Let it snow: Android 12 Developer Preview 2 lands, bringing UI and security API tweaks

World's most used mobile phone OS gets some new toys

Google has rolled out the second Android 12 developer preview, with the pre-release version of the mobile OS largely focusing on security and UI tweaks.

This is by design it seems, with Google saying it has prioritised developer-facing changes first in order to simplify the work needed to upgrade existing apps.

On the security front, Android now has a new API to determine the integrity of an installed app by contrasting its checksum against one held by the OS or the Google Play Store.

The documentation promises support for several hashing algorithms, including SHA256, SHA512, and Merkle Root, and is ostensibly intended for developers wary of unapproved modifications (such as those working on banking apps, or building software with built-in DRM.)

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Additionally, Google has included more granular privacy controls for the lockscreen, allowing users and developers to more tightly control what notifications appear when a device is locked. App overlays have also seen a revamp. Although previous versions of Android forced developers to request user permission before showing an overlay, this latest version has built upon that further by giving app-slingers the choice of whether to allow app overlays over their code.

Moving onto UI changes, Mountain View has added an API to determine whether a device uses rounded corners, allowing developers to adjust visual elements accordingly. In theory, this should allow third-party apps to look less naff when used on devices with curved and 2.5D (slightly curved) displays, like the new Xiaomi Mi 11. Another API is intended to simplify the creation of blur effects on background elements, adding a bokeh effect designed to draw attention to foreground elements.

The bandwidth estimation APIs, used by developers to figure out the quality of a user’s internet connection, have also seen an overhaul with improved accuracy in mind, with developers able to get an estimate based on Wi-Fi SSID, network type, and signal level. Additionally, picture-in-pictures has seen some love, and now automatically resizes based on the context. And Google has allowed users to “stash” these windows by swiping them to the left or right.

Finally, there’s the companion device API, which is used for wearable devices, like fitness trackers and smartwatches. Tweaks made here will allow apps to keep these devices “awake” while interacting with them.

Google has said it plans to release one further developer preview, scheduled for April, followed by four additional beta releases. If you’re tempted to give the latest spin of Android 12 - known internally as "Snow Cone" - a try, Google has released images for several of its Pixel devices, with future updates delivered over-the-air.

For the rest of us, the final version is expected to trickle out in the last quarter of the year. Android fragmentation being what it is, when you'll get it is anyone's guess. ®

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