Google, it’s high time for split screen to come to stock Android

by: Simon HillJune 11, 2014

samsung galaxy tab 3 8 aa software multiwindow

Google has done a pretty good job of rolling useful features into each new Android version, but there are times when it seems to lag behind. Stock Android is an excellent platform now and it’s becoming harder for OEMs to add a great deal of value with their UIs, but there are still standard inclusions that everyone agrees are desirable that are missing from Android, and a split screen option is one of them.

Android has long had multitasking listed in its “pros” column, but it’s not taking full advantage. As more tablets hit the market and the average screen size of flagship smartphones hits 5 inches the argument for some form of split screen functionality grows stronger. Resolutions are pushing 1080p and beyond, there’s plenty of processing power under the hood, and we know it works.

Come on Google

Multitasking 3

Samsung has multi-window, LG has split view, and Sony has small apps. Individual apps like Skype and Facebook’s chat heads offer floating app functionality. The trouble is that all of these options only support a limited subset of apps and they all handle the same problem a little differently. A standard feature baked into the platform would be a welcome addition and it would definitely improve the Android experience.

OEMs and developers have shown that it can work. Apps already have to deal with a huge range of different resolutions and screen sizes on Android. There may be a few exceptions that won’t play nicely with the feature, and there are phones with smaller screens where it won’t work so well, but these problems are hardly insurmountable. If the OEMs can do a half decent job, you can bet Google could come up with something better.

Where’s the benefit?

Tapping that multitasking button to jump in and out of apps is a pain. Sometimes you want a video playing while you type up an email or quickly reply to an IM. Being able to look something up in your browser without jumping out of what you’re doing can be handy. As we start to use our Android tablets and even smartphones in the same ways we traditionally used our desktops and laptops, not being able to have two, or even more, windows open on screen together is a pain. It’s part of the reason there are still some things we reluctantly fire up the laptop or desktop to complete.

The natural flow

A number of innovations, as the platform has developed, have come from third-party developers. For example, simple apps that repurposed the camera flash as a torch were soon adopted by OEMs and baked into their UIs. On iOS this led to Apple adding a torch app into the platform. If something is useful and a lot of people use it, then it’s exactly the sort of thing Google should be adding as a standard out of the box.


The trouble with leaving it up to third parties can extend beyond simple clunky design. Remember when it was revealed that Brightest Flashlight was selling your location data to advertisers? That’s a highly rated, extremely popular app in the Play Store, and most people are oblivious to what it is doing behind the scenes. Most free alternatives serve up ads and they’re potentially eating data and battery life that a Google torch wouldn’t be.

Many OEMs offer pre-installed torch apps now, which are comparatively trustworthy, but if Google bundled one with Android we wouldn’t have to go looking. An option in the quick settings menu and on the lock screen is something many of us would use.

If the aim is to keep AOSP as clean as possible then why not just bundle these extras in on Nexus devices and make them available for those who want them, like the Google Now Launcher?

Apple could do multi-window first

If Google drags its heels for too long it looks as though Apple could beat it to the punch.

After WWDC passed without any split screen comment, speculation is focused on split screen in iOS showing up on the next iPad, or possibly even to accompany the long-rumored jump to a larger screen for the next iPhone. It would be frustrating to see it roll out on iOS before Android. Especially since the capability to do it has been in the Android code all along.

You can argue about the need on smartphones, but larger tablets, a category where Android is lagging significantly behind, it’s an obvious thing to add and something a lot of people want.

Google does it better

Don’t make us rely on OEMs or custom ROMs. Don’t leave us to shop around for apps. We don’t want a hacked version of something that Google could do well without the risk of instability or security threats. If this was really a difficult thing to do, or Google had serious concerns about the impact, then surely it wouldn’t already be possible through all these alternative routes.

There are always plenty of items on our wish list for the next version of Android, but split screen functionality is near the top right now; all eyes on Google I/O 2014 to see if it made Google’s list.

  • Tarso Sousa

    Since se already have a way to emulate a second screen on top of the system.

    It will be an awesome feature to have split screens.

    Already loved the function when using my old note 2

  • MasterMuffin

    Stock Android needs

    – Multiwindow
    – Quick settings that you can edit
    – Virtual buttons that you can edit
    – Battery % not only as a hidden feature
    – Folders in app drawer

    Add more below please. I’ve used stock Android for so long now that I don’t remember what the stuff was that I wanted to have from TW :O

    • Skander

      Exactly, touchwiz brings all the new features that stock android can arguably get too, there is no reason for this stuff to stay samsung only with several other oems doing copies that just don’t work well. Why can’t google just get at least a basic version on stock android.

      • smokebomb

        All the touch wiz stuff could come to stock now that Google and Samsung made that partner deal (don’t remember all the details, just that Google will help Samsung fight legal battles).

        • Skander

          Nah, I actually looked at that, the patent stuff is separate because it targets Android functions themselves.
          The deal was to actually tone touchwiz down and make it follow more of google’s design guidelines (what they did with the s5) and with the new version of Magazine UX

          HOWEVER, Samsung and Google are partners and they probably don’t care.

          • Maranello Santiago

            TW on the S5 doesn’t feel very fast though, wouldn’t mind the updated look on Note 3 (by default). Wish they would find a way to tone it down and turn up the speed while staying productive/full of features.

    • Varun Dhasmana

      Double tap status bar to Sleep.

      • Mike Jay Morgan

        Yeah, seems Google is behind with that. CyanogenMod 11 has that functionality. :)

        • Varun Dhasmana

          Majority of the features that MasterMuffin mentioned are from CM11 or PA :P
          BTW, double tap to sleep on status bar was LG’s idea.

      • Harvie Boles

        Status bar brightness slider most useful XD

        • joser116

          The brightness slider should be integrated into the thin bar at the bottom of the notification shade that lights up when you touch it. Also, we need a one-handed way of accessing quick settings.

        • smokebomb

          That’s one of my favorite CM features.

    • Maranello Santiago

      Battery percentage(by default) AOSP should’ve had for the longest. I talked about TW being slow and about my Note 3 being faster with AOSP, but I jumped back to TW, maybe because of its features.

      • MasterMuffin

        Yup, it has been in custom ROMs for so long!

    • KillEmAllx

      Paranoid Android is what Stock Android should be. Too bad I have a Samsung which is unsupported. I cry every day.

      • MasterMuffin

        Your device could be a legacy device or it may have an unofficial build.

      • smokebomb

        I’ve never used PA. How much better is it than CM?

    • Mur

      I wholly agree with everything except for folders in app drawer, it would add too much complexity IMO.

      • MasterMuffin

        How? o.O

      • Corbin Crutch

        Yeah but that’s the beauty of android. Customabilty

      • joser116

        It won’t. It is simple to make a folder. Plus, the app drawer would be more organized so you won’t need to scroll across many pages of apps. Also, Google should allow the reorganizing of app icons so that we can have all of our most used apps in one page.

        Also, Google should implement the iOS way of mass uninstalling apps. If Apple can copy, so can Google. This way is much more user friendly since users won’t need to go through settings menus to uninstall apps. I have seen many regular Android users that never uninstall apps. They don’t feel like digging through menus to do such a thing.

        • smokebomb

          The note 3 let’s you touch and drag to an uninstall button on the home screen. That would probably be the simplest way to implement it and then expand on it with mass uninstall.

          • joser116

            Touching each X is much faster than dragging. Now that Apple is comfortable with taking other’s features, I think it’s safer now than ever to take features from them.

      • smokebomb

        My note 3 has folders in the app drawee. Greatest. Thing. EVER. Know why, make a folder in the app drawer first then drag that to the home screen. Need to add apps to it? Add them to the app drawer folder, trash the shortcut on the home screen, drag the folder with the new apps added back to the home screen. No more deleting a folder from the home screen and having to rebuild it app by app.

    • joser116

      Also, the Quick settings as of right now are not very consistent.

      • MasterMuffin

        Yea they should be reversed like in custom ROMs so short click to change, long click to open settings

        • joser116

          Yes, that is exactly how I want the quick settings to work. Google should really hire people like us to oversee things like these. They are little improvements that make a big difference.

          I am always sending suggestions and feedback to Google. They should really have a program where frequent feedback submitters are given special attention/priority where feedback from them gets taken more seriously and is actually acted upon.

    • Jayfeather787

      1)Freaking Active Display or Peek on PA. Which I know you like.
      2) Change tile layout in quick settings
      3) Quick pull down for quick settings on phone.
      4) Clear all button in recents.
      5) App Ops back.

      • MasterMuffin

        App Ops should be their #1 concern!

      • smokebomb

        Notification shade with two fingers = access to quick settings. Obviously, YMMV if you’re not on stock.

        • Jayfeather787

          I know, but I don’t like to pull down with 2 fingers.

    • joser116

      They still need to seriously improve the audio latency. It is still a noticeable problem. It needs a complete overhaul, not just patches and little improvements here and there; something that just works and doesn’t require developers to precision optimize their apps to achieve the lowest audio latency possible.

      Android should be built with people with OCD in mind, and I think the best way to do that is to hire people that actually have OCD to work closely with the developers providing feedback, or better yet, developing themselves. We will have a much improved, optimized, and very consistent Android, I assure you. They will make sure every tiny detail is just right.

      • MasterMuffin

        It wouldn’t be funny to work with someone with OCD D:

        • joser116

          I never said it would be. And are you sure you didn’t mean “It wouldn’t be FUN to work with someone with OCD”?

          • MasterMuffin

            Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Only the gods of Disqus and their edit button know!

    • Secure

      One of the most important things – manage permissions on apps, be allowed to restrict them to use a certain phone feature, even if it is requested in the app.
      To discontinue that “take it or leave” it nonsense. That is a serious security flaw from my perspective.

      • MasterMuffin

        I’m so used to custom ROMs that I always forget this isn’t there

  • pmugghc

    Agree 100%!

  • wat

    Android needs SketchUp, AutoCAD and Photoshop which are all capable of running on hardware we have available now

    • Cole Raney

      That is up to the developers, not google.

    • Mur

      I think you’re better off with a surface pro 3 or an ultrabook If you want to do that sort of stuff, android/iOS tablets are mainly intended for consumption.

      • wat

        Nah I want them to be ported so that they are running on a free and open source OS, and then also hardware costs will be ridiculously cheaper than x86 builds even when ARM SoC can reach high processing power capable of running more powerful programs.

        • Mur

          Android is becoming less and less open source as time passes…

          Also I disagree with “ridiculously cheaper”. 10 inch tablets easily reach $700-800 (7-8 inch ones are a hell of a lot cheaper thankfully) while their ARM chipsets are still definitely weaker than x86 ones (considerably so when you consider the i5’s and i7’s found in the SP3).
          All of that to say: NEXUS 10 2014 WHEREVER THE HELL YOU ARE STOP HIDING AND GET ON MY DOORSTEP (or local bestbuy).

          • wat

            Firstly I nowhere said tablets because there are already ARM/Android based laptops, mini PCs and even full sized towers out there already. Chinese OEMs are making tablets similaraly specced to what you’d have paid $600 for 2 years ago for $100 today and that goes the same for anything coming out. Look at the Huawei Kirin SoC which is better than the Snapdragon 805, both being roughly as powerful as an i3, and is only $19 vs $200 for the i3.

  • Stock Android is so plain it screams “Paint me!” all over. I don’t blame OEMs not going as stock as possible simply because it won’t attract customers, normal customers, not techie.

    Some people may argue that there’s an app that does this and that but I think it’s best if it is integrated within the OS. not only it is more secure and trust worthy, it pushes other who are offering the feature to evolve further.

    • _X_


    • Anonymousfella

      True. I agree completely!

    • Brian Dong Min Kim

      I like TouchWiz for a reason. Everything is colorful and packed with features, and the amount of bloat is significantly decreasing as time goes on.

      • Flip Jumpman

        Alot of the bloat us also Carrier bloat. If you’re buying a Samsung phone, why wouldn’t they add their own stuff to it, which you can turn off.

        It’s funny how people love to bash Samsung/Touchwiz and MS/Windows but now OEM’s are using or copying (as the haters would say) some of the features… But I thought it was gimmicks…

        • Maranello Santiago

          I’ve said not long ago, TW has its place. I wish Samsung could/would force those carriers to keep their crap out of TW. I can do without the T-Mobile boot animation. Now they can keep their apps in the playstore. Just keep them away from my phone. Give me a vanilla TW.

    • joser116

      True, I’ve gotten really bored with it, and I sure as hell don’t like installing and keeping other launchers. I like everything to be native.

    • smokebomb

      I thought stock was the way to go like a lot of people but OEMs do bring a lot of interesting things to Android (Now. Not previously). Sorry to say, the nexus 5 is not the best phone. That would go to the note 3 (based on all the research I did before buying one).

  • Keg Man

    what I have been dying to see is when you get a text notification, in the notification screen, you can click “read” which dismisses the notification in the notification bar AND IN THE SMS APP. similar to how the gmail notification works with the “delete” button.

  • Lisandro O Oocks

    why not wait for Apple to do it first, then make enhancements and claim you did it first?

    • Sunny

      Kos they’re not jerks like apple

    • smokebomb

      Android isn’t sold via buzz words.

    • saturobi

      But Apple wont be the first to do it.
      Windows RT beat it to the punch.
      Same with multiple user login profiles, and a bunch of other things.

  • Siphiwe

    Worry not Simon, when Google launches Android Lemonade (5.0) all your stock Android grievances would be addressed. :)

  • daniel hariri

    actually, what i wanted to see is hybrid properties in stock rom… cant u all see!? those density is too much high!! i mean is even people 3 meter behind me can even see what i tweet!!

  • trwb

    I have had 2 nexus phones and 2 nexus tablets. Vanilla is pretty crappy if you ask me. Miss my old s3 actually.

    • Peerpressure

      I’m that way as well. I have a LG G2, my wife has a Nexus 5. Whenever I’m on her phone, I realize all the stuff that I would have to download to make the phone do all the stuff I want it to do, and I’m glad I have a LG that just does all that for me. Same with the Galaxy phones. Yes, all the bells and whistles take away storage, but I used them.

      • smokebomb

        The G2 was in the running when I was choosing a phone, but the permanent battery and static memory were deal breakers.

  • Maranello Santiago

    Multi window might be easier/better for Google to do, but don’t tell me Google does quick toggles better than custom roms.

  • Mur

    Agreed, windows 8 does this excellently and Google should take example.

    • Serge Cebrian


      OPPS my caps lock was on.. but im not writing again .. so imagine im shouting out of exitement :)

      • smokebomb

        CAPITAL LETTERS!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dark_Laser

    …But I thought stock Android was perfect and OEM skins were all garbage and bloat? Where’s all the empty rhetoric?

    • smokebomb

      That was true 3 years ago. Not so much anymore. Shockingly, they listened and corrected what people complained about.

  • j7981

    Quick, before Apple patents it!

  • Jesus

    Going from Touchwiz to vanilla Android, I have to say that Vanilla is ‘boring’… it’s missing many things, especially multi window.

  • Xavier Oziel

    Hover from PA♥

  • The-Sailor-Man

    *If Google drags its heels for too long it looks as though Apple could beat it to the punch.*

  • smokebomb

    It’s already been confirmed that split screen is not in iOS 8. The code is simply there.