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Developer preview offers first look at Android 13

Changes include new privacy features, coding tools, and more options for creating bespoke settings at the app level

Screenshots showing the latest version of the Android 13 user interface based on a developer preview

A developer preview of Android 13 has been released offering a first look at the mobile operating system's new design and feature updates.

The preview is available now to download on all Pixel smartphones from the Pixel 4 to the latest Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. A fully finished version of the OS is not expected until later in the year, presumably sometime in Q3, but the developer preview is often a good indication of how it will ultimately look and feel.

At face value, the user interface doesn't appear to have any significant design changes, though there is a further expansion of 'Material You'. Launched with Android 12, Material You is a customisable feature that takes the colour themes of a user's wallpaper and applies it across all elements of their display, such as buttons, sliders and even the Google icons.

For Android 13, the feature now includes all apps; so for example, the WhatsApp icon will switch to a silhouette version and take on the colours of the wallpaper. It isn't a very big change from a technical standpoint, but visually it will be very noticeable.

Android 13 privacy features

There are more substantial changes for privacy and security, with tweaks to how Android handles permissions. Many of these changes are aimed at making it easier to create bespoke settings at the app level, rather than system wide.

Photo Picker will allow users to share photos and videos with individual apps without the need to permit the app to access their entire library. Instead, the users can select specific content to share. Google says it plans to bring this feature to all phones running Android 11 and up.

A similar function is also available for apps to connect safely with Wi-Fi points. The new Wi-Fi permission feature allows apps to connect without needing location permissions, which has historically been problematic for apps that needed to connect to nearby Wi-Fi devices. Apps targeting Android 13 will be now able to request the "NEARBY_WIFI_DEVICES" permission with the "neverForLocation" flag instead, which Google says should help promote a privacy-friendly app design.

As it is a developer preview, that also means new developer tools. These include API functions to add setting shortcuts directly to an app with custom tiles. A new system dialog lets the user add the tile in one step, without leaving the app, rather than having to go to Quick Settings to add the tile.

There is also 'Per-app language preferences' for apps that let users choose a language that differs from the system language. These apps can now use a new platform API to either set or get the user's preferred language, which Google hopes will reduce boilerplate code. This is where sections of code are repeated in multiple places with little or no variation.

Developers will also be able to use faster hypenation to make wrapped text easier to read for a more adaptive UI. According to Google, hyphenation performance will be up by as much as 200% on Android 13. To enable it, developers can simply input 'fullFast' or 'normalFast' frequencies.

How to access the Android 13 changes

To introduce these changes, developers need to flash a system image to any Pixel device from 4 onwards. However, If you don't have a Pixel device, you can use the 64-bit system images with the Android Emulator in Android Studio.

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