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There’s a brilliant new feature hiding in Android 12, but it might only come to Pixels

Published May 28th, 2021 5:31PM EDT
Android 12 Features
Image: Google

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Google unveiled Android 12 a few days ago during its main I/O 2021 keynote, confirming most of the recent rumors we’ve all seen in the process. The new mobile operating system got a massive redesign called “Material You” that will let users customize their phones and tablets with ease, and without worrying about installing any themes. Android 12 also offers plenty of additional features on top of the major design makeover, including improved privacy protections and better interaction with other devices. But Google hasn’t revealed all of Android 12’s secrets yet, as the segment of its I/O keynote that was dedicated to the new mobile OS was limited.

Aside from features that will be available on all Android phones and tablets that qualify for the Android 12 update, Google is likely to build a few features into the OS that will be exclusive to Pixel phones. One such feature is something that could make it even easier for Google to sell the Pixel in other markets: Auto-translation for apps.

Chrome already features built-in translation that lets you translate any website to the language of your choosing. That’s a great accessibility feature to have on PC and mobile, as it opens the web to more users, regardless of whether or not they speak a foreign language.

Having the same type of auto-translation applied to apps would be a game-changer for Pixel phones, allowing owners to install and use applications that haven’t been localized for their regions. This would make the Pixel more appealing and easier to sell in some markets, and the Play Store would be more accessible in international markets. Developers could gain more international users even without translating their apps themselves.

Google has not detailed any projects that involve translating the user interface of apps on Android 12, but xda-developers found evidence that Google is working on this particular initiative.

Code found in April indicated that Google had a new framework in place for translating an app’s UI elements in a user’s native language. After I/O, Google updated its API differences report with a new android.view.translation package as well as related methods in the View class, xda explains.

The APIs aren’t documented, but a developer thinks that Google might indeed be working on “system-supplied translations of user-visible strings.” A different developer pointed out that the app UI translation feature isn’t meant to be a standard Android 12 feature, as the code is tied specifically to Pixel phones.

The report notes that the new translation feature should be found inside the Device Personalization Services app, although current versions don’t have it. Should it appear in future Android 12 betas, users will be able to test the UI translation feature on devices that can run the beta. That would also mean that the feature won’t be restricted to Pixel phones, at least not initially.

As amazing as this new accessibility feature sounds, there is one obvious issue: it’s tied to Google’s ability to auto-translate foreign languages in Chrome. The resulting translation doesn’t always come out great, so that could impact usability compared to a human translation. While that’s not a huge problem for websites, it could be problematic for app UI translations. As always with unconfirmed Android features, there’s no telling if or when Google will roll out this app UI auto-translate functionality to Pixel phones and potentially other devices.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.