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Android 11 preview adds privacy and under-the-hood upgrades

Google will show off the mobile software in more detail at its developer conference in May.

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Google's Pixel phones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Google on Wednesday gave us our first glimpse at the next version of Android, the search giant's mobile operating system. The software, called Android 11, is a preview version meant for app developers to test before it is released more widely. 

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Android 11

Google

One new feature lets people grant apps one-time access to location, microphone and camera data, instead of developers getting more broad access to the information. With the new option, app makers will only get data until the user moves away from the app. After that, developers will have to ask for permission again. 

Other changes include upgrades for new form factors, including foldable phones and "pinhole" screens, which take up the entire front of the device except for the camera lens. Another upgrade helps developers better take advantage of 5G network speeds. 

Android 11 also has improvements for messaging apps. Now users will be able to add images to notification replies. Chat bubbles can keep conversations in view while you're using other apps. 

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Users can give one-time permission for data access.

Google

Android is the most dominant mobile operating system in the world, powering almost nine out of every 10 smartphones shipped globally. But Google's biggest challenge with new versions of Android is actually getting them on people's phones, since wireless carriers and handset makers can slow down the process. 

Google hasn't released user figures for the previous version of the software, Android 10. But the last time Google updated its distribution numbers in May 2019, Android 9 had only been installed on 10.4% of Android phones. The three versions released before that make up 64.4 percent of Android phones. By contrast, 70% of Apple's iPhones are on the most recent version of its operating system, iOS 13. 

Google will share more features for the software at its annual developer conference, Google I/O, in May.

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