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The next version of Android — which we suspect will be called… Android 12 — is likely launching in the coming weeks as a developer preview. Each year, Google releases a series of unfinished but public test builds for the upcoming version of its mobile OS, and for an increasingly wide variety of phones (i.e., not just Pixels). And while Android 12 has yet to break cover, its announcement is probably imminent, so here’s what we know about it so far.
Who is it for?
To start, we need to make it abundantly clear that the first Developer Previews for Android 12 are, as their name should imply, intended for developers. Although enthusiasts (including myself) will probably download them for fun, they are frequently buggy and unstable, and Google did not make them for us. They exist so developers can play with new APIs and other system-level changes, and provide feedback for those adjustments before they’re finalized, ahead of the ultimate release.
Sometimes Google’s adjustments have unintended consequences, and developers are the first to spot potential concerns so they can be tweaked. Stability issues are common during these early stages. Even if recent previews have been particularly stable, there’s no guarantee they will be for Android 12. Problems could range from app crashes to unexpected restarts, or even potentially more serious issues like bootloops or data corruption.
Look forward to new features like the privacy indicators (depicted above) for when the mic and camera are in use, though they may not appear in the first release.
Not infrequently, Developer Previews have issues that require troubleshooting to fix. A soft brick is possible, but unlikely. You should be comfortable with mucking around in a recovery menu and manually sideloading an OTA via ADB if necessary — or at least be willing to learn the process independently if and when things go wrong.
I also recommend that you be willing and able to provide Google with bug reports if you run into any issues or unexpected behavior. Think of this as Android’s exit row seating: There’s a responsibility that comes with this extra Android 12 legroom, and you’re expected to provide quality feedback. That doesn’t mean a slapdash rant about icon spacing fired off via the feedback app, that means pulling system logs, describing an issue in precise terms, and documenting the steps required to reproduce it so the issue can be addressed by engineers and fixed.
If you’re a smartphone enthusiast with a spare phone on hand, the developer previews can be fun. But if you’re thinking about installing them on your only device for day-to-day use, I would strongly advise against it.
When will it come out?
We don’t have an official release date at the time of writing, but if history is any indicator, there are just a handful of days that the first Android 12 Developer Preview might land on.
First, Google brought the normal release schedule forward by around a month last year, dropping the first Android 11 Developer Preview in February last year. The Android Beta Feedback app built into the preview and beta releases since Android 10 Q also got a random update in early February this year. It’s hardly conclusive proof, but it’s a strong indicator that we may see an earlier February release again this year for Android 12, though it could also land in early to mid-March as it did in prior years.
Dates marked in green are our guesses.
Second, Google almost always releases preview and beta versions on a Wednesday (usually at 10AM PT). There have been exceptions, but they’re rare, so it’s likely we’ll see a Wednesday release again.
Taking a look at the calendar, and keeping in mind both of these details, a handful of dates are possible across February and March:
- February 17th
- February 24th
- March 3rd
- March 10th
- March 17th
Recently Google has planned for six preview/beta releases, but last year we got a random extra one, and Android P did five. Absent any details, I’d expect a similar six-release schedule for Android 12 this year. Last year, Google also started the habit of pushing bug-fixing updates between those planned releases, and I’d expect that to continue.
The final stable release usually happens in Q3 around August or September.
Which phones can get it?
This may vary, but if previous years are any indicator, the early Developer Previews will be limited to currently supported Pixel devices. That means all Pixels after the Pixel 2 series.
I’d expect the following phones will have Developer Previews on day one:
- Pixel 5
- Pixel 4a 5G
- Pixel 4a
- Pixel 4
- Pixel 4 XL
- Pixel 3a
- Pixel 3a XL
- Pixel 3
- Pixel 3 XL
When the Android Beta Program opens later this year, we will likely see more phones get their own Android 12 beta programs. Often companies like OnePlus, OPPO, Xiaomi, and ASUS will release their own Android betas for one or two flagship devices in the summer. Last year we got them right around the time when Beta 1 landed for Pixels, around when Google I/O would have been. These third-party releases can sometimes be a version behind the Pixels.
How do I install it?
Installing Google’s later Android Betas is easy: You just need to opt-in at the Android Beta Program website. When you’re already on the previews and betas, updates will also land automatically. However, Google intentionally makes installing the earlier Developer Previews a little more difficult. I think a higher barrier to entry helps to weed out those that wouldn’t be able to troubleshoot problems, which happen more frequently with the preview releases, but it means installing the Developer Previews is a more manual process.
Google provides instructions on how to flash images on its OTA images downloads site, and the same details apply to previews as well. I’d encourage you to find a walkthrough specific to your platform for the specific steps, like installing ADB and sideloading an OTA. On some platforms, like Linux, it’s easier to do than others. But the short version is:
- Install the Android SDK tools (i.e., ADB) and USB drivers (if you’re using Windows).
- Download the Developer Preview OTA image for your device. This link will redirect to the stable images for now, but once previews are available, it should work again.
- Connect your phone to your computer.
- Reboot into recovery (via ADB/USB debugging or the key combination) and enter sideloading mode — power+volume up opens the Recovery menu, scroll via the volume keys to “apply update from ADB,” and select it with a tap of the power button.
- Check that this worked by entering “adb devices” (no quotes) in a shell or command prompt. If ADB is installed and your phone is in the correct mode, you should see an identifier for your phone and a “sideload” state reported.
- Flash the OTA via a shell or command prompt, using “adb sideload your_file_name_here.zip” with no quotes, where the filename is the name of the OTA image you downloaded earlier. On some platforms, you’ll need to precede adb commands with “./” for it to work correctly.
- Stare anxiously at your phone while it slowly installs.
- Reboot when done.
You may also be able to use the Android Flash Tool, which works right from your browser (full instructions here). Last year Google made it compatible with Developer Preview 2 and later, and we may see that happen earlier this year. It’s both easier and works across more platforms — one of our readers humorously installed an Android 11 Developer Preview onto a Pixel from another Pixel, which I still laugh about.
We should note, sometimes a new version of the Android SDK platform tools is required for a new release, so if you run into trouble once the Developer Preview is available, you may want to check for updates. And although some guides you might see claim you need to unlock your bootloader to install the Developer Previews, that is not correct. OTA images can easily be sideloaded without unlocking your bootloader.
Developer Preview vs. Beta
Google’s timeline varies slightly, and it’s used different names over the years. Back in Android 8 Oreo and Android 9 Pie, all we got were “Developer Previews.” With Android Q, Google decided to call them all “Betas.” Last year we got a mix: Developer Previews for the first few releases, Betas for the last few.
It’s possible Google could yet again play with the naming between Developer Previews and Betas with the Android 12 testing releases — or even call them something new. We’ve seen the company adjust this nomenclature pretty often. However, I think last year struck a good descriptive mix with the two different names as releases went on, and it made it clear just how these testing versions change over time. The early preview releases are less stable, prone to change, targeting developers, and things can go wrong. The later betas land after things start to be finalized, developers can anticipate stable behaviors, no big additions, near-final or final APIs, and armchair enthusiasts can consider dipping their toes in without as much worry. I hope Google sticks with the same language for Android 12.
If it does, expect to see a switch from Developer Previews to Betas somewhere in the middle of the schedule right around when Google I/O would be — not that we should expect an in-person I/O to happen this year.
Lastly, I just want to point out (because a thousand people ask about it every time it happens), Developer Preview and Beta updates often break contactless payments for a few days after their release. It’s a thing, it almost always gets fixed in a few days, and it’s nothing to be excitedly swarming about when it happens with every single update.