Google launches Android 11 Beta 3, lets COVID-19 apps work


Google today launched Android 11 Beta 3, the seventh and final preview of its next mobile OS version. Beta 3 puts Android 11 into release candidate status, which means Google is done putting the finishing touches on the new platform. This is the last chance developers have to make sure their apps and games are ready before Google starts rolling out Android 11 to businesses and consumers.

Android 11 has had a rocky beta schedule. Google launched Android 11 DP1 in February (the earliest it has ever released an Android developer preview), Android 11 DP2 in March, and Android 11 DP3 in April. Android 11 Beta 1 was supposed to arrive in May, but we got Android 11 DP4 as a stopgap measure. Beta 1 arrived in June followed by Beta 2 in July. Beta 1 would have normally been shown off at Google’s I/O developer conference, where the first Android beta typically debuts, but the event was canceled due to the coronavirus. #Android11: the Beta Launch Show was supposed to happen in lieu, but Google postponed and then ultimately canceled that as well due to protests over systemic racism and police brutality.

Every time we ask, Google insists that Android 11 is on schedule — the final is officially slated for Q3. Last month, Google accidentally let slip a September 8 launch date, though the company declined to comment when we pressed for confirmation.

You can get Android 11 Beta 3 now via the Android Beta Program or download it directly. Google will also be pushing an over-the-air (OTA) update for those on previous builds. The release includes the final SDK with system images for the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 4, and Pixel 4 XL, as well as the official Android Emulator. If you buy a Pixel 4a, unveiled earlier this week and available as of August 20, you will also be able to install Android 11 Beta 3. These nine Pixel phones are a tiny slice of the over 2.5 billion monthly active Android devices — the main reason developers are exploring the new version in the first place. Google limited the first four Android 11 developer previews to those phones, but it has worked with its OEM partners to bring the betas to more devices.

Exposure Notification API

Although Android 11 has basically been done for months, Beta 3 does include one more change: the latest COVID-19 Exposure Notification API that Google developed with Apple. Last week, Google updated its version of the system with support for interoperability between countries. The company also announced that Android 11 apps will be able to use the API without needing to turn on the device location setting.

That exception, only for the Exposure Notification API, was designed “in such a way that apps using it can’t infer device location through Bluetooth scanning,” Google VP of engineering Dave Burke emphasized. “To protect user privacy, all other apps will still be prohibited from performing Bluetooth scanning unless the device location setting is on and the user has granted them location permission.”

Release Candidate

Beta 2 brought the Platform Stability milestone, which finalized the Android 11 app-facing surfaces and behaviors, including SDK and NDK APIs, system behaviors, and restrictions on non-SDK interfaces that may affect apps. Beta 3 includes the official API 30 SDK and build tools for Android Studio, plus “the latest fixes and optimizations,” Google says.

Developers should install their production app on a device or emulator running Android 11, test all the user flows and features, and make sure none of Android 11’s changes break anything. With Android 11 now just a month away, Burke called on all Android app and game developers to “finish your compatibility testing and publish your updates soon. For SDK, library, tools, and game engine developers, it’s even more important to release a compatible version right away, since your downstream app and game developers may be blocked until they receive your updates.”

Android 11 compatibility flow

While these changes will only affect Android 11 users, either those who updated to it or purchased a new device, that still translates to millions of devices. Before exploring the new APIs and capabilities, developers should start by testing their current app and releasing a compatibility update.

Android 11 features

Google has been trickling out new features for months now. Android 11 Developer Preview 1 brought 5G experiences, people and conversations improvements, Neural Networks API 1.3, privacy and security features, Google Play System updates, app compatibility, connectivity, image and camera improvements, and low latency tweaks. DP2 built on those with foldable, call screening, and more Neural Networks API improvements. DP3 included app exit reasons updates, GWP-ASan heap analysis, Android Debug Bridge Incremental, wireless debugging, and data access auditing. DP4 didn’t have any new features.

Beta 1 more than compensated with new messaging functionality (conversation, notifications, Bubbles, consolidated keyboard suggestions, and Voice Access), smart home controls for devices and media, and privacy features (one-time permission, permissions auto-reset, background location changes, and more Google Play System Updates modules). We covered Beta 2 and Beta 3 above — they were more about stability and final touches than new features.

While the developer previews are only meant for, well, developers, early adopters and anyone interested in beta software can try Android 11 now. In return, Google is asking that you give feedback and report bugs.

Android 11 beta schedule

Last year, there were six betas. This year, there have been four developer previews and three betas.

Android 11 beta schedule

Here’s the Android 11 schedule:

  • February: Developer Preview 1 (Early baseline build focused on developer feedback, with new features, APIs, and behavior changes.)
  • March: Developer Preview 2 (Incremental update with additional features, APIs, and behavior changes.)
  • April: Developer Preview 3 (Incremental update for stability and performance.)
  • May: Developer Preview 4 (App compatibility and performance improvements.)
  • June: Beta 1 (Final SDK and NDK APIs; Google Play publishing open for apps targeting Android 11.)
  • July: Beta 2 (Platform Stability milestone. Final APIs and behaviors.)
  • August: Beta 3 (Release candidate build.)
  • Q3: Final release (Android 11 release to AOSP and ecosystem.)

If you haven’t started testing yet, now is the time. After you’ve downloaded Beta 3, update your Android Studio environment with the SDK (setup guide). Then install your current production app and test the user flows. For a complete rundown on what’s new, check the API overview, API reference, and behavior changes.

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Brian Jones

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