Now that Android N is in the hands of developers, interesting details are starting to emerge, and the latest snippet comes via sections of code that have been unearthed, as well as details in Google’s official documentation. Android, it seems, may be heading in the direction of a true hybrid platform in the vein of Windows 10, merging with Chrome OS and spanning Chromebook laptop PCs, tablets, convertibles, and smartphones, to name but a few of the possibilities (wearables too, we’d imagine).
This has already been alluded to, to some extent, but the introduction of native support in Android N for split-screen apps; sharing the display between multiple windowed applications, just like Windows has allowed for years, but has refined further in recent iterations. However, a proper merger and a true attempt at a hybrid system is something Google has previously denied it would consider. Apple’s said the same about iOS and OSX, matter-of-fact, but again, increasingly we’re seeing more and more hybrid features being implemented there too. In our view, Google and Apple are a little bit concerned about where Windows 10 is heading, and are not letting onto it with their public statements, but are secretly moving towards that model themselves!
Google will apparently give us our first glance at Android/ChromeOS at this year’s Google I/O conference. The Wall Street Journal reckons the OS will be ready for release in 2017, but given the clout Google has at its disposal the idea of it launching sooner isn’t entirely out of the question.
“Chrome is essentially being folded into Android,” notes The Verge, citing The Wall Street Journal, “because Android has emerged as the dominant operating system by quite a long stretch. Combining the two operating systems means setting up Android to run on laptops and desktop computers, which would require big changes, as well as supporting the Google Play Store. Chromebooks will reportedly receive a new name to reflect the new OS.”
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Android N’s official documentation, provided to developers taking part in the beta program, includes a section where it describes an “experimental freeform windows” mode which, just like Windows, allows users to move around windowed applications and resize them at will. Developers are also able to specify the default and minimum window size and position for their applications. The documentation suggests this feature is intended for tablets and convertibles, as it hints that OEMs producing “larger devices” with Android N can choose to activate the freeform feature as well as the split-screen capabilities. That could mean it is technically possible to activate the feature on smaller devices, ie: phones, but for obvious practical purposes it’s not something we expect many phone manufacturers to pursue; there’s not much point in providing users with a feature that feels as clumsy to use as trying to swat a fly with a cricket bat.
According to Ars Technica, there are indications that this feature is latent, at present, in the current build of Android N, it can’t currently be fully activated, but as Google has previously indicated, the Android N developer preview beta is an ongoing project and Android N is still very much in development, so it’s not implausible (in fact it’s rather likely) that the feature will be fully activated in a subsequent build pushed to devs via the beta program. This, it appears, is the groundwork ahead of a more fully-developed feature set.
And in case you’re interested in this sort of thing, the code is contained in major Android system file framework-res.apk and is as follows:
“<string name=”enable_freeform_support”>Enable freeform windows</string> <string name=”enable_freeform_support_summary”>Enable support for experimental freeform windows.</string>”
“In the framework file, these strings are listed next to other settings in the “Developer Settings” screen,” reports Ars, “But we haven’t been able to get the checkbox to actually appear. These exact strings pop up in a few other places, too, like the SystemUI and SetupWizard. The framework seems to be the main location, though. The framework also contains references for the new “close” and “maximize” buttons that a feature like this would require. The SystemUI gets in on the fun, too, with references to a “recents freeform workspace” (probably referencing the recent app list).”
And if you were wondering what this might look like on future versions of Android, current third-party OS: Remix OS, does provide a pretty convincing visual guide…