Google is making Android 13, the latest version of its smartphone operating system, available for its own Pixel smartphones sooner than expected. To illustrate the difference better, you would have to keep in mind that last year's Android 12 release happened in October, while the 2020 release of Android 11 was in September that year.
There is a lot that changes visually, and under the hood, including a more robust data privacy wall, weighing down the notification overload, personalisation enhancements (that's the evolution of Material You), individual app languages and new functionality, including the ability to copy text from an image as well as spatial audio tech. There are a set of features for tablets too, the large screen experience that has felt neglected for a while now.
"Android 13 helps ensure your devices feel unique to you - on your terms. It comes jam-packed with new capabilities for your phone and tablet, like extending app colour theming to even more apps, language settings that can be set on an app level, improved privacy controls and even the ability to copy text and media from one Android device and paste it to another with just a click," said Sameer Samat, VP of product management of Android and Google Play at Google.
Will my phone get Android 13 today?
If you are a Google Pixel phone user (specifically the Pixel 4, 5 and 6 series), the Android 13 update should grace your phones anytime now, if not already. That means, as of today, 8 different Pixel phones can download and install Android 13 - (in terms of newer to older) the Pixel 6a (the only Pixel phone officially sold in India at this time), the Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 6, Pixel 5a 5G, Pixel 5, Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 4a and Pixel 4 XL.
That's basically all Pixel phones already running Android 12.
Other phone makers are yet to share definite timelines. Google, on its part, confirms things to a certain extent. "Later this year, Android 13 will also roll out to your favorite devices from Samsung, Asus, HMD (Nokia phones), iQOO, Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Sharp, Sony, Tecno, Vivo, Xiaomi and more," Samat said.
We expect that, in due course, Android phone makers will afford better clarity on the roadmap of Android 13 release for the phones they sell. It will be complicated, and fragmented, because even for any one phone maker, not all phones will get Android 13 at the same time.
Android 13 privacy measures
Google is locking down media access for third party apps that may want to access your photos and videos. The Photo Picker update will allow users to pick selected images or videos that a third-party app will be able to access. For instance, if you have a grievance with a transaction on a payment app and need to share a screenshot with support, you'll be able to select just that screenshot rather than allow access of the entire photo library with the app.
This is a functionality Apple included in the iOS operating system for iPhone and iPadOS for iPads, last year.
The Photo Picker update is also rolling out for Android 11, Android 12, and Android 12L smartphones and tablets, within a Google Play Services update. Support will still be reliant on app developers integrating this functionality within their apps.
Apps installed on a phone running Android 13, will now have to explicitly ask for permission to send notifications. That's unlike with Android editions till now, where the permission to send notifications was a blanket affirmative, leaving it to the user to manually turn off notifications from certain apps.
Apple has been clamping down on notification clutter for a while too, with clear permissions required when an app is installed. iOS 15 also added a notification summary. With iOS 16 rolling out later this year, Apple is giving more controls over notification placement on the lock screen, as well as a tweaked Focus mode.
Android 13 will also delete any text that may be copied (and left unused or not accessed) on clipboard. We as users often copy text (this includes sensitive data such as email IDs and phone numbers), which then remains pasted on the clipboard. Google hasn't specified the lapse window, but this is definitely a very useful update.
Google's ecosystem push: time for the handshake
This has to be the year, and the Android version must cement Google's ecosystem play. Android 13's official release confirms support for spatial audio, beginning with the Pixel phones (though more will surely follow in due course). This is essentially a 360-degree sound format which tracks head movements to give the listener the experience of surround sound.
Google has not confirmed which headphones, earphones and true wireless earbuds will support spatial audio, but we already have confirmation that the Pixel Buds Pro wireless earbuds will add support as part of a software update in the coming weeks.
It was time for Google to catch up, and it has to an extent, but there's a long way to go still. Apple has offered this for a while now, with the AirPods Pro wireless earbuds, the third generation AirPods and the AirPods Max headphones. The source device support includes iPhone 7 or newer iPhones, iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation) and later, iPad Pro 11-inch, iPad Air (3rd generation) and later, iPad (6th generation) and later, as well as the iPad mini (5th generation) and later. Apple TV 4K as well as many Mac with Apple Silicon (the M1 series chips or the M2 chip) also support spatial audio.
There is also the potential for smarter interplay, between Google Messages on Android phones, and the Google Chromebook computing devices. Much like how iMessages work between iPhones and iPads, as well as Macs. The idea is to make the ecosystem work closer, and this could be a convenience tool for Chromebook users. That said, Chromebooks users are still not a very large demographic.
"When you're on your laptop, you don't want to break your workflow to respond to a chat from your phone," Samat said.
The surprise element could be support for any third-party messaging apps. Google has also talked about cross-device copy and paste support, which will let users copy content including URLs and text (you would appreciate how irritating it is often, to send these to a different device) across Android 13 phones and tablets.
Tablets finally get their moment in the sun
After years of ignoring the specific requirements for large screen devices and the unique use-cases they brought to the fore (Samsung is one Android OEM which relentlessly tried a host of things, including the productivity focused DeX Mode), Google is finally building Android for tablets too.
It started with Android 12L last year, but that was just as we said it, a start. To illustrate it bluntly, Android on tablets so far, has just been a stretched version of Android that you use on smartphones.
"Multi-window mode is now enabled by default for all apps, regardless of app configuration, so make sure the app handles split-screen appropriately," said Seang Chau, VP of engineering at Google.
Android 13 takes the tablet focus a bit further. System interface and apps (at least Google's own apps) are optimized to make better use of the larger display real estate. This had started with updates for Android 12L, over the last few months. A multi-tasking taskbar has been introduced at the bottom of the screen, and the familiarity with desktop OSes including Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS, should help.
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