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Android 12 developer beta is here, with updates to make your phone run smoother

The early release comes as the tech world has been shaken by Apple's privacy updates to its own operating system.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google's Pixel 4A phone.

Angela Lang/CNET

Google on Thursday unveiled the next version of Android, the search giant's mobile operating system. The software, called Android 12, is a preview version or developer beta meant for app developers to test before it's released more widely. 

The new version of Android focuses mostly on under-the-hood fixes, aimed at making people's phones run more smoothly. Some updates try to prevent apps from freezing, while others make it easier for apps to receive photos and videos. Google also redesigned notifications and tried to make them faster and more responsive. 

Google's new Android release comes as Apple has shaken the app developer world with new privacy policies for its iOS software. In December, Apple launched a feature called "nutrition labels" that tells people what personal data their apps are collecting, like financial information, contacts or browsing history. Another change by Apple, rolling out in the coming months, requires developers to ask people for permission to gather data and track them across apps and websites. The changes have irked other tech giants, including Facebook.

Google's user privacy features don't go as far. One update to Android 12 should "give users more transparency and control over how cookies can be used across sites," Dave Burke, vice president of engineering for Android, wrote in a blog post.

Watch this: Our first look at Android 12

As the tech world has reacted to Apple's privacy updates, Google had considered a less "stringent" approach to giving users options about app tracking, according to a report earlier this month by Bloomberg

"We're always looking for ways to work with developers to raise the bar on privacy while enabling a healthy, ad-supported app ecosystem," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. She didn't answer questions about how Android 12's privacy updates compare with Apple's.

Android is the 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 onto people's phones, since wireless carriers and handset makers can slow the process. 

Google hasn't released user figures for the previous version of the software, Android 11. 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 were on 64.4 percent of Android phones. 

Apple, by contrast, is quick to tout its adoption numbers. As of December, 72% of Apple's iPhones and other iOS devices are on the most recent version of its operating system, iOS 14

Read more: iOS 14.5 is coming soon. What we know about a release date and new features

One feature of Android 12 tries to ease the update problem by allowing the tech giant to update parts of Android through its Google Play Services system, instead of requiring a full operating system update that has to be approved by wireless or device partners.