Google has outlined its vision for this year’s major Android update. This update looks set to continue many of the customization and privacy initiatives the search giant introduced with Android 12 last year. The customizable Material You color scheme is now available in preset themes and is also extended to include third-party app icons and media players. There are also new security features, including dedicated privacy and security menus.
This direction shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has caught up with Android 13’s early betas. Today’s announcement, however, coincided with the search giant’s annual Google I/O Developers Conference and sees the company lay out its overall vision for this year’s major Android update. Simultaneous with today’s announcement, the search giant is releasing the second public beta of Android 13.
After last year’s Material You custom theme feature, Android is already able to match the color scheme to the color scheme of your phone’s wallpaper. This year’s Media Controls will also get a similar Material You style overhaul and can extract color from the album art of the music it’s playing. Another new feature for those who don’t want or need their phone theme to match their wallpaper exactly is a set of preset color schemes to choose from.
The Material You theme option is also available for third-party app icons that appeared in the first developer preview of Android 13 in February. “This was something we missed a bit in our last release,” explains Sameer Samat, Google’s vice president of product management. “Everything in the system UI felt like it had a good Material You treatment, except for the icons,” he said. It always felt unfinished to us.” The new app icon theme option is coming first for Pixel devices and will only work with supported apps.
RCS support for Google Messages is expected to improve significantly later this year, with the beta release of end-to-end encryption for group chats, a feature currently only available for one-on-one RCS chats in Google Messages. The search giant says the standard currently aimed at the successor to the ancient SMS and MMS protocols is now available to more than 500 million Google Messages users worldwide.
As we saw in the beta, Android 13 also places more restrictions on the personal data and phone features apps can use by default. Soon apps will need to request permission to send you notifications, and there’s also a new photo picker that lets you limit the photos and videos the app can access instead of granting permission to view the entire library. The new permissions also restrict apps to access “photos and videos” or “music and audio” files, but not all file types.
A new security and privacy settings page will be added later this year to collect sensitive data privacy in one place. It is designed to encourage Android users to address security issues they may encounter.
Apart from the Android phone itself, Google is also emphasizing its work on interconnectivity with other devices. We plan to add quick pairing support for the Matter smart home standard coming this fall, allowing you to quickly and easily add supported smart home devices to your network using your Android phone. Support for the new power-efficient Bluetooth LE audio standard is also underway in Android 13.
One last feature worth mentioning: Android 13 allows users to set the system language on a per-app basis. Samat says this feature is useful for multilingual users who rely on different languages in various situations. “When you use a social media app, you can use one language. But if you’re doing banking, you can use other languages,” he explains.
After the chaotic launch of Android 12, it’s reassuring to see that Google’s focus this year is on improvement rather than innovation on Android. This is not a major change in direction, only continuous adjustments and improvements to existing initiatives in Android.