 Device controls and payments
If you've got a trove of connected smart devices in your home, Android 11 will certainly be a boon. By pressing and holding the power button, you are now not only getting access to the power off and restart shortcuts, but can also control your smart home devices.
What's more, you can even access your Google Pay cards quickly, without having to open the app. This is a great utilization of a usually underused screen and a makes the power button that much more useful.
Android 11 Privacy
Privacy is a pretty important leitmotiff of almost all Android updates in the past few years. Android 11 is no exception. One of the new features that got introduced with Android 11 is one-time permissions. How do these work? Pretty simple, actually. Whenever you open a new app for the first time, you can grant the asked permissions one time only; the next time you open that app, it will request the same permissions once again. This is a great privacy feature that should give a peace of mind when dealing with new apps that you forget to uninstall later on. What's more, permission will auto-reset once you haven't used an app for some time.
Android 11 other features
There are many other features in Android 11. We will be updating this post as soon as we find new features.
Android 11 release date
Nothing official is known about the final release date of Android 11, but given Google's track record, the next chapter should be released sometime in Q3 2020. That's when Android 10 got released so there are no reasons why we shouldn't expect a similar release window this time as well.