Android 11 Beta 3 is out today. (Surprise! A rare Thursday release.) For folks keeping track at home, this is the last beta version before Android 11 is formally released later this summer — probably on September 8th, unless there are some last-minute changes. Google considers this a “release candidate build,” so those of you that want to get a taste of Android 11 early have your best shot at stability, and developers can rest assured basically everything in Beta 3 is fixed, final, and ready for your last rounds of app compatibility testing.
We’re in the home stretch now.
Although Google’s generally past the point of major changes this late in the game, one tweak was mentioned in the announcement: Starting with Android 11 Beta 3, so-called Exposure Notification apps (i.e., contact tracing apps) won’t need to turn on the device location setting to work.
Before you get too worked up, this is exactly the opposite of what you’re probably thinking: Since the apps use Bluetooth scanning in a way that doesn’t track your location, if anything, Google’s actively ensuring your location data is further protected by restricting them from using the rest of the stuff that comes with that permission. The issue purely comes down to the fact that Bluetooth scanning on Android was designed to require location permissions to work, the permissions were just conveniently bundled together. However, since contract tracing apps are restricted from getting your location to begin with, having them nonetheless request the location permission was superfluous and resulted in (justifiable) user confusion, so an exemption is being set up for those apps to use Bluetooth scanning without the full location permission.
For more info on that, you can read Google’s longer explanation here, but in short, it’s an “exemption” that protects your privacy even more, if anything, by working around Android’s siloed permissions system in this one corner case.
Developers that haven’t yet updated their apps to Android 11 are reminded to get their act together. It’s not too late to peruse the behavior changes list, update Android Studio and the SDKs, and get Android 11-compatible apps out the door. The rollout pace for Android’s major release updates may not match Apple, but they’re getting faster, and you’ve got time to avoid negative reviews if your apps are going to break.
Us end-user folks that have already opted into the Android Beta Program should get Beta 3 delivered as an OTA update starting today. Google is also announcing compatibility with the Pixel 4a, so you can easily install Android 11 on yours once it arrives. If you’ve yet to take the plunge, and this “release candidate” version has you convinced it’s finally time to try it, joining the Android Beta Program program is easy.
As always, we’ll be diving in to see if any changes snuck in — Google has a habit of not announcing them these days, probably to make sure it has a few things left to reveal for the final launch. If we spot anything worth pointing out, we’ll be sure to.