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Android Q has a secret desktop mode: Here's how to activate it

A Twitter user has discovered a desktop mode in Android Q allowing you to use your smartphone with an external display. Here's how to enable it.

Published onMarch 14, 2019

Android Q's desktop mode on a monitor display.

A desktop mode has been discovered in the first Android Q developer preview, launched yesterday. The feature was spotted by Twitter user @Shad0wKn1ght93 in the Android AOSP (via XDA Developers), who provided some images to show it off.

Desktop modes allow smartphone users to connect their phones to an external display (and peripherals) to provide an experience similar to a desktop computer. On Android Q, the interface is basically like a landscape Android home screen, with the status bar across the top. The app drawer button defaults to the bottom right of the display, while a settings menu appears at the bottom left. That menu includes two options in its current state: set a wallpaper and add app shortcuts.

You can add icons to the “Desktop”, and any apps you launch open as freeform windows.
— Michael Young (@Shad0wKn1ght93) March 13, 2019

You can als0 enable desktop mode in the Developer Options of the Google Pixel phones running Android Q, but you’d have to cast it to get it working on another display.

Why does it matter?

Android Q’s desktop mode is clearly a work-in-progress but it’s nonetheless an interesting development. Yesterday, it was reported that Google reportedly asked staff from its laptop and tablet divisions to find different roles within the company. This suggested the company may be moving away from hardware manufacturing (like for its Pixelbook laptops).

Couple that news with the discovery of this desktop mode and it looks like Google may have hit a significant milestone in merging mobile and desktop systems through its Android OS, leading it to concentrate on this area instead.

The idea of the smartphone merging with desktop isn’t new but it has seen some dramatic shifts lately, including the launch of Samsung Dex. This platform allows users to connect their Samsung device to a display, mouse, and keyboard, essentially creating a desktop computer powered by the device. This is limited to Samsung phones, but with Microsoft also making moves in this territory, and Huawei’s PC mode on its flagships, it feels like the time for a true Google solution is almost here.

Everything new in the sixth Android Q developer preview
android q beta 6 google pixel 3 xl assistance icon on pixel stand

Official support would be welcome news but, if ChromeOS is anything to go by, Google will have an uphill battle to convince developers to update their apps for this mode. You can see how our own Edgar Cervantes feels about inadequate app support in his Pixelbook Slate review.

If you want to try it for yourself, you’ll need the Android Studio emulator. Run the following ADB command:

[adb shell am start -n “”]

We’ll be bringing you more on Android Q’s desktop mode as we learn all about it.