In Praise of Android 12 (Premium)

Last year, Apple wowed me with iOS 14, a major visual and functional refresh of its increasingly creaky mobile OS. Had the camera system in the iPhone 12 it released alongside iOS 14 been Pixel Perfect, so to speak, I would have made the switch. But it wasn’t, and for all the goodness in iOS 14, that wasn’t enough for me to defect.

Flash forward one year and iOS 15 is a much less substantive upgrade, which makes sense since Apple did all the heavy lifting last year. And the iPhone 13, likewise, didn’t move the bar at all on camera quality or performance, at least from my perspective, making a potential switch even less likely than it was a year ago.

But Apple’s hardware and software deeds and misdeeds matter less to me this year because Google, sort of coming out of nowhere, has really raised the bar with its own hardware and software. I wrote last night about my Pixel 6 Pro preorder and my hope that the online giant will finally deliver the home run that I and other Pixel fans have been waiting on since 2015. And today I’d like to address Android 12, which is in its own way an even bigger deal.

Like iOS 14, Android 12 is a major upgrade, one that dramatically changes the visual consistency and quality of the most popular personal computing platform on earth. In some ways, then, we might view Android 12 as the mobile equivalent of Windows 11 on the desktop: the core technology is the same, but the user interface has been thoroughly freshened and made more consistent. (The jury is still out on whether Google will do a better job at this than Microsoft, but that’s a low bar, and both companies will continue to update their respective platforms over time.)

Coming off several years of minor refinements, Android 12 arrives with an almost explosively different visual style, assuming you’re not using a handset that’s made by a company like Samsung or OnePlus that likes to go its own way, I guess. But on my current phone, a Google Pixel 5a, I am getting the pure Android 12 interface, plus some of Google’s Pixel-only (or Pixel-first) modifications. And it’s a game-changer.

The key to the Android 12 visuals is a new feature called dynamic color that changes the entire Android user experience to visually match the color scheme of the home screen wallpaper you select. And I mean that literally: Android 12 will color your lock screen, notifications, Settings, and widgets automatically, and any apps that support this feature, especially Google’s right now, will likewise change accordingly.

There are two fun impacts of this change. First, you will find yourself selecting new wallpaper with different colors just to see what color changes that makes across Android. And two, apps that do adopt the dynamic color scheme suddenly become styled like the rest of the OS, instead of being little islands of branding. Google apps like Phone, Messages, Gmail, Calendar, and others already support it, and I find myself going ...

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