Android 13 review: plans for the future, but not much to offer today

Android 13 review: plans for the future, but not much to offer today

Google

The Android update treadmill continues with the release of Android 13. This is one of the smallest Android releases in recent memory, with barely a few user-facing features. Keep in mind, however, that this update follows the monster android 12 released last year. It is also the second Android OS released this year, with the previous one being the tablet-focused Android 12L update which launched in March.

We’d have a little more meat to work with if Android 12L was part of this release, but as it stands, we’re left with a feature bag for Android 13. It includes a lot of fundamental features for Android tablets and smart displays, but there’s not much here for phones.

Even so, there are things to discuss, so let’s get to it.

The notification panel

Apps must now request permission to display notifications.
Enlarge / Apps must now request permission to display notifications.

Amadeo Rum

One of the nicest changes in Android 13 is the addition of the runtime notification permission. You’ve been able to stop apps from showing notifications for years, but apps now have to explicitly ask for permission to beep you and will show an “allow/deny” box on startup. As someone who rarely wants to be disturbed by my phone, I have found that my approval rating is very low. I feel like 95% of apps ask for notification permissions, and I approve of maybe 10% of them. It is very satisfying to preemptively eliminate annoying notifications.

As far as I know, this permission popup only appears if you’re booting from a fresh install. For upgrades, everything already has notification permissions and the OS won’t ask for it.

Google actually created a task manager

Another new notification feature is Google’s “Foreground Services (FGS) Task Manager”, which is a user-oriented task manager that sits at the bottom of the Quick Settings panel. Google and Apple are trying hard not to let consumers have as much control over smartphones as they do over PCs, but Google has finally given users a list of running apps they can kill. It’s not a list of all applications like a traditional task manager; it’s just a list of top services. Foreground services are Android apps that are currently doing active work, even if they don’t present an interface to the user, such as a music player, fitness tracker, automation, or sync service .

The task manager sits at the bottom of the quick settings panel as a long circular bar that says “X apps are active.” Tapping it will bring up a list of running apps, with a “stop” button next to each. It’s not Android’s first task manager – there have been various running app interfaces available in Developer Settings over the years – but it’s the first aimed at consumers.

In Android 8.0, Google knocked down the hammer about background processing, saying that if apps didn’t want to be automatically closed by the system, they should show the user when they were running. In previous versions of Android, an app generated a notification that it was running. While it’s useful to know what apps are running, putting that information in the notification panel and showing an eye-catching status bar icon was annoying. The notification panel should be for new and temporary items, not a 24/7 reminder saying, “Tasker is running.”

In Android 13, task manager supports notification functions, and now always-on notification is no longer needed. The notification will still appear, but it can now be ignored, unlike previous versions of Android. Swipe the notification and the only indication that an item is running will be a neatly reduced number at the bottom of the quick settings panel. It’s a much nicer way to manage running app notifications.

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