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Android 15 preps better desktop mode with enhanced windowing capabilities

Android takes one step further towards becoming a better productivity platform.

Published onApril 3, 2024

  • Android has had a desktop mode since Android 10, but it’s incredibly barebones.
  • Google has been working on revamping this desktop mode since late 2022.
  • In Android 15, Google is making significant changes to the desktop mode, focusing on better windowing capabilities.

Android excels as an operating system for mobile devices, but it’s always fallen behind the likes of macOS and Windows when it comes to desktop computing. This is because the Android OS still lacks basic features seen on most desktop platforms. That could change in the upcoming Android 15 update, which is poised to introduce a significant revamp to the OS’s desktop mode experience.

Google first added a desktop mode experience in 2019’s Android 10 release, but the original implementation was incredibly barebones. That’s because it was never intended for regular users but rather for developers to test how their apps behave in multi-display scenarios. With the release of Android 13’s first quarterly platform update in late 2022, though, Google has quietly been working on revamping Android’s desktop mode to be more user-friendly. One of the areas that Google has focused on improving is window management, i.e., how to handle showing and controlling multiple Android apps on screen.

Now, the OS already supports showing two Android apps side-by-side thanks to the split-screen mode introduced in Android 7.0. Desktop operating systems can easily handle three or more app windows, though, which isn’t something that Android handles as elegantly. The OS does support having more than two app windows on-screen, though, if you place them into the freeform window mode, which coincidentally was also introduced in Android 7.0. Even so, Android’s freeform multi-window experience is unpolished compared to desktop operating systems, as windows don’t have title bars and can’t be dragged to change windowing modes.

Google has slowly been fixing these issues in recent Android releases, though it’s kept its work hidden behind several flags so that users can’t play with the new desktop mode until it’s fully ready. However, through a bit of tinkering in the most recent Android 14 QPR3 Beta 2.1 update, I managed to enable Android’s new desktop mode experience to see how the windowing system has evolved.

As you can see in the video embedded above, there’s a small handle at the top of each full-screen app that can be tapped to show a small menu. This menu contains the app’s name and icon as well as three buttons to open the window in full-screen, split-screen, or freeform mode. Once in freeform mode, the app gains a title bar that shows the app’s name and icon, a dropdown to open the menu to change the windowing mode, a maximize button, and a close button. The window can be freely moved around and resized on screen. Resizing the window temporarily hides the app’s content to make it easier to see the window as it’s being resized. Windows can be dragged to the left or right edge to snap them to that half. Once an app is full-screened, you can drag instead of tap the handle at the top to quickly turn the window into a freeform or split-screen one.

While these changes do a lot to make Android a better desktop computing platform, the OS still has a long way to go before it can match existing desktop operating systems. For example, Android still doesn’t ship with a robust desktop launcher, doesn’t support many keyboard shortcuts used to manage windows, and still has many apps that don’t support drag-and-drop. It’ll take time for these issues to be fixed, so unfortunately, I don’t know when Google plans to actually launch this revamped desktop mode experience. Google recently enabled display output on the Pixel 8 series, likely to better test the new desktop mode, so it’s possible we’ll see the new desktop mode launch with the release of the upcoming Pixel 9 series later this fall. In the meantime, if you’re looking to turn your Android phone into a desktop computer, your best bet is to use something like Samsung Dex or Motorola Ready For, as both already offer many of the features Google is slowly implementing in stock Android.

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