Google has got the developer conference season rolling in earnest with the 2022 edition of the IO developer conference. That also means we now have a first glimpse of what is lined up for the rest of the year, and the to-do lists seem to be quite full already. The company has talked about the new Android 13 improvements, including for privacy and personalisation, the next step for RCS messaging on phones, the next updates for Wear OS for smart watches, the Android 13 updates specifically meant for tablets as well as more powerful Cast capabilities, including in your car.
Android 13 builds on Android 12’s foundations
Android 13 for smartphones, which has been in the developer beta testing phase since last month, is adding new functionality for certain apps as it now adopts the public beta stage. The focus is on your data privacy and security, with granular permissions for file access for apps in your phone (these can now be broken down into photos and videos, or music and audio – there isn’t a need to share your entire library anymore), notification permissions, etc.
Android 13 is expected to be released to phone makers as well as updates for Google’s own Pixel phones later this year. You’ll get a detailed overview too, with a new Security & Privacy Settings page. This will be colour-coded to indicate the different data safety parameters, and will include suggestions on how to make changes to plug any potential gaps for your data.
Apps installed on phones running Android 13 will now be customisable in individual languages – you can have a regional language configured for one app, while the other can be allowed to run with English or Hindi, for instance. Google Wallet, the app which the company discontinued a few years ago and replaced with Google Pay in many countries for full-fledged digital payments, is making a return in some countries – not India. Boarding cards, vaccine certificates, driving licenses, tickets and payments are some of the app’s features.
What about ads?
There are plans to add a new hub called My Ad Center to Android, which will let users customise what genre of ads they want to see, from what’s expected to be a fairly exhaustive list of larger topics. This should tie in with Google’s proposed Topics API, which will also work with a bucket of interests to serve ads.
Google’s response to Apple iMessage?
Google confirms that RCS, or Rich Communication Services, messaging is getting an upgrade with Android 13. This will allow it to include functionality that’s more in line with modern rivals such as Apple’s iMessage. The new features will include the ability to send high-quality photos, see typing indicators in chats, messages over Wi-Fi and updated group messaging functionality. Google says they are working with mobile service providers globally and with phone makers including OnePlus, Samsung, Vivo and Oppo.
This will be a welcome news for the half-a-billion monthly active users which Google claims the Messages app for Android has. Group messages will also get encryption in line with the end-to-end encryption that individual chats have.
It’s time Android loved tablets more
Google started the much-needed subtle separation between Android for phones and Android for tablets with ‘Android 12L’, where L refers to the larger screen. With Android 13, third party apps will require to be optimised for tablet screen sizes and form factors – compromise resolution stretching will no longer do. All of Google’s own apps will also have their optimisations in place for the tablet screen sizes.
The taskbar will see an update as well, with a simple drag and drop to switch the viewing mode from a single app to split screen. If nothing else, this will add a productivity dimension to Android tablets, something that was largely missing from the ecosystem so far, except for certain defining innovations made by Samsung for the Galaxy Tab series.
Stylus functionality will be able to distinguish between a pen and your palm as it may rest on a different part of the screen. Android 13 will also introduce HDR video, Spatial Audio and Bluetooth Low Energy Audio capabilities. But, whether all of these will be available from the outset is to be seen with time.