Android 12’s beautiful color-changing UI already lives up to the hype

Android 12 Beta 2 came out this week, and with it, a lot of features we’ve only been able to see screenshots of now actually work. This includes Android’s ambitious color-changing UI codenamed “Monet,” and even though this is only a beta, after some hands-on time, it feels like Android 12’s chameleon-like UI already lives up to the hype.

Monet—or “Material You,” as Google now wants us to call it—effortlessly recolors your phone UI with a matching theme based on your wallpaper. Pick a wallpaper that is primarily blue and Android 12 will change the buttons, sliders, clock, notifications, and settings background to matching shades. This arrangement sounds like something that can’t possibly work outside of an onstage tech demo, but the code is out now, and it really works. I’ve spent the last day maliciously trying to break it, and Android 12 reliably turns in beautiful color schemes without any contrast issues.

Google has been working on wallpaper-defined color schemes for some time, starting in Android 5.0 Lollipop and the “Palette” API back in 2014. Monet represents a second-generation swing at the idea, and while Android 5’s Palette API was barely used, Google now feels confident enough with the idea to use it basically everywhere. Basically, every piece of the Android 12 system UI other than the permanently black Quick Settings background is subject to the systemwide color coordinator.

For the system UI, a rough explanation of the way this works is that Android 12 samples a single hue from your wallpaper and then generates a few colors by tweaking the brightness and saturation. Pick a green-ish wallpaper and you’ll get a bright green, a dark green, a desaturated green, and a nearly white green that will be spread around most of the UI, completely automatically. The Media player notification kind of lives on its own while with regard to these color selections, and it picks a wild complementary color that is somehow based on your wallpaper.

If the slides at Google I/O are to be believed, Monet should be even better by the time release rolls around. One slide showed a wallpaper picker that displays multiple flavors of color selections created from your wallpaper. So by the time launch rolls around, Google sounds like it wants to let you nudge the color selection in a certain direction. As a buggy beta, sometimes Monet will pick one color scheme from a wallpaper when you first apply it. Then it will switch to a different color scheme when you reboot, indicating that there is room for variety here, just no controls yet.

Right now, the worst thing you can say about Monet is that it might not pick the accent color hue you want or expect. If you had something like a mostly black-and-white image with a dramatic red highlight somewhere, you might want a red accent color to tie everything together. But Monet might not pick the color your want. Those controls, assuming they actually ship, sound like exactly what the system needs right now.

In Beta 2, Monet only works on the lock screen, system UI, home screen, and settings. But at I/O, Google demoed a color-changing calculator, a phone app, and a messaging app, which will hopefully get built. (How can Google resist the messaging app!) The new widgets, which still aren’t out, will also adopt your color scheme of choice on the home screen. Since we can’t do a color-changing home screen yet, the new lock screen—which displays a huge clock when you don’t have any notifications—is the best demo of Monet in action.

If app developers want to let Monet take the wheel with their designs, Android 12 gives them several color variables to slot into their code, which will be swapped around whenever the wallpaper changes. Developers get three “Accent” colors and two “Neutral” colors chosen by the system based on the wallpaper. On top of that, they get to pick a lightness value for each color.

Sometimes, Monet knocks your socks off with a dramatic and beautiful color selection. That makes it downright addicting to dig through a wallpaper collection to see what Android will do for each image. “Wallpaper of the day” apps now mean you’ll get a whole new OS color scheme every day! Even in beta, Android 12’s new UI feels exciting and fresh, and it would not surprise me to see this color-changing UI idea copied by other OS vendors in a few years.

Listing image by Android

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