The Android update treadmill continues with the release of Android 13. It is one of the smallest Android releases in recent memory, with hardly any user-oriented features. However, keep in mind that this update follows the monster version of Android 12 from last year. This is also the second Android OS is coming out this year, the previous one was the tablet-focused Android 12L update that went out in March.
We’d have a little more meat to work with if Android 12L were part of this release, but as it is, we’ve got a feature grab bag for Android 13. It packs a lot of basic features for Android tablets and smart screens, but there’s not much for phones here.
Still, there are things to discuss, so let’s dive in.
The notification panel
One of the nicest changes to Android 13 is the addition of the runtime notification permission. You’ve been able to prevent apps from showing notifications for years, but now apps must explicitly request permission to beep at you and an “allow/deny” box will appear on startup. As someone who rarely likes to be disturbed by my phone, I’ve found my approval rate is very low. It feels like 95 percent of apps ask for notification permissions, and I approve maybe 10 percent. It is very satisfying to preventively eliminate annoying notifications.
As far as I know, this permission popup only appears when you start a fresh install. For upgraders, everything already has notification permissions and the OS won’t ask.
Google actually made a task manager
Another new notification feature is Google’s “Foreground Services (FGS) Task Manager”, a user-oriented task manager located at the bottom of the quick settings panel. Google and Apple are trying very hard not to give consumers as much control over smartphones as they do over PCs, but Google has finally given users a list of running apps that can kill them. It’s not a list of every app like a traditional task manager; it’s just a list of foreground services. Foreground services are Android apps that are currently actively working even if they don’t show an interface to the user, such as a music player, fitness tracking, automation, or a sync service.
The task manager is located at the bottom of the quick settings panel as a long, circular bar that says “X apps are running”. Tapping it will bring up a list of running apps, with a “stop” button next to it. This isn’t Android’s first task manager — several active app interfaces have been available in developer settings over the years — but it’s the first one aimed at consumers.
In Android 8.0, Google brought down the hammer on background processing, saying that if apps didn’t want to be automatically shut down by the system, they should show the user when they were running. In previous versions of Android, an app would notify you that it was active. While it’s useful to know which apps are running, putting this information in the notification shade and showing a conspicuous status bar icon was annoying. The notification shade should be for new and temporary items, not a 24/7 reminder that says “Tasker is active.”
In Android 13, the task manager takes over the notification tasks and now the permanent notification is no longer needed. The notification will still appear, but can now be closed, unlike previous versions of Android. Swipe the notification and the only indication that an item is active is in a neatly minimized number at the bottom of the quick settings panel. This is a much nicer way to handle notifications from running apps.