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Google releases Android 11 beta, cancels launch event amid protests

The search giant says the event was nixed to "allow people to focus on important discussions around racial justice."

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Google released the newest version of its Android mobile software. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Google on Wednesday launched the latest version of its Android mobile operating system, a release that was previously set to occur at a virtual launch event. The search giant, though, has canceled the event as people around the world hold protests over police brutality and systemic racism. (Here's how to download Android 11 beta on your phone.)

"We have cancelled the virtual launch event to allow people to focus on important discussions around racial justice in the United States," Google said in a blog post. "Instead, we are releasing the Android 11 Beta today in a much different form, via short-form videos and web pages that you can consume at your own pace when the time is right for you."

Now playing: Watch this: Android 11: What's new in the public beta
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Late last month, Google said it would postpone the event as unrest was beginning to spread across US cities following the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis, died in police custody, after a police officer held him to the ground and pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. 

"We are excited to tell you more about Android 11, but now is not the time to celebrate," Google said in a tweet at the time. Since then, the company decided to cancel the event altogether.

One new feature lets people grant apps one-time access to data.

Google

The event, which was scheduled for June 3, was slated to feature keynote addresses from Android's vice president of engineering, Dave Burke, and senior director of product management, Stephanie Cuthbertson. Instead, Google is releasing web pages and short videos about the new software on its YouTube page

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.

Another upgrade tackles annoying robocalls. Android 11 will let call-screening apps do more to prevent spam calls. The software will let apps verify a call's "stir/shaken" status, which protects against spoofing. It can also record why someone rejected a call. If a user grants permission, the app can see if a call came from someone in their contacts or an outside number.

Android is the most dominant mobile operating system in the world, powering almost nine out of 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% of Android phones. By contrast, 77% of Apple's iPhones are on the most recent version of its operating system, iOS 13.