After a few developer-only releases, Android 13 is now in its first public beta – and that means that you can see what's coming to the best Android phones later this year. Or at least, you can if you have a Google Pixel phone such as the Google Pixel 6 Pro: other firms' devices aren't currently supported.
This isn't a massive overhaul like Android 12 was; it's an evolutionary rather than revolutionary update, at least so far. But while many of the improvements in Beta 1 are relatively minor, there are some significant changes too. Here's some of the biggest new Android 13 feature upgrades that Pixel users can try out right now.
1. New notifications permissions
If you're tired of apps abusing the notifications systems, you'll get much more control over what they can and can't notify you about in Android 13.
2. More granular media permissions
This, like the notifications permissions, gives you more control: instead of apps asking for access to all your media, Android 13 can specify media types – so you might want an app to access your music library but not your photos.
3. A new photo picker
Sticking with the more-control theme, the new Photo Picker makes it easier to select files such as photos without having to give access to the entire media library. It's browsable, searchable and can be restricted to photos or videos.
4. Themed app icons
One of the new customisation features will apply theme colours to the icons in supported Android launchers, helping them fit in with your chosen colour scheme. The app developer needs to provide a one-colour version of the icon in order for this to work.
5. Better support for multilingual users
Android 13 features more flexible APIs for app developers to better support users of multiple languages, enabling them to set per-app language settings instead of just a global setting. There are also display improvements for non-Latin languages and new APIs for phonetic lettering input.
6. Bluetooth LE Audio
Bluetooth's low energy version is now supported on all Android 13 devices for better, more energy efficient Bluetooth audio streaming.
7. MIDI 2.0
The musical interface standard MIDI has been around since 1983, and it proved so useful that version 2 didn't come along for another 37 years. But it's here now, and MIDI 2.0 support enables Android to take advantage of the new standard's more generous memory, improved timing and digital recording. This sounds quite dull if you're not a musician, but it means that electronic instruments will be as expressive as electric and acoustic ones, so it's big news for music makers.
But wait, there's more
These are the most interesting new features Google has announced that'll directly affect end users, but there is also a host of improvements under the hood to improve performance, stability and security. We're expecting the finished version to ship in the summer, most likely at Google I/O 2022.
Although it's possible to install the beta today if you have the right hardware, the usual beta warning applies: this is unfinished, pre-production software and there will be bugs. That means it's a very bad idea to install it on your primary phone. As Google points out, "the updates that you’ll receive as a part of the beta programme are pre-release versions and may contain errors and defects that can affect the normal functioning of your device." And there's no way to roll back to a stable version of Android without wiping all your local data. If that doesn't deter you and you do have a spare Pixel, you can get the over-the-air update by signing up at the Android Beta Program.