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Android 10 release date, new features and everything you need to know

Android 10
Image credit: TechRadar

We know everything about the next big Android operating system update, Android 10, which has been publicly released as of September 3 - but only for Google Pixel phones at first.

The latest major update was introduced as Android Q at Google IO 2019 but has been officially rebranded as Android 10. Sorry, dessert names - switching to numbers is easier for global users to grasp.

"As a global operating system, it’s important that these names are clear and relatable for everyone in the world," Google VP of product management for Android, Sameer Samat, wrote in a blog post. "We think this change helps make release names simpler and more intuitive for our global community." 

The Android 10 update brings a ton of new features, which Google has listed on its official page for the new software.

Among all the new toys, the long-awaited system-wide dark mode (called 'Dark Theme') is the biggest shift from Android Pie. iOS-like Gesture Navigation has also been added, along with privacy controls and Focus Mode for shutting notifications off when you need to get things done. There's also details on Project Mainline, which was introduced at Google IO 2019 that enables Google to beam over-the-air security updates to phones between major updates. 

What else is new with Android 10? We've got a working features list below, based on everything we've seen on the official page, in the ongoing beta, and what we saw at Google IO.

Cut to the chase

  • What is Android Q? It's the next version of Android
  • When can you get Android Q beta? Download Android Q beta 3 now
  • When will Android Q launch in full? Probably August  
  • How much will Android Q cost? It will (assumedly) be a free update

Android 10 release date

  • March 13: The first Android 10 developer beta has launched
  • April 3: Android 10 beta 2 gave us bugs fixes and app bubbles
  • May 7: Android 10 beta 3 launched at Google IO 2019
  • Early June: The final incremental update, beta 4, land in June
  • July: Beta 5 and beta 6, release candidates, land this month
  • September 3: The public version is released - though not all phones get it on launch day

Android 10 has been officially released, but that doesn't mean it's available for all phones just yet. Each OEM must develop their own version of the update for each phone and work with carriers to release it, which can take months. Don't be surprised if your handset doesn't get Android 10 until 2020.

Of course, the Google Pixel phones get the latest version on launch day - and surprising no one, the Essential phone is also getting day one compatibility in select markets, according to this tweet.

Below is a full list of all the phones that have Android 10 thus far.

  • Google Pixel 3 / Pixel 3 XL
  • Google Pixel 3a / Pixel 3a XL
  • Google Pixel 2 / Pixel 2 XL
  • Google Pixel / Pixel XL
  • Essential Phone

Android 10: what's new

We're getting a better idea of the new Android 10 features to come thanks to the beta of Google's mobile operating system. Additional features and bug fixes have come with all the beta releases up through the sixth and final beta that came out in early August.

Some of the changes are confirmed, while others remain rumors. Here's what you can expected ahead of the official Android 10 release date in August.

Beta 6 (Final)

The sixth and final beta doesn't add much - mostly bug fixes and optimizations - but it does allow apps to semi-disable the swipe-to-go-back gesture. 

In essence, apps can block the gesture from working on a certain part of the screen (specifically. there’s now a “200dp vertical app exclusion limit for the Back gesture"). But it won't block the gesture from working entirely - we'll have to see if that exclusion zone is large enough for users to keep from accidentally swiping out of an app (say, when they're gaming) when they expect not to.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Android Q won't have Android Beam

One feature Android 10 won't have is Android Beam, the NFC peer-to-peer sharing method when two devices are nearby. Placing phones back-to-back will do nothing in the beta and final software, we confirmed at Google IO.

Will Google replace Android Beam with another peer-to-peer sharing method? That remains to be seen. We may have to wait until the final Android 10 release date to see it, or maybe when the Google Pixel 4 launches (excepted in October).

(Image credit: Future)

Closing privacy loopholes

A report from the International Computer Science Institute found that over 1,300 apps on the US Google Play Store routinely scraped personal data from users even if explicitly denied by relevant permissions settings. 

Appmakers have been using multiple clever workarounds to get the info they wanted: if a user set their permissions to not share location data, the apps took their MAC address from routers connected to the phone. They stored the device-identifying IMEI number accessed by one app and shared it with others. They even determined user locations with image metadata.

Google is reportedly fixing these issues with the full release of Android 10 in August, though presumably not in any planned beta beforehand.

Android 10 beta 2 foldables emulator (Image credit: Google)

Android 10 beta 2 foldables emulator (Image credit: Google)

Foldable support

Android 10 is preparing for foldable phones in 2019, or "foldables and innovative new screens," according to the Android Developers Blog post.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold – while it was in our hands briefly – seamlessly switched between the folded and unfolded screen states. By Google natively supporting this type of UI continuity in the backend, it'll likely come to more foldable phones when they launch with Android 10 onboard.

For developers, Android 10 beta 2 includes a 'foldables emulator' in Android Studio 3.5, according to Dave Burke, Google's VP of Engineering.

Android Q 'bubbles' multitasking

You've seen the bubbles UI before if you've used Facebook Messenger chat heads. It's an easy way to keep active conversations on-screen as small floating profile pics, while going about your normal tasks in the rest of the interface. You can tap the pic when you want to switch back to the conversation.

Google is supporting this idea throughout Android 10 and calling it a new way to multitask. So far, its examples are coming to Messages and Hangouts. But Google is reducing development time, interactivity consistency, and user privacy safeguards, so expect to see it in additional apps outside of Google's ecosystem.

Dark Theme, the system-wide dark mode

There's a system-wide dark mode coming to Android 10 and it's called Dark Theme. We've tested in out at Google IO and it works as intended, but needs to roll out to more of the menus. So far it's limited to the settings menu. It's very early.

You'll be able to trigger Dark Theme in two different ways, and both are in the notification shade. The first way is with a dedication Dark Theme quick settings button that switches between the default Light Theme and new Dark Theme. 

The second way is to turn on a Battery Saver mode, which automatically turns on Android 10 Dark Theme. This is a boon for phones with OLED screens, which will burn fewer pixels by essentially turning off pixels in regions of the display that are intentionally black.

New Android 10 privacy features

The Android Developer Blog post announcing the developer beta confirmed a heavy emphasis on boosting privacy in Android 10, a focus that was reaffirmed in the Google IO 2019 keynote.

Users will have more control over app access to location info, shared files and repositories like Photos and Videos. Another helpful change: instead of apps automatically switching focus when they have an Activity in the background (like an alarm or call), appmakers can opt to send high-priority notifications first. 

Android 10 beta 3 also introduced a new feature – Scoped Storage – which allows users to control how apps access external storage (say, in a MicroSD card). It will also better protect users from being identified by restricting access to non-resettable device identifiers, like your phone's serial number and/or IMEI, and randomizing its MAC address when connected to different Wi-Fi networks. 

These might be some of the most onerous changes for developers in Android 10, which is why, as the Android Developers Blog post reads: "We are bringing these changes to you early, so you can have as much time as possible to prepare."

Project Mainline: security updates in the background

Another new endeavor announced at Google IO 2019 is Project Mainline, which enables Android devs to update critical parts of Android (so-called 'modules') without a full software package – and critically, without a full update from OEMs. 

These surgical upgrades download in the background from Google Play and load them up whenever the phone next reboots. They will mainly be used to improve privacy and security, though the Android Developers Blog post also mentions game developers will use it to update modules for consistent platform implementation.

All devices that can run Android 10 will be able to get Project Mainline.

5G

Android 10 has some particular tricks up its sleeve for 5G. New APIs will enable apps to detect user connection rate and latency, as well as detect if the connection is metered.

This will give developers more refined control over how much data to send to users, especially when they have poorer connections or have data-downloading limits. 

Live Caption, and more

One of several accessibility features announced at Google IO 2019, Live Caption does what it says on the tin – captioning video and audio in real-time. The feature doesn't require an internet connection, transcribing text from the device's own speech recognition and NLP.

On the Google IO 2019 stage, we saw Live Caption used in combination with Live Transcribe to input incoming audio to text, then have a user text a response which was spoken. In the demonstration, the combo – called Live Relay – allows a texting user to interact on a phone call without ever speaking a word.

The last accessibility feature coming to Android 10 is Project Euphonia, which aims to improve Android's verbal recognition to better process words spoken by users with speech impediments. 

Developer tools for apps: system settings, connectivity, media and more

Developers will be able to show contextually-important system settings within their apps, which harnesses the 'Slices' feature that came in Android 9 Pie. So instead of having to navigate to Settings to switch on Airplane Mode or toggle Wi-Fi or Mobile Data on/off, say, you'll be able to do that right within your mobile browser.

There are also tweaks to connectivity, including 'adaptive Wi-Fi' that enables high performance/low latency modes, which would be useful for things like online gaming or voice calls.

Like all the depth and blur in Pixel camera software? In Android 10, apps can request depth data (JPEG + XMP metadata + depth and confidence map) to, say, offer "specialized blurs and bokeh options in your app," as the Android post suggests. "You can even use the data to create 3D images or support AR photography use-cases in the future."

Android 10 will also support more multimedia codecs: AV1 to let media providers stream high-quality video, Opus for audio encoding, and HDR10+ for high dynamic range video "on devices that support it" – like, say, the Samsung Galaxy S10 family.

As for gaming, the Android 10 beta enhances support for OpenGL along with bug fixes and more functionality. 

More permissions to preserve privacy

Android 10 will revamp permissions, from the general to specific, and we've heard that users will be able to better view what info they've shared.

Here's what we don't know for sure, but have heard about: per the aforementioned XDA Developers leak, users will be able to look at a broad overview of which apps they've given permission for certain things, like location or microphone access. There's a search function that lets you filter by permission item, allowing you to quickly see which apps you've given access to your camera, contacts, location and so on.

You can also look at permissions each app has been granted and toggle them individually to set whether access is off, on, or only on while the app is open.

Android Q / Android 10

Developer tools

There are plenty of new developer tools described by the XDA leak, but it's not clear how all of them will function. 

Freeform windows return, which lets you enable them after pressing and holding an app icon in the recent apps overview. On the other hand, XDA also found a feature called "Game Updates Package Preference" whose purpose is a bit of a mystery. Another, titled "force desktop mode," seems like it would push Android to an external display, Samsung DeX-style.

Not all of the UI is finished, either, making some features – like screen recording – not totally comprehensible. 

Face ID-style authentication for logins and purchases

Another dive into the developer build XDA Developers acquired revealed the OS might get a feature iOS users have bragged about for awhile: Face ID. The next version of Android might support phones packing the hardware to use facial scans for authentication.

It's unclear just how it will work, or if it would combine sensor readings for a comprehensive scan of facial features. But we did get hints via error codes in one of the OS' APK, which variably tell the user to move the phone in different directions for the device to get a better look at their face. 

Other strings of code found by XDA are also promising, like one that blatantly informs users they can "Use your face to unlock your phone, authorize purchases, or sign in to apps."

Whether phones will be able to use Face ID is another story: they need to have the hardware installed – whether that's sensors or the right specs – for the feature to work. 

Goodbye back button, hello (only to) gesture controls

While recent Android phones from different brands have tried to push their own gesture controls for years, the OS has always kept its static three-button navigation as an option. Those days might be at an end as that XDA preview build showed only gesture controls, per Tom's Guide.

From the looks of it, users may only be able to use the navigation system present in the Google Pixel 3: a small pill at the bottom of the screen that you can swipe in the cardinal directions to get around. 

It's key to note that Android allows brands to develop their own navigation methods and systems to go along with their overlays, so it's very unlikely that this will be the only way to navigate. This build is also a bit out of date, so who knows if something as integral as OS movement would be finalized that far out.

Anything else?

There were a couple other additional Android 10 odds and ends from that XDA leak, including a pair of new accessibility settings.

Both apply to how long notification messages stay up, and seemingly apply to different kinds of notifications. The first are for "messages that ask you to take action," while the other apparently refers to notifications that pop up with simple reminders. You can toggle these to stay up between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.

We're also seeing official support for HDR10+. A few phones this year, including the Samsung Galaxy S10 series, support the codec, and expect that trend to continue as Android 10 launches on new devices.

That's all we've seen for now, but new details will surely come up in the coming beta versions, at Google IO 2019 in May and from any leaks in between.

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