News: Android 11 Changelog — An Always-Updated List of New Features

Android 11 Changelog — An Always-Updated List of New Features

Android's newest major update is here. While this latest update is codenamed "R," we already know its real name: Android 11. This year's update came rather early, shocking the world when Developer Preview 1 appeared on Feb. 19, 2020. But even though it's ahead of schedule, it's still packed with new features.

Listed below are all the changes we've found so far in Android 11. Whenever we find new features and changes, and as more developer previews and beta versions are released, we will update this list with the new info so it always gives you a clear idea of what to expect when the stable version hits your phone later this year. So get excited, because the latest version of Android has arrived!

1. 'Conversations' Section in Notification Shade

There's a new "Conversations" section at the top of the notification tray above the standard notifications. This is home to all notifications from any messaging apps you have, so it keeps your chat alerts front and center. There is also a transparent barrier between each section to make it easier to identify notifications in each section.

Alerts in the Conversations section come with extra options when you swipe to the left and choose the "gear" icon. "Remind me" will snooze the alert (by default, it is set to one hour). "Show bubble" will make alerts from this app appear in a floating bubble. Using the bell icon, you can turn on or off the sound when future alerts appear. The right arrow icon gives that message thread even higher priority, placing it at the top of the notification shade when there are multiple messages. Otherwise, the newest messaging alert that arrives in Conversations appears at the top of the Notification Shade.

2. Built-in Screen Recorder

Google teased it in Android 10, but a built-in screen recorder is finally here in Android 11. Found in Quick Settings, the tile brings up a simple UI that lets you toggle recording audio and whether to show touches on the screen. The countdown occurs in the status bar. To stop recording, either use the notification or Quick Settings tile.

3. Send Images in Notification Replies

When you're replying to a message from your notification shade via the "Reply" button on the alert, you now have the ability to attach images to your message. A small feature, but big for usability.

4. Wireless Debugging

In Android 11, you can now send ADB and fastboot command wireless — no USB cable needed. While an updated version of platform-tools is needed for it to work, this feature lets you connect to your computer wirelessly using QR code or a pairing code while on the same network. You can send ADB commands the same way as you normally would.

5. New APIs for 5G

Android 11 introduces three new APIs to improve 5G connections:

  1. The Dynamic Meteredness API can be used by an app to see if your mobile data service is truly unlimited, in which case the app could use more 5G data for improved media quality.
  2. The Bandwidth Estimator API gives apps a tool to check download and upload speed without needing to poll the network. This improves accuracy and makes tracking your data easier.
  3. 5G state API allows apps to quickly detect if the user is currently on 5G New Radio or Non-Standalone network. The app can then use this information to highligh how 5G enhance their particular apps experience.

6. Hinge Angle for Foldables

With more foldables on the horizon, Google has added a new API which lets apps use a hinge angle sensor to querty directly the angle of the foldable. This API is likely for Samsung's Flex Mode and Microsoft's Peek, two features which reconfigure the display based on the angle of the screen.

7. Reverse Wireless Charging Support (Google Pixel 4a or 5)

According to XDA, buried in the Android 11's code is a reference to reverse wireless charging, which allows a phone to charge other devices. Currently available on Huawei and Samsung devices, this feature requires special hardware, so it will likely debut on the upcoming Pixel 4a or Pixel 5.

8. Files App Gets New Features

The default files manager is now Files by Google (formerly known as Files Go) on Android 11. This new file browser has a number of features not found in the previous generations including the ability to clean unused files, and send files via Wi-Fi Direct.

9. Use Bluetooth Headphones in Airplane Mode

In the previous versions of Android, enabling Airplane Mode would disconnect your phone from Bluetooth accessories, even if you were currently listening to audio. Google is finally changing this behavior in Android 11. When connected to an audio device via Bluetooth, entering Airplane Mode will not disconnect you.

This feature isn't present in the first developer preview, but as XDA spotted, a commit in the Android Open Source Project titled "Context-aware Bluetooth airplane mode" has been merged with AOSP and thus should be coming in Android 11.

10. Scrolling Screenshots

Another feature that's in the works but not yet activated is a new screenshot UI with support for scrolling screenshots. According to XDA, the new UI shows an "Extend" button after you take a screenshot that will let you scroll to capture multiple pages merged into one long screenshot.

11. Synchronized IME Transition

Android 11 brings a new set of APIs that let app content synchronize how the soft keyboard (aka input method editor) animates on and offscreen. With these API, the keyboard animations are smoother, flowing better with the app.

Image via Android Developers

12. Bubble Notifications on by Default

Android 10 introduced Bubbles, notifications that appear as small icons overlaid over your current screen. Because Google requires that new apps and updates to existing apps target the previous version of Android, which in 2020 means Android 10, more apps can (and will) take advantage of Bubbles soon.

To help with this, Android 11 enabled the feature by default. In Android 10, you had to navigate to the app's App Info page and activate "Bubbles" first. But now, as long as the app supports it, you can take advantage of it right away.

13. New Back Cover Gestures (Likely Pixel-Exclusive)

According to 9to5Google and XDA, buried in the code of Android 11 is a new way to interact with your phone. Internally known as "Columbus" (after the Zombieland character of the same name who had a "double tap" rule), the new feature will let you double tap the back cover to initiate actions like these:

  • Dismiss timer
  • Launch camera
  • Launch Google Assistant
  • Play/pause media
  • Collapse status bar
  • Silence incoming phone calls
  • Snooze alarms
  • Unpin notifications
  • Perform a "user-selected action"

And before you worry about accidentally activating this new feature, Google has added "gates" to prevent double-tap from activating unintentionally. These include camera visibility, if you are charging the phone, and similar rules.

14. Show Refresh Rate

Can't see the difference between your Pixel 4's 90 Hz refresh rate and any other phone? Well in Android 11, instead of trusting Google's word, you can display the current refresh rate. In Developer Options, you will find the new "Show refresh rate" option, which gives you a Fraps-style overlay.

15. Variable Refresh Rate

Apps can now set a preferred frame rate. With more phones using higher than 60 Hz refresh rate display, this option lets app which can take advantage, request a higher refresh rate. For apps that don't benefit from the additional frames, the app can ask 60 Hz saving its battery impact.

16. Power Menu Smart Home Toggles

According to XDA, there are hints in the code that Google is transforming the Power Menu into a hub for smart home toggles. In addition to powering off your phone, it appears you'll be able to add toggles to the new grid-like UI that could control IoT devices connected to Google Home.

17. New Permissions Options

There are a few changes to permissions in Android 11. The first change is a new "Ask every time" option. While this feature is available on all permissions when accessed through the system settings, it only appears on the popup permission prompt when an app asks to access the device's camera, microphone, or location.

For apps requesting these permissions, a new prompt will appear with three options: "Only this time," "While using the app," and "Deny." If you choose "Only this time," you'll be asked again the next time the app wants access to that data. The former will maintain the "Ask every time." For the other permission, the prompt will only give you the option to "Allow" or "Deny" with the former granting the app permanent access to that sensor.

18. Background Location Access Must Be Granted Manually

You may have noticed the permission prompt we discussed above was missing something: an "Allow all the time" option. Well, for your own security, Google has removed this option from the permission prompt for location access.

Instead, Google is asking developers to display in the UI why they need the background location permission with a button that redirects you to the relevant system settings screen to grant this permission. They must also allow users to continue to use the app if they deny access to the background location permission.

Instead of using a button in the prompt, Google wants developers to explain why they need it and direct them "Settings" to grant permission. Image via Android Developers

19. Auto-Block Spammy Permission Prompts

In Android 11, after denying any permission twice, Android will ignore further requests by the app. The system will view as you are saying "don't ask again" and not bother you anymore. Nice.

20. New Scoped Storage Permission

Android 10's Scooped Storage dramatically changed how apps interact with the file system. It also broke many apps, so Android 11 added a new "All Files Access" permission, which behaves similarly to the pre-Android 10 model. For apps that don't need that kind of access, you can limit them with the "Media Only Access" setting, which confines them to audio, video, and other media files.

21. New Notification History UI

On the bottom of the Notification Shade is a new button, "History," which redirects you to a Notification History page. This is a revamped version of the Notification Log, a hidden feature of Android that show all previous receive notifications for the day. Unlike Notification Log, you can read the full content of the alert, removing the fear of accidentally dismissing a critical alert.

22. Increase Touch Sensitivity

For those who use screen protectors, Google added a new "increase touch sensitivity" option to make your phone just as responsive to touch as it was before applying the screen protector.

23. Better Back Sensitivity

In Android 11, there will be two sliders controlling the back gesture's sensitivity: one for the left and one for the right edge. You might want to decrease sensitivity for the left edge so you can still use gestures to access the hamburger menu, for instance. It is currently hidden, but thanks to 9to5Google activating some of the code, we're confident this will be included in the final version of Android 11.

24. Mobile Drivers License Support

Android 11 supports mobile driver licenses. Once legally supported in your state or jurisdiction, you will be able to keep electronic copies of government paperwork such as passports and driver licenses on your phone.

These documents require the absolute highest level of security, so it likely a few years before we see this implementation. But at least states can now test potential eLicense systems with Android 11!

25. Changes to BiometricPrompt API

In Android 11, Google created a tier system for biometrics — strong, weak, and device credential. Developers can support biometrics in the weak category now, such as 2D, camera-based facial recognition. While more sensitive transactions such as banking and payment apps can opt for the more secure version, other apps can take advantage of the convenience of using biometrics over inputting a password.

26. Improved Call Screening

To combat robocalls and SPAM calls, the FCC invested in SHAKEN/STIR, a new framework that improved verification of legitimate callers. Think of it as an improved caller ID that blocks unwanted calls and spoofed calls. All four major wireless networks in the US support the new authentication method.

In Android 11, call screening apps will have access to the verification status from SHAKEN/STIR, improving their ability to block unwanted calls. This should also make Google's Call Screen feature even better. Additionally, apps can now report why you rejected a call. The post-call screen is now customizable allowing you to give user options such as marking a call as SPAM or adding a call to contacts.

27. Support for Punch Hole & Waterfall Displays

Android 11 updated the Display Cutout API to better support the punch hole design found in smartphones such as the Galaxy S20. It also improved how content is displayed on waterfall displays, or screens, where the sides are curved to the point the side bezel, isn't visible. In "Developer Options" you can stimulate both displays.

Image by Jon Knight/Gadget Hacks

28. Disable Vibrations While Using the Camera

A new API is available to developers to be able to stop vibrations from calls, messages, and other alerts when using the camera. The default camera app on most phones already did this, but now the in-app camera in apps like Instagram can prevent haptic feedback.

29. HDMI Low-Latency Mode

HDMI 2.1 added an auto low latency mode to reduce any lag or latency from the TV side of the connection. In Android 11, a new API checks for this mode and requests it when available. With Stadia now supporting multiple phones, including ones with video output over USB-C, this could save you from buying a Chromecast Ultra.

30. Low Latency Video Decoding

Another Android 11 feature that enhances Stadia is low latency video decoding. This is necessary for Stadia, as it relies on this decoding to provide the best experience. This will also help with the wave of upcoming cloud-based gaming services such as Project xCloud from Microsoft and NVIDIA's GeForce Now.

31. New Bluetooth Stack

Android 11 brings a new Bluetooth stack called Babeldorsche. The stack is responsible for how the Bluetooth connection is handled by a smartphone, so the expectation is that pairing and maintaining connection on your Android smartphone will be improved when Android 11 hits.

32. Separated Quick Settings & Notification Tray

According to XDA, it appears Google testing whether to split the Quick Settings from the Notification Tray in Android 11. By swiping down from one side or another, you can jump directly into either one.

We're counting this one as likely for now since Android has had this exact feature in the past. It's been gone for a few years, but now that Apple uses this gesture, we can see Google adding it back to help make the transition from iPhone to Android easier on prospective buyers.

33. Music Player in Quick Settings

According to XDA, Google is testing whether to turn the music player notification into a Quick Settings widget. This is another one we're counting as likely since the iPhone handles things this way. It also makes sense with the new Conversations section bumping media notifications off the top spot.

34. Unsupported Bluetooth Codecs Are Now Grayed Out

Back in Android 8 Oreo, Google introduced support for Hi-fi Bluetooth codecs and the ability to choose which one a device used if it supports multiple codecs. In Android 11, formats that aren't supported by the device you're connected to will be grayed out, making it easier to choose the best option.

There is also an HD audio toggle that appears for devices that support multiple codecs to switch between high and lower quality audio automatically.

35. Suggested Apps in Home Screen Dock

According to XDA, Google may introduce suggested apps in the home screen dock (aka, "hotseat") on the Pixel Launcher. This would place apps in your dock that Google thinks you'll most want to use, based on time of day, location, and your usage patterns, similarly to how the dock in the multitasking view already behaves.

36. A More Secure Face Unlock

Unlike Apple's Face ID, Google didn't require users to have their eyes open when using Face Unlock allowing for someone to unlock your phone even when you are asleep. In Android 11, Google add the toggle that requires your eyes to be open for authenticate to take place.

37. Protection Against Accidental SIM Deletion

Before erasing a downloaded SIM, you can require that it authenticate you to ensure this is what you want to do, preventing someone from erasing your SIM without your permission.

38. Access Accessibility Features from Lock Screen

By pressing and holding both volume up and down for three seconds, you will be able to start an accessibility feature from the lock screen.

39. Resume on Reboot

For those who like to schedule software updates overnight, apps can now access the Credential Encrypted storage even the phone has been unlocked. This means the app can receive notifications and messages, instead of playing catch up after you unlock the device in the morning.

Cover image and screenshots by Jon Knight/Gadget Hacks

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