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Release date, previews, betas, and everything you need to know

The first Android 12 developer preview is here. As usual, we’ve dived into all the changes present in this latest release — so far, anyway. But there are still plenty of other questions you might have, like: Should I install Android 12 now? What’s the difference between the “previews” and the “betas?” When will Android 12 land? And how many updates will it get before it is released? Here are your answers.

Some features, like the Monet background theming and Silky Home settings redesign (above), were spotted hidden in DP1. Others, like the new privacy indicators (below), have still only shown up in leaked mockups

Not infrequently, Developer Previews have issues that require troubleshooting to fix. A soft brick is possible but unlikely. You should be comfortable with mucking around in a recovery menu and manually sideloading an OTA via ADB if necessary — or at least be willing to learn the process independently if and when things go wrong.

I also recommend that you be willing and able to provide Google with bug reports if you run into any issues or unexpected behavior. Think of this as Android’s exit row seating: There’s a responsibility that comes with this extra Android 12 legroom, and you’re expected to provide quality feedback. That doesn’t mean a slapdash rant about icon spacing fired off via the feedback app; that means pulling system logs, describing an actual issue in precise terms, and documenting the steps required to reproduce it so the issue can be addressed by engineers and fixed.

Anecdotally, DP1 has been stable for me, but that’s no guarantee for your experience or the future, so be aware of the risks. The bug-fixe list for the DP1.1 update makes it clear you could still run into some show-stopping issues.

If you’re a smartphone enthusiast with a spare phone on hand, the developer previews can be fun. But if you’re thinking about installing them on your only device for day-to-day use, I would strongly advise against it.

When will Android 12 come out?

Google published a full schedule for Android 12, though we do have a few unanswered questions about it.

The Android 12 release schedule, as of DP1.

According to the visual schedule (above), Android 12 will have three developer previews and four betas ahead of a final release — which looks like it could happen a little bit later in the year than usual. However, the Android Developer website indicates another separate release candidate build not included in the image above after the fourth beta and before that final release. It also lists Beta 2 and 3 together, all of which casts a bit of doubt on the precise number of Android 12 releases to expect.

We’ve reached out to Google regarding the inconsistency, but details have not been forthcoming. Either way, it looks like we have 7-8 updates planned before Android 12 lands in its final, stable release.

We should also point out that last year we got a random unplanned update, and Google has started doing bug-fixing updates in between the numbered releases — a habit it kicked off last year, and which we’ve already seen continue with Android 12 DP1.1. That’s likely to continue, and with this change in versioning for even more granularity, we may see multiple bug-fixing updates between big-number releases.

Usually, Google gives us a nebulous “Q3” date for the final release, but this time around, everything after Beta 4 in August is left undefined. While I wouldn’t necessarily trust the spacing on the timeline visual provided, the bigger gap compared to prior years may indicate a later-than-usual release. It usually lands in September, but that could change.

Past that, most folks not using Google’s Pixels may still have a wait before their phones get Android 12.

Which phones can get Android 12?

The early Developer Previews will be limited to currently supported Pixel devices — that means all Pixels after the Pixel 2 series.

  • Pixel 5
  • Pixel 4a 5G
  • Pixel 4a
  • Pixel 4
  • Pixel 4 XL
  • Pixel 3a
  • Pixel 3a XL
  • Pixel 3
  • Pixel 3 XL

If you don’t own a supported device, but you’d like to check out the early Android 12 previews, a refurbished or used Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a can be picked up quite cheaply.

When Google’s Android Beta Program opens later this year, we will likely see more phones get their own Android 12 beta programs as well. Often, companies like OnePlus, OPPO, Xiaomi, and ASUS will release their own Android betas for one or two flagship devices in the summer. Last year we got them right around when Beta 1 landed for Pixels, just about when Google I/O would have been. These third-party beta releases can sometimes be a version behind the Pixels.

How do I install Android 12?

Later on, installing Google’s Android Betas will be easy: You just need to opt-in at the Android Beta Program website. But right now, it’s Developer Preview season, and things are intentionally more difficult.

This higher barrier to entry for the very earliest releases helps to weed out those that wouldn’t be able to troubleshoot problems, which happen more frequently with the preview releases, but it also means that installing the Developer Previews is a more manual process.

There are two methods you can follow: The long, ancient, time-honored practice of our Android-using forefathers, or the new easy way. Whichever you choose, there are a handful of prerequisites:

  1. A computer (PC, macOS, or Linux). Or, if you’re exceptionally adventurous: Another phone with USB OTG functionality.
  2. A supported phone to install Android 12 on: Pixel 3 series, Pixel 3a series, Pixel 4 series, Pixel 4a series, or Pixel 5.
  3. A known good cable to connect #1 to #2.

The new easy

Google has a snazzy new Android Flash Tool that works right in your browser, without needing to install ADB or anything like that. It’s a quick and easy process. Just fire up the site at the link below, plug phone -> cable -> computer (or another phone), and follow the instructions it walks you through step-by-step.

Last year Google made the Android Flash Tool compatible with Developer Preview 2 and later, and this time we got support right off the bat. The new tool is both easier and works across more platforms — one of our readers humorously installed an Android 11 Developer Preview onto a Pixel from another Pixel, which I still laugh about. But, in a pinch, that means you can install Android 12 without using a computer at all.

As a backup, you can bust out the ancient and arcane manual sideloading arts.

Android 12 troglodyte edition

Google provides instructions on how to manually flash images on its OTA images downloads site, and the same details apply to previews as well. I’d encourage you to find a walkthrough specific to your platform for prerequisite steps like installing ADB. On some platforms, like Linux, it’s easier to do than others, like Windows. But the short version is:

  1. Install the Android SDK tools (i.e., ADB) and USB drivers (if you’re using Windows).
  2. Download the Developer Preview OTA image for your device.
  3. Connect your phone to your computer.
  4. Reboot into recovery (via ADB/USB debugging or the key combination) and enter sideloading mode. Power+volume up opens the Recovery menu, scroll via the volume keys to “apply update from ADB,” and select it with a tap of the power button.
    1. Check that and prior steps worked by entering “adb devices” (no quotes) in a shell or command prompt. If ADB is installed and your phone is in the correct mode, you should see an identifier for your phone and a “sideload” state reported.
  5. Flash the OTA via a shell or command prompt, using “adb sideload your_file_name_here.zip” with no quotes, where the filename is the name of the OTA image you downloaded earlier. On some platforms, you’ll need to precede adb commands with “./” for them to work correctly.
  6. Stare anxiously at your phone while it slowly installs.
  7. Reboot when done.

Note that with Android 12 DP1, some errors during flashing have been reported, with the device or ADB on your computer claiming to run into problems somewhere around 94% of progress. You can ignore that, it flashed fine.

You may also be able to use the Android Flash Tool, which works right from your browser (full instructions here).

Sometimes a new version of the Android SDK platform tools is required for a new release, so if you run into trouble with the manual route installing , you may want to check for updates. And although some guides you might see claim you need to unlock your bootloader to install the Developer Previews, that is not correct. OTA images can easily be sideloaded without unlocking your bootloader.

Also note, once the Android 12 Developer Preview is installed, future updates will be delivered via the normal automatic means. You won’t have to flash it this way all over again with each subsequent update.

Android 12 Developer Preview vs. Beta

According to the published timeline, Android 12 will switch from Developer Preview to betas in May. At that time, the above manual installation requirements will disappear. You can still do it all manually if you really want to waste your time, but it can also be installed automatically through an easy online opt-in form, giving anyone that wants it a slightly more stable but still early taste of Android 12.

For developers, that shift to beta means the time for API feedback is just about over as Google’s plans for the release start to be finalized. But for consumers, it means Android 12 is ready for general testing, and we can start submitting feedback to app developers regarding issues. These later Android 12 betas will still almost assuredly have some bugs, and new features or visual changes could happen at that stage. For example, Android 11’s reworked media controls only debuted with Beta 1, and they still weren’t finalized until a later release.

This two-stage testing system follows the naming scheme Google settled on last year. Back in Android 8 Oreo and Android 9 Pie, all we got were “Developer Previews.” With Android Q, Google decided to call them all “Betas.” Last year we got a mix: Developer Previews for the first few releases, Betas for the final few, and that continues now for Android 12. The usual timing also puts the first Beta release around Google I/O, so expect that to happen sometime in May unless the company changes how it does its releases this year.

Lastly, I just want to point out (because a thousand people ask about it every time it happens), Developer Preview and Beta updates often break contactless payments for a few days after their release. It’s a thing, you can depend on it to happen, it almost always gets fixed in a few days, and it’s nothing to be excitedly swarming about when it happens with every single update.

For more information, check out our Android 12 changelog, which lists every feature spotted so far, including further links to individual coverage of most of them, and follow along with our Android 12 Feature Spotlight series.

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