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Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Google Pixel 4 XL

Android 11 is now in public beta, released to Pixels

The next version of Android is here. Almost. Kinda. Not really. But it’s getting closer, now that the pre-release is available for testing.

We’re missing the dessert-themed names, but it doesn’t matter: the Android goodness still flows, despite the cavity-inducing monikers placed on each one.

Android 10 was a solid update to what Android has built over the years, and if you’re curious and excited to see some of what’s coming in Android 11, you may be able to try it for yourself now, though you’ll be doing so at your own peril.

This week, Google has released the first beta of Android 11, a release that means keen Android users and developers can start testing the goods for what Google will likely deliver later in the year.

While the beta won’t likely have everything you can expect from the next version of Android — because Google will probably keep some things a bit of a secret until launch — beta testers will be able to see the main focus of what Android’s maker is doing in this version, and apparently, it’s being focused in three areas: people, control, and privacy.

In that first bracket — people — Google is trying to kep you connected while you use your phone. You’ll be able to mark “conversations” across all of your messaging apps to a spot in the drop-down notification bar, and give it a priority designation so you keep seeing the messages, with these even pushing through when Do Not Disturb is on.

Those conversations can be pushed out to something that feels like a page out of Facebook Messenger’s book, with a bubble that can always stay on screen showing a person’s face, and it can take you right into the conversation. Google hasn’t confirmed whether this means the ideal is coming to all messaging apps, but we suspect if it’s there for developers, it should allow all messaging apps to take advantage, starting with SMS inside Android 11 itself.

Oh, and the keyboard is also changing a bit, provided you use Google’s Gboard keyboard. Now the keyboard will have automatic text and emoji prediction on replies, able to learn and guess what you’re going to say.

Android 11 Beta message bubbles

Next is control, because we’d all like a bit of that in our lives.

Android 11 plans to bring smart devices in the one home, similar to HomeKit on Apple, providing a one-stop shop for controlling lights, smart locks, and other smart devices meant for the smart home.

That control also extends to being able to switch your tunes from your headphones to whatever speaker is nearby, which has long been a bit of a complaint from people. The idea is simple: you’re coming home from work, listening to a something, and when you get in, you either have to stop jamming to that song or interrupt a podcast, or you’ll end up being that pariah who keeps headphones on and risks being anti-social. This feature appears to push past this, allowing you to switch whatever you were listening to over to a device in your home, be it a speaker or a TV.

And finally there’s more privacy control coming, with an ability to grant a one-time access to microphone, camera, or location to apps, as opposed to granting it all the time. Don’t want Uber to always know where you are? Grant it for the use, not for all time. You can even automatically reset permissions on apps that you haven’t used for a while, which might be handy if they’re a little too invasive as it is.

Android 11 Beta music controls
Android 11’s music controls will mean you can share music from your phone to your speaker mid-song.

If some of these developments sound exciting, the good news is they’re coming soon for most people later in the year, though others keen to test them now in beta do so at their peril. Beta software is typically buggy, and part of the use of beta software is basically an acknowledgment that you don’t mind testing it and dealing with things not working, a warning we typically give to all beta releases. It means that if you download and use the Android 11 beta on your traditional day-to-day phone, you may encounter crashes while you work and issues while you play.

Beta releases should ideally not be used in the day-to-day, though if you have the inkling to see what’s coming from Google and Android, the beta release is available today. Ideally, if you want to see what’s in a beta ahead of time, try using a spare phone, as that’s less likely to impact your experience as much.

However if you’re one of those people, Google has released the beta of Android 11 for its Pixel devices, from the Pixel 2 onwards, including the Pixel 3a, Pixel 3 XL, and Pixel 4 XL, among others. Other devices will see the beta in the coming weeks, likely as Google expands the beta program, but for now as usual, it’s just Google’s assortment of devices.

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