Android 13 QPR2 Prepares Desktop Mode, Taskbar Redesign, and More

The beta of Android 13’s second quarterly update includes work to desktop mode, a new back gesture animation, separate ringtone and notification volume controls, and more.

With each release of a new Android beta, there are often quite a few new features that everyone can enjoy as soon as the update is installed. Beneath the surface though, Google is keeping many upcoming features disabled, which our team is able to showcase with extra effort.

Typically, these features remain disabled because they’re not quite ready for testing. As things are still actively in development, it’s too early to tell if they will launch with the second quarterly Android 13 update in March (or ever launch at all). That being the case, consider these feature previews more interesting information than a firm roadmap of Android’s future.

In some cases, it is even easy for you to try these features yourself while they are in development. However, in doing so you accept the risk that your device might become even more unstable than the pre-release software already makes it.

That being the case, we only suggest you try them on a secondary device and only if you are already familiar with Android’s ADB tool. To deactivate one of these features, run the same command as shown, but replace “true” with “false”.

Revamped back gesture animation

Ever since Android phones got gesture navigation in 2019, the back gesture has remained essentially the same, with a simple arrow appearing on the side of the screen to show that your current swipe will take you back. You can also undo this back swipe gesture by returning to the edge of the screen, which flattens the arrow into a line.

In Android 13 QPR2 Beta 1, our Dylan Roussel discovered a completely redesigned back gesture indicator. Once activated, the single arrow sits in a circular blob that deliciously stretches to match your gesture movement.

If you choose to undo the back gesture, the blob flattens out a bit and sticks to the edge of the screen when it’s close enough. Another minor detail in the animation is that the arrow no longer flattens but folds in on itself.

‘Quick Start’

Pixel Launcher’s search bar is also getting a little bit in love with this latest Android beta with the addition of a new “quick launch” feature. If you type the name of an app on your phone, you can hit the enter key (including on Gboard) to launch directly into that app.

While Gboard offers a decent experience with this particular tweak, Quick Launch strikes us as a strong candidate for the next Pixel Tablet. Google has yet to share plans to release a keyboard accessory for the Pixel tablet, but we’ve seen signs of one. Pixel “Pro” tablet in works that might well fit a keyboard.

You can easily try Quick Launch on your own device with the command below. We’ve also included a second command that you’ll probably want to try, as it allows Gboard to show the Enter key when using Quick Launch.

adb shell device_config set launcher ENABLE_QUICK_LAUNCH_V2 true

adb shell device_config set launcher GBOARD_UPDATE_ENTER_KEY true

Separate ringtone/notification volume

For years, Android has linked the volume levels of your ringtone and notification sounds. However, there are many who don’t want this to be the case, perhaps preferring to have a loud ringtone and soft notifications.

Android 13 QPR2 includes the ability to separate ringtone and notification volume, but it’s disabled and hidden at the moment. Fortunately, it can be activated with a simple command. Once enabled, the Volume section of the Settings app now lists ringtone and notification levels separately.

adb shell device_config set systemui volume_separate_notification true

Redesigned taskbar

One of the biggest changes for Android tablets and foldables in recent years has been the addition of a taskbar to keep your favorite apps accessible. With the latest Android beta, we’ve got our first look at Google’s next iteration of the taskbar, the “transitional taskbar,” which acts much like the taskbar on ChromeOS tablets.

Instead of an ever-present bar on your tablet screen, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the new taskbar. This can be a little tricky for some, as swiping too far will just take you back to the home screen.

Much like the taskbar available on Android today, the revamped version simply includes shortcuts to apps you’ve pinned to the bottom row of the Pixel Launcher. To the right of these you will also find the usual button to open the full app drawer. More importantly, all of this is now presented in a clean Material You style, with dynamic colors.

Desktop Mode

The overhauled taskbar isn’t the only big change on the way for Android tablet owners. Google has been working on a “desktop mode” for Android for a long time, and the Android 13 QPR 2 beta includes our best look yet at the work-in-progress feature.

In desktop mode, all applications are treated as if placed in free-form windows and can be moved around the screen. To do this, each application window receives a new control bar with useful commands.

The main part of the control bar is a simple line that you can use to drag the window, and on the sides you’ll find buttons to go back or close the window. Tapping the bar reveals another set of controls, although most of them don’t seem to work yet. Judging by the icons, it appears to be quick options for full screen, split screen, and a few others.

From the short time we’ve spent testing it, we don’t think desktop mode will launch anytime soon. too soon, but it’s always exciting to see the progress.

Home screen layout redesign

It looks like Google is also working on an overhaul of how Pixel owners rearrange apps and widgets on their home screens. The revamp, dubbed “Home Gardening,” is still in its early stages, but some notable tweaks are already working.

For starters, the “Remove” and “Uninstall” swipe targets moved from the top of the screen to the bottom. On Android 13 today, these options are out of thumb reach, making it a welcome change for one-handed use.

Also, with Home Gardening enabled, the home screen doesn’t shrink or shrink like it once did. This can make placing an app or widget a bit easier since you can drag it exactly where it needs to go. We think this part of the home screen organization overhaul is unfinished right now, but it could turn into something exciting.

Grayscale material theme for you

When Material You and its dynamic color theme arrived for Pixel phones, Google went to great lengths to allow Android apps to use those same colors. Over time, this has made Android apps surprisingly consistent, even between Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones.

However, the dynamic color system has some unfortunate drawbacks that need to be addressed. In particular, we heard first-hand testimony from a 9to5Google reader that introducing more color tones can be detrimental to a seizure-prone person.

With Android 13 QPR2 Beta 1, our team spotted the debut of a new “monochromatic” (or grayscale) theme option. From what we can piece together, the theme is constructed from two colors – #666666 and #333333, a light and dark shade of gray respectively. This should result in a less visually demanding experience across Android 13.

Although we were able to get the theme to appear in the listing, it doesn’t seem to be working as expected yet.

Dylan Roussel contributed to this article.

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