Android 4.2 multi-user feature will not support phones, an existing Nokia patent might be why

October 30, 2012
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Android 4.2

While there are several new features coming to the recently announced Android 4.2, the most exciting addition is the support of multi-user accounts. Unfortunately, Google has made it clear that the new account option will only be supported by tablets. Wondering why? While Google hasn’t officially given us a reason, it could have to do with an existing Nokia patent for “multi-user mobile telephones”.

The Nokia patent was granted in 2005 and highlights a system where users are able to utilize different settings and account information on one shared mobile phone. Here is the exacting wording from the older Nokia patent:

A mobile telephone is designed to be used by several different end-users at different times. A first end-user can alter the mobile telephone so that it operates in a manner specific to that first end-user and a subsequent end-user can alter the mobile telephone so that it operates in a manner specific to that subsequent end-user; wherein each end-user has only to respond to prompts displayed on a screen in order to alter the mobile telephone so that it operates in a manner specific to that end-user.

The word “mobile telephone” is mentioned four times in the Nokia patent, but obviously it says nothing about tablets. The wording of the Nokia patent could very well be why Google left the feature off of smartphones. If Android-based phones would have supported multiple users it could have opened up the door to a lawsuit, or even required Google and its partners to pay licensing fees to Nokia. Keep in mind this is just speculation at this point.

Is the lack of multi-user support on smartphones really a big deal? For most consumers, probably not. Most of us think of our phones as something very private. Still, it could have a potential purpose in situations such as enterprise use and other areas where this level of account-based control might be useful. What do you think, should Google have included the feature on smartphones running Android 4.2 or not?

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