Freeform windows [Diving into Android N]

by: John DyeMarch 21, 2016
Image credit: Ars Technica

Image credit: Ars Technica

Multi-window support has long been an ambition of the Android operating system. However, multitasking has always remained cumbersome and counter-intuitive. That is, until we reached Android N. One of the headlining features of Android N is its multi-window support, which enables users to run apps side by side on the screen simultaneously. However, there were some hints in the code that seemed to point to even more multi-window functionality. Today we’re actually getting a glimpse at what multiple, freeform windows could look like on Android.

Note: Be sure to check out our Diving into Android N series for more coverage!

Ars Technica is reporting that freeform windows are a reality on Android N. They were assisted by reader Zhuowei Zhang, who contacted them and let them know how to activate the feature. Once it was live, the team rolled up their sleeves and got a good close look at freeform windows.

Android N logo 1

It’s not great, to be honest, but then again we’re still in very early development of this version of the operating system. The functionality works much like RemixOS, Jide’s take on Android for desktop machines. The windows are clean and Material with maximize and close buttons, and you’re free to arrange them on the screen however you like. Scaling is a bit clumsy, as there’s no way to scale two directions simultaneously. You can’t grip the corner of a window and drag diagonally; you have to adjust the edges one at a time to get the width and height you want.

Tapping the Recent Apps button while in freeform window mode does an helpful thing: the the parade of recent apps fills up half the screen, and the current windowed apps are swiftly organized into easily accessible icons. This makes navigating between apps easier than it’s ever been on Android.

Playing around with this feature requires taking a few steps that aren’t for the casual user. Then again, if you’re playing around with the beta version of Android N, then you’re probably nothing close to a casual user to begin with. To get the full scoop, head over to Ars Technica’s write-up and follow the directions at the bottom. In the meantime, let us know what you think of Android N and the potential for freeform windows in the comments below!

Android N logo AANext: The first Android N OTA update is rolling out now269


  • Igy Tech

    Nice option but usefull for tablets only

    • And for desktop computers that happen to have Android installed, given the mouse support. Also, ability to plug an Android phone into an external display via HDMI and “extend” the display into desktop mode would certainly come in handy here.

      I for one see this as the beginning stages of a unified OS for phones, tablets, and Chromebooks alike.

    • saksham

      agree. i never use this feature on my s6 edge but i still use splitscreen

  • Daggett Beaver

    Samsung Note users don’t have to wait for Android N to get multi-window support. For all I know, other OEMs have it, too. Google is always the one playing catch-up.

    • Kawshik Ahmed

      The built in Multi Window will be more adapted by developers than the Samsung one. Yes Samsung did a great job showing the way to do Split Screen but because they used a Custom API which wasn’t a part of Android itself very few apps could use it.

      But because from Android N there will be a official API (Application Program Interface) thousands of App will adopt it which is also good for Samsung because many more apps will support Multi Window when they release their Android N update.

      • Daggett Beaver

        I’m betting when Samsung’s version of Android N comes out, it will adopt whatever is good about Google’s approach, because it will be in the stock API, which makes it easier for Samsung. My point was simply that only stock Android users have to wait for these kinds of features. The rest of us have had them for years.

        Also, it’s simply not true that “very few apps can use it”. Many apps work with Samsung’s windowing features, including Google’s own apps.

        • Richard Riker

          It’s not Googles thing, to always have the latest and greatest features anyone could think of. In the first point, they only develope for Nexus devices, which are development devices. When they have time, they will implement what users really want. In the mean time they do what the other don’t do: they make under the hood changes like doze and general UI changes.
          It’s up to the OEMs to make those features, because they have to compete with each other so they have to constantly come up with new stuff to make the users buy it- since most users aren’t that easy to catch like iSheeps – which they lately massively fail to do. And since Google fixed the main problems with Android (wakelocks) and OEMs stagnating with features, they now have time to catch up. Last year no OEM really had something with wow factor, I doubt this year it will be different (the most “innovative” aka evolutionary feature seems to be G5’s modularity even if it’s everything but perfect) and I also doubt that it will change in the new future even if I hope for the best

    • Sir_Brizz

      To be fair, the N implementation of multiwindow is so much nicer than Samsungs.

      • josuearisty

        Far better! I really love this real multi window support!

      • saksham

        samsung has this feature too in addition of splitscreen , google just copied it and made it material

      • SnakeSplitskin

        Don’t confuse multiwindow with split screen. N implements split screen and it’s debatable whether its implementation is better than Samsung’s. Samsung has true multi-windows meaning more than just 2 windows at a time. As for floating windows, Samsung’s seems to offer a better functioning option than N. Obviously if Google gets it right by the time N is released, this will be great for all Android phones that get N. Unfortunately some OEMs will lose out on offering this as a differentiated feature of their phones.

  • Nick Bransford

    I have native split-screen on my LG G3. I love it. Being able to have a YouTube video on a 1/3 of my screen while browsing Chrome or Facebook in the other 2/3 is something that just makes too much sense not to have.

  • Remy Cajallena

    I have a dream. That one day I will wake up to a world with only one operating system…

    • josuearisty

      Nah! This will be a nightmare.

    • Jack Leslie

      this would be counter productive. With no competition, Google controls the market. This is the worst possible scenario for a user. no competition allows the business to do what they want. for example Uber and how it destroyed the market for taxi companies. taxi drivers wages have went down and once they are the only real contender left they can put the prices up and no one will go anywhere else, taxis driver wages will remain low as they have nowhere else to go and users will be forced to pay the price uber sets. kinda like the drugs for cancer in the US costing 10 times more than they would anywhere else. i hope there will always be competition for android so that it keeps getting better

      • Remy Cajallena

        No, I see it more like the World having only one language as opposed to one company. It doesn’t have to be Google to provide the O.S. it can be something completely open sourced like linux.

        If the O.S. is Univesalr, Open sourced and completly free. IMHO it actually opens doors for companies to sell and compete their programs like encryptions softwares, VPN, Anti Virus, games, ETC.

        • Jack Leslie

          Android is based off Linux. Have you played any “free” games on the google play store recently. Doesn’t seem very free to me. And with free open source. It makes the OS free for anyone to use or modify. But unlike the pc market the OS is always already been preinstalled whether iOS or Android or Sailfish, Ubuntu, Windows 10, bb OS, Tizen. So the customer never actually has any fees for licensing the operating system anyway. But what Google does control is android and the play store. I ask you how many android devices have you seen without the play store. How many without became mainstream contenders, like Samsung or lg for example? Yeah it hard to think of any because there isn’t any worth mentioning maybe the kindle fire. But look how much of a flop the fire phone was for example. Google controls the play store. So it controls the software purchasing market.
          The problem with android is is runs on a free to speak language but it’s vital elements are still controlled by the Google, such as the play store. The point is no matter me what language you speak you have to purchase food, house, water(part of council tax), and all the extras. Android is like the language. Google is the company that is pulling the puppets strings.
          So my point. Competition is good for the user. The real benefits of no iPhones or atleast no iOS is little to none. In fact it’s better because it operates entirely differently. Offers a drastically different experience. And if you don’t like it you can simply choose android. That’s what I did. #betogethernotthesame

    • c4cyberman

      skynet :D

  • The ability to “snap” these freeform Android windows side by side to transition them seamlessly from freeform to tiled (split screen) and back is something that Google “stole” from Chrome OS, not from TouchWiz. Attached is what happens when you snap windows in this way on my ASUS C201 Chromebook: very similar to Android N split screen, to say the least.

    • Choda Boy

      To be fair, this functionality existed before then.

      • In Windows, sure, but not in any mobile (or semi-mobile) OS, and certainly the Chrome OS implementation predates the TouchWiz one. Plus, the window controls and decorations in the Android N implementation are identical to the window controls and decorations in the Chrome OS one.

  • Mohammed Taher

    At last head on with windows lol I hope the aim for x32bit and 64bit intel chips so a user can install it on a normal laptop and guess what I don’t mind the idea of stock android instead of some freaky remix os running on my main comp