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Built for foldables, Android 12L is hitting Surface Duo 'later this year,' according to Google

Surface Duo 2 Pen Cover
Surface Duo 2 Pen Cover (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Surface Duo 2 Vs Surface Duo1 Screens

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • In a new blog post, Google gave more details on the Android 12L update coming "later this year."
  • For the first time, Google revealed that "planned updates" for 12L are coming to Microsoft devices.
  • Android 12L is not a separate branch of Android but rather a specific release focused on optimizing for new foldable Android devices that will morph into Android 13 and beyond.

Google has been working on its '12L' version of Android, an update to the mobile OS that is coming later this year to select devices. Optimized for larger screens and ones that fold (including dual screens), the OS is set to catapult the next generation of mobile devices while also giving developers the tools needed to improve their apps.

Today, in a short blog post VP of Engineering, Android, Andrei Popescu, gave some more details about Android 12L, including highlighting some new OS features that are part of the update.

But the more important news is the mention at the end of the post:

Starting later this year, we'll bring 12L to your favorite tablets and foldables with planned updates from Samsung, Lenovo and Microsoft. And we'll continue to build more features and functionalities to help you make the most of your larger screen devices in Android 13 and beyond.

While Windows Central has heard from sources that Microsoft would be skipping Android 12 on Surface Duo/Surface Duo 2 and going right to Android 12L, this is the first public confirmation of that effort.

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

Interestingly, there was some confusion that Android 12L was some unique "fork" or branch of Android built for these devices, but that is not the case. While Android 12L focuses on new form factors, its core changes will be, pardon the pun, folded into Android 13 and later:

The features demonstrated in the article are nothing new. Google shows off how users can "drag-and-drop any app from the taskbar to enter split-screen mode so you can do two things at once," something that Surface Duo (via Microsoft Launcher) has been doing since day one. The dual-paned notification screen also gives quick controls on one side and notifications on the other, which was revealed in late 2021 when Android 12L was first announced.

While the new UX changes are welcomed in Android 12L, OEMs don't necessarily have to utilize them. Microsoft Launcher already handles many of these tasks, but in an effort to reduce redundancy, Microsoft may opt to lean on Google's more native implementation should it prove superior.

As far as a timeline for the release of Android 12L, Google states, "later this year." The OS is expected to be finished before June and could hit devices closer towards the fall (although it is uncertain at this time).

Perhaps the bigger deal for Surface Duo and Surface Duo 2 is not the OS itself, but the APIs for developers, who can then optimize applications for dual screens, folding displays, and those with larger formats. Those apps will significantly impact Surface Duo than some native changes found in Android 12L as an OS.

For those still interested in Surface Duo 2, Microsoft has officially dropped the price by $250 online and through Best Buy. The entry-level model now begins at $1,250 instead of $1,500.

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • This is good news, but now the wait.
  • While I'm excited for 12L's long-term impact (official APIs for devs to make use of these new form factors), I currently don't see a whole lot in 12L that screams "must-have" for Duo. Unless I'm missing something, a lot of it is under the hood changes and new APIs. A dual-panned notification shade is neat, but not exactly mind-blowing. Being able to drag an app to run it on one side is already here, etc. I think 12L's bigger contribution will be, in the long term, the "making official" of features for foldable and dual-screen devices so that OEMs have less work to do to try these new designs. Right now, Samsung and Microsoft had a lot of work to make their devices, well, work. Those barriers should be reduced with 12L and beyond, which means, more devices from more OEMs. And with official APIs, devs have an officially sanctioned way to optimize apps.
  • Indeed, 12L is for foldables. The Duo is two phone displays stuck next to each other.
  • Your knowledge on this topic is severely lacking. It's even odder you mention this in an article about Google talking about 12L, where they mention Microsoft.
  • If 12L can fix all the random bugs on my SD2 related to dual screen (especially I have lots of apps running landscape and I frequently fold / unfold device for these apps), I would say it's a "must-have".
    And if 12L could provide the option to ignore the gap (i.e., just display the pixels in the middle with distortion, instead of hiding them), it would be huge for me. But I doubt this would be considered.
    However, it's also possible that 12L would just introduce more bugs and not more features.
  • Wouldn't it be great if Microsoft could let us in on an Insider Program just as they do for Windows? I'm quite sure the community would embrace this idea and give MS much needed feedback! Win-Win for everyone!
  • Definitely not a bad idea. I wonder if there is some threshold for user numbers they would need to hit in order to make that an effective venture.
  • I've never been a fan of features driven by a community. They tend to be useless social features. In addition, it made every subsequent release less stable as if Microsoft relied on community feedback instead of professional QA.
  • January 2023 @ earliest then.
  • Google says "this year" right in the post when talking about 12L updates coming from Samsung, Lenovo, and Microsoft 🤷‍♂️
  • Late this year could mean December 31st. Not like it means this year. When has any software developer made their schedule in the last 3 years?
  • so December 31st isn't this year? what the heck does "not like it means this year" when Google says "later this year"
  • Why does any company promise a release date 6 months into the future? Google has not even gotten employees back in the office. What makes them think they can meet "late this year" promise? Microsoft routinely promises "this Year". I do not think Google is any different. But what do I know? I have just read stories like this since the mid 1980s. What happens late in the year? Thanksgiving, Xmas, and New Year's Eve. No one gets much done after Thanksgiving. If they said, before Thanksgiving, then I would beleive them. If they said before the Iron Bowl I would believe them.
  • " What makes them think they can meet "late this year" promise?"
    Android 12L entered its third (and final) beta in early February and it should be "gold" in the coming weeks. From there, it's in the hands of OEMs, all of which (including Microsoft) are already testing and running development builds. Obviously, all three companies are coordinating with Google, hence why Google name-dropped them in today's announcement.
  • I was personally hoping for this news ... however I have to say that the Feb update for the OG Duo made such a huge improvement in the device I really don't care about 12L at this stage. I'm truly surprised at the improvement to performance and general function of the device.
  • Fascinating position Microsoft now finds itself in. Potentially 12L is a bit of a leveller, because manufacturers can start from same basis on foldables software-wise. So then what's Microsoft's USP? To me it may then come down to hardware and that decision to go 2 screens vs folding screen. May not be everyone's preference, but they have opportunity to corner a sizeable chunk (probably minority) of the market with something unique (the sleek hardware 2 screen solution of Duo).
  • When Folding screens has the same multitasking gestures as Duo, what is the point of Duo? You can run two apps side by side on the Fold, but you can't run one large app on the Duo. The only opportunity for Microsoft is to compete is on price. Duo 3 needs to be like $500 with flagship specs, and even then it probably won't sell well. I highly doubt Duo 3 will ever see light of day. Microsoft won't be able to justify releasing it next year against the Fold 5. We will hear of it's cancelation later this year.
  • running multiple apps on any of the Fold devices is cumbersome. You're always thinking about it. Resizing apps, etc. It was like having to resize multiple windows in a big monitor in Windows. And some apps won't run in multitasking on the Fold (or any other Samsung or Android phone). There is no difference in the app in multitasking mode on the Fold phones except for the Microsoft apps. But on the Surface Duo phones, an app does behave differently from regular Android. Like in TikTok, things like channel browsing on one screen and the video playback on the other screen. I tried the Fold 1 and 2 a lot. Fold 3 wasn't that different. The worst thing about the Fold phones was that you practically had to use it as a tablet because the 2 halves were too skinny to use it in "skinny" mode. On the Surface Duo 1 or 2, you don't have to think about anything. It just automatically happens. It's almost magical. You have an app on one screen and launch another and it just takes up the other screen. You can have an app automatically launch to take up both screens. There are a lot of little things that happen on the Surface Duo 1/2 that doesn't happen on the Fold phones.
  • Thank you for that insight. Makes a compelling case for Surface Duo niche in this market. From this perspective, you could see 12L as a potential threat of it helps a Fold behave in a more Duo-like way with handling 2 apps side by side. But let's see how it's implemented, and the issue of narrow screens will remain.
  • You can still multitask today on the Fold, and even open 3 apps at once. Even if it is a bit cumbersome, which it really isn’t, it still works when you need it. When 12L makes that even easier, what advantage will Duo have?
  • "what advantage will Duo have?"
    Thinner. Glass screens. Wider displays. Hundreds of dollars cheaper. I feel you put very little thought into your statements sometimes. Also, legit question: Why do you care so much some people prefer Surface Duo to Samsung? Why are you arguing for a monopoly on a form factor instead of variety? Is Samsung paying you to astroturf? Because both devices can exist and make people happy.
  • Also, the Dio can run more than 2 apps at a time w/Floating App.
  • Because Microsoft is wasting their time with a dead form factor. It is just inferior. They are awkward to hold and use, harder too develop for, and you lose the large single display of a folding screen. Microsoft tried, it is time to give up. This form factor never worked and never will. There will be variety in the future, but dual screens won't be one of them. Different styles of folding screens will be available, as we have already seen. Width and thinness will come. Microsoft is on the wrong side of this technology and sales are proving it.
  • "Because Microsoft is wasting their time with a dead form factor."
    Not your company, not your money, not your job. If you're a shareholder, speak up at a meeting, otherwise, what value does your opinion bring? If you have no vested interest in its success or failure, why do you care so much? Also, I see you didn't respond to my comment about Duo advantages.
  • Sales are lower because most people will use the Fold as a tablet for video consumption, that's it. The multitasking is poorer, if not far inferior, than the Duo. The width of the Duo makes it well suited for multi-tasking for work, while the Fold is excellent for entertainment. There are market niches for both, but the entertainment one will always be bigger.
  • I don't think you actually own one if you wrote what you wrote
  • Excited to update my Surface Duo 2! Hoping 12L fixes the bugginess of 12 which has been the buggiest Android release ever.
  • App optimization is definitely the thing I'm looking forward to. Currently, some apps will tell you it may not be optimized for this device and others will simply not let you download to the Duo/Duo 2
  • Still wait in see! Android 12 L beta has been released for the single foldable screens and not the Duo. A report on a Beta Release running on Duo would be more concrete.
  • "A report on a Beta Release running on Duo would be more concrete."
    I'm not sure I follow. Google just announced Microsoft is releasing 12L. Microsoft only has Android on two devices: Surface Duo 1 and 2. Android 12L is built for devices like Surface Duo. Where is the disconnect? The 12L beta 3 was released in early February and it is the final beta. There is nothing further coming for betas, just the official release "later this year" as noted by Google. Microsoft is already using 12L internally for testing and development. If you have an unlocked bootloader, you can load the 12L beta on Duo, although not all the features work because the drivers for Duo are not a part of the image. So, I'm not certain what you mean by "still wait in see."
  • @Runino - would be great for Zach or yourself to do a video showing your current Duo and the latest experience. I have purchased the duo 1 three times and the Duo 2 once, but came back to the iPhone in November frustrated. Really want to commit to the Duo, but had such poor screen response. Any updates would be great.
  • We're trying to have something up later this week.
  • Just simply needing (or wishing) to see a Beta Release running on the Duo. Nothing more... It's just me. I am not a Kool-aid Drinker. I just wish we had something more concrete. Perhaps from Microsoft and their plans themselves (not just Google), maybe?
  • I still don't get why you're bringing in things like "Kook-aid drinker" when it's Google doing the announcing (and obviously in coordination with Microsoft). There's nothing questionable about today's announcement. You never saw a "beta" of Surface Duo 1 running Android 11.
  • There's always questions up until an actual reveal. And, then even after that. We're talking specifically about a Microsoft made device aren't we? One thing... it boils down to is app behavior. Take an app like the Rakuten app, for example. When I run it on my Duo 2 (open/unfolded) runs on one of the screens. The MS Launcher forks it for that behavior. Now when I run the same app on my Z Fold 3 (open/unfolded) I get the app's error message "Our App isn't available on your Android tablet anymore..." Presently on the Duo you will not get that error unless you try to span the app across both screens. Dan, it's stuff like this that brings up questions and doubts. Some guy today on Reddit said... "While I bet Samsung is first, I don't think Microsoft will be pushed out to 2023. But we'll have to wait and see, they obviously have a lot to prove". Now, that sounds like something I would say. LOL, you know very well that guy wasn't me. #waitandsee #drinkcoffeenotkoolaid
  • Yes, I did say that because it's true, they do have a lot to prove. But, we've also explained on the podcast why OS updates are expected to go faster now. Microsoft doesn't want to take a year for OS updates, after all. My point is, I don't see any reason to take a strong position on when it will come out beyond what Google has publicly stated: "Later this year." When we find out more about Microsoft's release plans (either officially or unofficially), we'll certainly post them. Until then, this is just a futile exercise in theoretical nerd "debates."
  • Nice, But I'd still rather have a build of Windows on my SD2, you know, like every other Surface device runs. I'm aware that people have different needs and preferences, but choice is good. Anyway, this is probably just a fanboy pipedream who's still missing all the best parts of WP.
  • There were good parts of WP?
  • And there's a perfect example of what I mentioned earlier. Pointing out why a certain product will not sell enough to make it viable is one thing, while telling people who like that product that they shouldn't is quite another. You like to claim that you're doing the former - may even have convinced yourself - yet you continually and repeatedly engage in the latter. Based on your comments, you don't want people to have what they like because it's not what you like. We all know what that makes you.
  • Statements like this continue to fascinate me. What exactly will you do with a desktop OS and desktop apps on a 6 inch screen? Carry around a keyboard, mouse and 24” monitor everywhere you go?
  • The feature I am most looking forward to at the moment is hiding the "pill bar" at the bottom of the screen. Many other custom Android UIs, including Samsung's One UI, are able to hide it. At the moment it makes the already relatively wide screen look even wider, and makes the video window appear smaller when using dual screens, like youtube's non-full screen mode and xbox game pass streaming.
    I submitted feedback and got a reply from Microsoft that it will be reflected to the UI team, but still don't know when it will be improved. I don't know if Android 12L will help with this.
  • Who cares about this device, beside WC staff that has bought this, a few MS employees and their family members
  • Seems You do. Have you ever used one? Troll.
  • So, do you just go around on the internet and find stories that you don't care about and comment on them? Sounds productive. Also, questioning why a site that exclusively covers Microsoft would also report news on Surface Duo, has to be one of the most uninteresting 'hot takes' of the day. Going through your comment history here I see a pattern: You're a fan of Apple and are mostly here to troll our readers and site. I have no issues with people who are fans of Apple, but I suggest if you don't like Microsoft and find its products less satisfying than Apple's to visit sites like iMore, whose interests more align with yours.
  • Kudos to Microsoft for supporting the device as promised. I have had plenty of other android phones like LG that would drop support after a year. I believe this form factor does work and still love the duo. I believe the 3rd iteration will truly knock it out of the park once they have a competitive price point.