Developers get some extra time to prep for Android 11

A developer preview dropped earlier than expected.

On Wednesday, Google unveiled the first developer preview for Android 11. The early release is only available by manual download to be flashed on Pixel 2, 3, 3a, and 4 devices (please don’t do this if you’re not a developer). Google describes it as a “baseline build” and it’s full of system-level as well as a few UI-based updates. Google tends to drop the first beta versions of Android months ahead of its I/O conference in May to give developers more time to prepare for changes like privacy and security updates.

What’s new? — What is a 2020 update without 5G? Android 11’s 5G integration wants to draw Wi-Fi-only apps over to the mobile data crowd by improving connectivity APIs. The OS will also extend more neural network controls for more complex machine learning capabilities. Games, in general, will benefit from improved low-latency video decoding, but that update seems focused on Stadia streams. The update is also embracing a variety of display types like hole punch (Google calls them "pinhole"), waterfall, and folding screens.

Multitasking while messaging will be easier than ever in Android 11. Bubbles, a la Facebook Messenger, will keep chats and texts in view but out of the way. In-line notification responses are getting more comprehensive by presenting more than just the last message, and users can drop photos into the conversation without opening the app.

Why are devs getting this early look? — Google is enforcing “scoped storage” even more in Android 11. This feature limits apps ability to use permissions to poke around your phone when you’re not using them, but it broke some apps when it was first rolled out in Android 10. Based on Google Play’s guidelines, developers will have until the end of 2021 to safely integrate the slate of under-the-hood updates, including scoped storage.