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Android 12 might have leaked a few exciting new Pixel 6 features

Published Feb 22nd, 2021 4:45PM EST
Pixel 6 Rumors
Image: Google

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  • Discoveries in the Android 12 developer preview code might point to new Pixel 6 features.
  • Android 12 will support both face unlock and fingerprint authentication, prompting speculation that the Pixel 6 might use both security features.
  • Android 12 also includes a one-handed operation feature which could make it easier for users to interact with a larger Pixel 6 XL phone.

The Pixel 5 is the best-looking phone Google has made so far. The company ditched its incredibly ugly Pixel 4 design, even if that meant removing two sophisticated features at once. The Pixel 4 featured a thick forehead that housed components for 3D face recognition and the Soli radar chip. While the former is the kind of feature you’d want on a phone, as it provides the same security as the iPhone’s Face ID, the Soli radar was an unnecessary gimmick that occupied a lot of space on the handset. But the Pixel 5 also had an underwhelming chip.

Hopefully, the Pixel 6 will offer fans much better hardware. Google is rumored to be developing its own silicon for its phones, with Samsung in charge of manufacturing future Pixel processors. On top of that, recent findings in Android 12 tease new features that Google might be prepping for this year’s flagship.

The Pixel 6 has been notably absent from leaks this year, which is an unusual development for Google’s phones. The first Pixel rumors typically drop early in the year, and we eventually learn everything that there is to know about the new handsets from Google months in advance of their launch.

Google just released the Android 12 Developer Preview, which is the first beta version for developers. Google already told us what to expect from the new release, but didn’t focus on the consumer-facing changes that users will get in Android 12. That announcement should arrive around the time of I/O 2021, assuming Google hosts the event this year.

As with previous releases, the features Google develops for Android 12 might point to features planned for the next major Pixel hardware revision. After all, Google is still making its own phones to showcase the latest version of Android. Without a vessel for the software, the newest Android release would take several months to roll out to other Android devices. Only Pixel phones are updated to the latest Android version immediately.

Xda-developer’s Mishaal Rahman took the first Android 12 release for a spin, discovering in the Settings app that Android will come with native support for facial authentication and fingerprint scanners:

Here’s the language Google uses in the code to describe the authentication features to users during set-up:

  • Save time unlocking phone in your pocket
  • Unlock your phone securely with your face and fingerprint
  • You can sign in to apps and confirm payments

This prompted speculation that the Pixel 6 could feature both face unlock and fingerprint-scanning support. This has yet to be confirmed, but that’s not an unusual combination to have on an Android phone.

The only secure type of face unlock involves 3D face scans, something very few phones support outside of the iPhone. The Pixel 4 is the only such phone you might want to actually use. Huawei has a few others. Other Android handsets offer 2D face unlock, but that feature isn’t especially safe when it comes to logins or purchases. Most of those phones also feature an in-display fingerprint sensor, a feature no Pixel has had.

Rahman also says that Android 12 will add native support for under-display fingerprint scanners. Android device makers have used under-display sensors for years, but Google has never coded the feature in AOSP until now. The only reason we can think of for doing so now might be because of the Pixel 6.

That said, the code doesn’t say whether the Pixel 6 will have both 3D face unlock camera and an in-display fingerprint sensor. Google might just want to combine 2D face unlock with an in-display fingerprint sensor, especially during the pandemic, and especially now that Qualcomm has released a new version of the sensor. That’s just speculation, however.

Rahman also played with Android 12’s new one-handed operation mode that we saw in rumors before Google released the first Android 12 beta. Other Android vendors have developed their own one-handed operation software for phones with big screens, but Google never added the feature to AOSP. The fact that it’s doing so right now could indicate Google is rethinking the size of its phones. The Pixel 5 did not launch with an XL version. This Android 12 feature isn’t enough to confirm that a Pixel 6 XL is in the works, but we can’t but note the unusual timing for Google’s decision to add one-handed operation support to Android.

The Pixel 6 isn’t expected to arrive sooner than October, which gives us plenty of time for more leaks.

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.