Google, the search giant has announced this year’s major Android update, Android 13, officially released for Google’s Pixel phones.
The annual update is conveying an official release a little earlier than usual, following Android 12’s release last October and Android 11’s release in September 2020.
The list of updates arriving with this year’s version of Android is likely to be familiar if you’ve been keeping up with Android 13’s beta releases. For example, there’s the ability to customize non-Google app icons to match your home screen wallpaper that we noticed in Android 13’s first developer preview, a new permission to cut down on notification spam, and a fresh alternative to limit which of your photos and videos an app can access.
Back in January, we wrote that Google planned to spend this year catching up with Apple’s ecosystem integrations, and there’s more evidence of this in Android 13’s official release. The update includes support for spatial audio with head tracking.
It is designed to make sounds appear as though they’re coming from a fixed point in space when you push your head while wearing compatible headphones, similar to a feature Apple delivers for its AirPods. Post doesn’t say exactly which headphones this will work with, but Google announced it would update its Pixel Buds Pro to provide support for spatial audio.
Secondly, there’s the ability to stream messages from apps, including Google Messages, directly to a Chromebook, similar to iMessage on the Mac. It’s another feature that Google described in January. As well as its own Messages app, one of Google’s promotional assets also indicates this working with the messaging app Signal.
The company says the feature will function with “many of your other favorite messaging apps.” The update also contains a feature that lets you copy content from an Android phone to be pasted on an Android tablet and vice versa.
Other Android 13 features enclose the ability to establish languages on a per-app basis and a redesigned media player that alters its look based on what you’re listening to. In addition, it supports Bluetooth Low Energy for better sound quality at lower bitrates and reduced latency, improved multitasking on large-screen devices with a drag and drops support for multitasking, and better palm rejection when using styluses.
On this support page, Google broke down which Pixels are getting the Android 13 update today and a long list of fixes it includes. A developer page lets you download the images before the update is pushed to your device. It automatically also notes that upgrading to Android 13, at least with a factory image, is a one-way trip — a bootloader update means you won’t be able to flash back to Android 12.
There’s a blog post for developers or anyone in the Android 13 beta with more information for you here. Everyone in the beta will get the Android 13 final release and then stay enrolled to receive beta updates for upcoming Feature Drops. If you’d somewhat back out and stick to absolute release software, you can head to the Android Beta site and opt out without needing to wipe your device first.
If you’re ready to install Android 13 on your Pixel phone, the OTA images are available here, or you can use the web-based Android Flash Tool to upgrade compatible devices.
The Android update will come to devices from other manufacturers, including Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, HMD, Motorola, Realme, Sony, Xiaomi, and Asus “later this year.”It sounds like Google finally watched an Apple ad and discovered that making hardware and software together does help. Who knew! But Google’s position is genuinely tricky here. Google’s ad business relies on a mind-bending colossal scale, which it gets primarily thanks to other companies creating Android products.
Google has to support all those partners happy and discern like they’re on a level playing field with the Pixel team. And it simply can’t control its ecosystem as Apple can. It is forever fretting about backward compatibility and how fortes will work on all sizes, prices, and power devices. It has to engender support to make significant changes, whereas Apple brute-forces the future.
Another way of telling the only way Google can get to its ambient computing dreams is to make sure Google is everywhere. Like, everywhere. Google invests in products in seemingly every square inch of life, from TV to the thermostat to the car to the wrist to the ears. The ambient-computing fortune may be one computer to rule them all, but it needs near-infinite user interfaces.
The second step to creating ambient computing work is making it easy to use. Google is relentlessly trying to carve away every friction in accessing its services, particularly the Assistant. So, for instance, if you own a Nest Hub Max, you’ll soon be able to converse with it just by glancing into its camera, and you’ll be able to set timers or turn off the lights without giving a command at all.
The most apparent outpouring of that work is multi-search. For example, using the Google app, you can take a photo of a dress — by Google’s standards, it’s always a dress — and then type “green” to search for that dress in green. That’s the kind of thing you couldn’t do in a text box.
And at I/O, Google also conducted a tool for running multi-search on an image with multiple things: take a picture of the peanut butter aisle, type “nut-free,” and Google will tell you which one to buy. Search employed to be one thing, Lens was another, and voice was a third, but when you incorporate them, new things become feasible.
But the authentic challenge for Google is that it’s much higher than a question-and-answer engine now. For instance, shopping has become essential to Google, but there’s no single correct response for “best t-shirt.” Plus, Google is employing search more and more to keep you inside Google’s ecosystem; the search box is increasingly just a launcher for various Google things.
So rather than just seeking to understand the internet, Google has to remember to understand its users better than ever. Does it support that Google has a gigantic store of first-party data accumulated over the last few decades on billions of people globally? Of course, it does! But even that isn’t enough to earn Google where it’s going.
Google seems to be proceeding to try and make users comfortable with its existence: it’s moving more AI to devices themselves instead of processing and keeping everything in the cloud. It’s moving toward new systems of data collection that don’t so clearly identify an individual, and it’s delivering users more ways to control their privacy and security settings. But the ambient-computer life needs a privacy tradeoff, and Google is desperate to make it good sufficiently that it’s worth it. That’s a high bar and bringing higher all the time.
This whole procedure is full of high bars for Google. For example, suppose it wants to build an ambient computer that can be all things to everyone. In that case, it will need to create a sweeping ecosystem of hugely famous devices that all drive compatible software and services while seamlessly blending with a robust global ecosystem of other gadgets, including those made by its direct competitors. And that’s to construct the interface.
Google maintains to turn the Assistant into something genuinely lovely to interact with all day and make its services flex to each need and workflow of users across the globe. But, of course, nothing about that will be comfortable.