The screenshots were shared by people at XDA, who managed to get their hands on a leaked internal version of Android 12.1. And the first change we can immediately notice is that the big screen experience for foldable phones and tablets is improving dramatically. The new user interface makes better use of the extra screen space provided by large screens and even includes a lower taskbar for navigation that makes multitasking easier, similar to desktop operating systems.
In a way, it reminds us of the very old tablet UI found in Android 4.0, released about ten years ago, which was actually pretty good. Later versions of the operating system toned down tablet optimizations, and since then poor big screen support has always been the bane of Android’s existence when it comes to tablets, as tablets are forced to function primarily as oversized smartphones. Large screens are once again becoming popular thanks to foldable smartphones like the Galaxy Z Fold3, so it makes sense that Android will start to properly support larger form factors again (and tablets will eventually benefit as well).
In addition, Google seems to be preparing its own foldable phone, which will likely be called the “Pixel Fold” and could be released by the end of the year. XDA think Android 12.1 might be tied in with its release, and we can clearly see why.
A screenshot of XDA Android 12.1 version compared to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet user interface.
We have suspected for some time that Google is considering releasing an intermediate version for Android 12. We assume that this is an intermediate version because standard Android 12 is API level 31, and there is an API level 32, which is a branch called “sc -v2” rather than Android 13, but it’s still unclear whether Google will actually market it as 12.1. In addition to the changes for large screens, the version will also open the Monet dynamic theme system and bring it to AOSP Android.
We expect Google to release this version shortly after the initial Android 12 update, scheduled for next month. As for the elusive Pixel Fold, it remains well hidden, but if it is indeed released, it could be unveiled with Android 12.1.