Android 11 Beta Focuses on Messaging, Ease of Use, and Control

Android's next big update does its best to surface buried features.

Android's next big update does its best to surface buried features, consolidate confusing ones, and streamline device access and control. In other words, your next major Android update might be the friendliest one yet.

Android icons on a smartphone
Lifewire /  Lance Ulanoff

Google unveiled the first Android 11 Beta and some of its features on Wednesday.

The details: After a short delay out of respect for the protests and discussions revolving around racial inequality and justice, Google outlined in a blog post a handful of key changes and performance enhancements users will find in the first Android 11 beta.

The big message: Android 11 is taking all your conversations across disparate messaging apps, like Duo and Meet, and putting them in one spot in Notifications. And there are now a pair of ways of keeping your most important conversations visible and present.

First is the ability to set a message as priority which means it can appear on your always on display and even break through a Do Not Disturb setting.

The second is called "Bubbles," which looks and functions almost exactly like Facebook's Chatheads. It puts your important conversations in avatar bubbles that can float on top of other applications.

More power: Android 11 is also juicing up the physical power button with a new action for the long press that reveals a control center for smart or connected devices (while we assume this is Google Home and Nest Devices, it's not clear if it could extend to, say, Amazon Echo).

That same long press will also, on the same screen, give you access to things like boarding passes and payment methods. According to Google, "We like to think of it as a 'pocket' for your digital wallet, keys, and more."

Like Apple: Android 11 also takes a page out if the iOS book and will surface media playback controls in a way that will make it much easier to switch from playing music on your speakers to, for instance, your headphones.

You decide: There are also some privacy changes afoot, like the ability to grant app permissions on a per-use basis. Next time you open the app, you'll have re-grant permission (this is progress?). Permissions can even time out if you haven't used an app for a long time.

Big picture: Obviously, this only scratches the surface of all the changes we expect in Android 11. There will also be numerous betas before final release this fall. So, look at this as just an early taste of the final mobile OS to come.

Where to get it: Google Pixel Phone users (version 2 and above) can try it out now. As for the rest of the Android Phone world, Google promises access in the coming weeks.

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