Android 11 is live, with chat upgrades, screen recording, and more
Seven months after the first developer preview appeared, Android 11 is officially rolling out now for selected phones (including the newer Pixels) and coming soon to other handsets. Among the new features this time around are upgrades to notifications, messaging, security and media playback controls.
Android differs from iOS in the way that app updates and other upgrades go live throughout the year, rather than all landing in one go. As a result, new Android releases aren't quite as significant as new versions of iOS, but there are still some interesting new features to talk about.
Android 11 groups conversations from messaging apps together in the notification shade, for example, making it easier for you to see who is trying to get in touch with you and through which app. You can also mark certain conversations as top priority – these get pinned to the top of the notification list, and can be permitted to break through Android's Do Not Disturb mode if you want them too.
Messaging apps can also take advantage of a new feature that Google calls bubbles: little floating circles representing active chat conversations that can stay on top of other apps (if this sounds familiar, Facebook Messenger has been offering a feature like this called chat heads on Android for several years).
Elsewhere, media player controls have been moved to the Quick Settings pane for easier access (swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to get to it). Also new on the Quick Settings pane is the first native screen recorder in Android, which you can use to capture on-screen activity.
A long press on the power button in Android 11 not only brings up power down and restart options, plus shortcuts to your Google Pay cards – as in Android 10 – but also access to toggle switches for the smart home devices that have been added in the Google Home app. It makes getting at your smart lights, smart plugs and so on a little bit easier.
With app permissions, the ability to grant permission to an app for one time only has been extended, and Google has also now implemented a feature where apps need to ask again for certain permissions if they haven't been used for a long time. More security updates will arrive via Google Play Services rather than Android updates in the future, Google says – that should mean security patches and bug fixes get out faster.
Then there are the usual host of smaller tweaks and behind-the-scenes changes that Google has added too. In addition, Pixel phones are getting a few extras, including the option to have a row of suggested apps appear on the home screen, and more screenshot annotation options. These features may well appear on other handsets in the future as well, but they're heading to Pixel phones to begin with.
Over-the-air updates are heading out now to Pixel phones from the Pixel 2 up, plus selected handsets from OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo and Realme. If you have a handset from another manufacturer, how long Android 11 will take to arrive will depend on how quickly that manufacturer updates its software.