Android 11 is going to make choosing a camera for those who don't like the pre-installed software but impossible — or at least more limited. That's based on a recently-reported change in the Android 11 pre-release firmware. While primarily a developer-side change, aimed at making the system safer, in effect, it removes the camera picker entirely.
The change itself is straightforward but potentially difficult to parse out the implications. Currently, users can download and even set a default app separate from the one that comes installed out-of-the-box. If a third-party app needs access to a camera, Android presents a list of camera apps that can be used.
In Android 11, when a user accesses a third-party app, such as a photo editor, they'll no longer be able to do that. Instead, the system will automatically select the pre-installed camera app. They'll still be able to select a different default app and use their preferred app. But users will no longer be able to do the same in secondary apps that call on camera apps.
How will the Android 11 camera app change limit things for developers?
For clarity, most users wouldn't even notice this change. But a bigger implication, and potentially more harmful, is how this will impact third-party app developers. As noted above, a photo editor app has no need to program in a dedicated camera. The Android ecosystem allows it to take advantage of whatever apps are already installed by the user.
The problem is that not all camera apps are created equally. At least some manufacturers, particularly in the budget end, don't have great cameras at all. Or they do have great camera hardware but the software optimizations and processing are awful. Conversely, there may just be better options available.
With this change in place, third-party apps would be defaulted back to that camera without the user having any say. And that's bad news for app developers. The camera app, when called in other apps, is most often put forward in a UI that's very basic. That makes it difficult to distinguish whether its a dedicated, built-in app or borrowing from another app.
So, if the change happens in the background, without users being informed, users are likely to blame the app instead of the camera. That puts developers in a position of having to limit who can access their camera-reliant app in Android 11. That would be based on any known factors about camera quality.
Or they'll need to select a dedicated camera app partner to work with — or build their own. All to prevent appearing to be the cause of any camera-specific problems.
Why is Google doing this?
Now, the reasons behind Google's decisions are likely to do with the number of malicious camera apps that have appeared over the past several months. And years, to some extent. By denying those apps access to other third-party apps, Google is preventing the apps from stealing whatever data might be found in those other apps. So, if a banking app is calling for a third-party camera, it won't be able to access one, for example.
That's not necessarily going to make end-users happy about this change. But, at the very least, Google doesn't seem to be overstepping with no real reason at all.