Is Android 12 about to pop Google’s Bubbles?

When it comes to Google’s Android 12 update, most of our attention has revolved around the interesting improvements the software’s set to deliver. After all, from privacy enhancements to the surface-level interface progressions and the numerous small but significant touches, there’s certainly no shortage of shiny new things to focus on with this latest Android effort.

Amidst all of that, though, one factor that’s gone mostly unnoticed is a seemingly subtle shift in the way Google’s handling a core Android concept introduced just one year ago. It’s a system called Bubbles, and I’m growing increasingly concerned that Google’s ready to give up on it before it ever got the chance to shine.

Bubbles, if you don’t recall, was a promising-sounding new multitasking system we first heard about in 2019. It aimed to offer an easier way to interact with different apps and processes at the same time — something that could arguably be better suited for phone use than the software’s nice-in-theory but rarely-used-in-reality split-screen option.

With Android’s Bubbles setup, you could keep certain elements of apps readily available on your screen in a small floating circle — y’know, kind of like a bubble. (See what they did there?) You could then tap that bubble to expand the info into a window that’d float on top of whatever else you were looking at on your phone, then tap it again to condense it back down to that base bubble form.

Bubbles built upon the interface introduced by Facebook way back in Android’s prehistoric 2013 era. With Facebook, the bubbles were used for messaging, so you could keep conversations with high-priority people available and easily accessible for ongoing access. Other apps latched onto the concept around that same time, too — most prominently a power-user-beloved bubble-based web browser called Link Bubble. Remember that ol’ ditty?

With Bubbles, Google sought to standardize that concept. That way, in theory, even more apps could tap into that same sort of bubble-based interface without having to come up with their own code, and Google could provide a consistent, privacy-conscious standard that’d feel immediately familiar, no matter what app was involved.

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