Google’s announcement post for Android 11 ends with news that’s pretty huge in the context of Android’s terrible track record on updates: “Android 11 will begin rolling out today on select Pixel, OnePlus, Xiaomi, OPPO and realme phones, with more partners launching and upgrading devices over the coming months.
It’s a welcome improvement for the pace of Android updates, though the vast majority of Android phones won’t be getting the full OS update for some time.
Google has done two seemingly simple things that make a huge difference in the activity I care most about on my phone: texting friends and family in apps like Android Messages and Facebook Messenger.
Every time I review a new version of Android, I end with some sort of finger-wag about how Google needs to get better at forcing the entire Android ecosystem to provide timely updates.
Plus, it’s getting more common for Android manufacturers to commit to three generations of updates, which is a big deal given how people are upgrading less often.
With Android 11, Google is following Apple’s lead by changing how apps can access data from certain sensors.
Google’s willingness to experiment with notifications is one of the reasons I like Android so much — even though some of those ideas eventually end up being dead ends, some of them become so essential that I’m annoyed when I use a phone without them.
Given how every Android phone does something different on a long press of the power button, I hope this new system becomes an enforced standard.
Android has long allowed music and podcast apps to place custom, themed controls into notifications.
Fragmentation may be increasing, Microsoft is a frenemy to Google’s ecosystem of services, update cadences are improving, the pressure to finally figure out a good tablet solution is getting real again, regulators are concerned about Google’s power, and yet updates are increasingly coming directly from Google itself via its Play ecosystem.
For one thing, Android 11’s Bubble system works across apps: so I can have an active conversation in both Messenger and Messages, and they’re both accessible in the same place by tapping on the bubble.
With Android 11, Google is finally expressing an opinion about what should happen when you hold down the power button.
OnePlus says it will release an Android 11 update for the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro at the same time that Pixel phones are getting that.
Google hasn’t expressed a strong opinion about how Android ought to handle these weird new form factors, and I worry that it might already be too late to prevent another season of Android fragmentation.
When (or, sadly, if) the update arrives on your Android phone, what you’ll find is that a few important things that used to get lost in the interface are now easier to find.
If you’ve granted an app access to that sensor but haven’t opened it in quite some time, Android will silently reset that app’s permissions back to having no access to any of your sensors.
After you upgrade to Android 11, apps are going to have to ask your preferences again the first time they try to ping one of those sensors.
Android 11’s power menu adds smart home controls.
Google has strictly enforced certain UI paradigms in Android — they all have docks, notification shades, etc.
Amid all that, Android 11 isn’t so much a product that I can recommend or not; it’s just another one of those forces in the ecosystem — albeit a powerful, foundational force.
In the short term, my bigger concern is what Android manufacturers are going to do with that long press of the power button.
Most Android phones have three physical buttons: two for volume and one for power.
Android 11 encourages apps to not ask for background location and adds one-time permissions.
But will it be willing to drop Bixby from the power button and use Android 11’s Power Menu?
Android isn’t just an OS; it’s an entire ecosystem.
Android 11 solves this by pulling out media controls and putting them into the Quick Setting area that sits above them.
That’s why the majority of Android 11’s updates fall into the “simple but necessary” category: managing complexity.
Android will now also give better information on a phone’s 5G status and make it easier for enterprise users to have a personal space on their work phones.