Technology

Android 12.1 leak exhibits iPad-style dock, dual-pane system UI

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Android 12 isn’t even out yet, but we already have to talk about Android 12.1, a rumored point release that would likely arrive shortly after Android 12 and the Pixel 6 hit the market. The current mindset is that Google is working on a pair of Samsung-style foldable Pixel phones that will ship with a smaller version of Android. These are expected – maybe – to appear before the end of the year, if the development time and the shortage of chips allow.

  • Dual window settings are back!

  • Two window notifications.

  • Both are only two telephone interfaces next to each other. So if we set the screen aspect ratio to “two phones side by side” we get a much better looking user interface.

    XDA developer / Ron Amadeo

There’s nothing official about the Android 12.1 name, but the pieces of the puzzle here aren’t difficult to put together. Every Android version receives an API level for app developers. Unlike the version number controlled by marketing, the API level is predictable and increases to “1” for each new platform version, regardless of the size of the individual versions. Android 12 is “API Level 31”, but Android 13 – coming out next year this time – was recently raised to API level 33 in the Android public repository. Google has made a place between Android 12 and 13 for a new version. Everyone unofficially calls this version “Android 12.1”, following the maintenance version naming conventions that Google last used with Android 8.1, which was released in December 2017.

So what’s in Android 12.1? Foldable things. Mishaal Rahman of XDA Developers did a hands-on with some early code detailing a lot of tablet and foldable functions. We want to emphasize the “early” part of this “early code” description because it all looks awful, but we’re here for functionality, not design.

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As with the good (and quickly abandoned) Android tablet interfaces of yore, with Android 12.1, Google is returning to dual-pane layouts for different parts of the operating system interface. The settings screen is again in a dual-window configuration, which contains the settings list of the top level on the left and each individual page with settings on the right. The notifications panel takes a similar approach, with the quick settings on the left and the normal list of notifications on the right.

All of these dual-pane interfaces use a 50/50 split, which is very different from how Google does it. Google’s first move into a larger Android interface was in Android 3.0 Honeycomb, and that was designed for widescreen tablets. Honeycomb had a 33/66 split for app layouts, usually a slimmer navigation panel on the left and a larger content area on the right. This new design emulates the layout split-screen mode for apps with a 50/50 split in the middle. Each screenshot is just two phone interfaces side by side.

The sample screenshots from XDA use a Galaxy Fold 3 aspect ratio, which is currently our best guess of what a foldable pixel will look like. The thing is, the crease seems way too wide for the design that is taking place here. When Google uses two phone interfaces side by side, the correct aspect ratio for this seems to be twice the width of a regular phone. The Fold 3 is wider than what the standard Android problem poses of it looking ugly on wide devices.

This 50/50 design has the advantage of keeping the contents out of the hinge area, which usually contains a ditch or bump that can interrupt your swab finger. This layout is extremely limiting on the width of a device, as Android looks uglier the wider it gets.

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  • This is an official (but AOSP-cleaned) Google graphic of the dock interface.

  • Current apps can now display two rows of thumbnails.

Google’s leaked dock interface is here too. The screenshots all have a black bar pinned to the bottom of the screen, which is a mix of the iPad’s new Dock UI and the old Honeycomb bar. Of course, everything could change at some point, but for now the icons below just seem to be your last few apps. It would also be nice to be able to pin apps to this bar. The dock, assuming it isn’t automatically hidden, cuts into the vertical real estate app that apps can access. Vertical space is currently a big problem for apps on foldable devices, especially if they’re not side by side in app mode.

There’s also a lot going on with the latest apps. Aside from the usual scrollable list of thumbnails, one line up, there is now a mode where thumbnails can be two lines up so you can see more than one app. The screenshot actually shows one large app and then two rows of smaller apps.

We are also working on app pairs (shortcuts that launch two apps at the same time) and split screen app mode which now has a new dividing line. Again, everything is very early and ugly, but Google looks like it’s trying to recreate curved display bezels on the dock and the split-screen app bar. As with the 50/50 app split, this is a design that might look great on a very specific phone design with similar rounded corners. But for Android, which has to live on a million different devices, this design seems strangely restrictive.

Again, we have to emphasize that this is very early and we haven’t even seen the release of Android 12 yet. Google has a few more months to figure it all out and make it look good.

Offer picture by Ron Amadeo

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