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Would you want Android to have user profiles?

April 3, 2012
android profile

As our mobile technology becomes more and more impressive and feature-rich, we allow more and more people to “try out” these features, play games, browse the web, and so on. Whether at home or at work, giving your device to someone else provides them access to all of your saved profiles, Twitter client, Facebook account, and so on. Wouldn’t it be better if you could switch to a vanilla environment for “Guests” with a quick tap? Or if people could build separate user profiles on a single device?

When a work colleague sees you have a fun new application or gadget, the first things they always ask is “how did you get that”, followed by “is it good?”, which is then followed by “let me have a go!”. If not, they often switch on the puppy eyes to trick you into offering them a go so they seem a little more polite. Whilst I, for one, have no issue with passing my tech around to trusted people for them to enjoy, I am thereby giving them access to my Twitter, Google+, and eBay accounts, as well as access to other tools I use.

Guest Mode?

It is moments such as the aforementioned that would make having some sort of “Guest Mode” a beautiful and very useful feature. Try not to think about Guest mode on computers, which involves logging out and in again, the computer reloading a tonne of software, and so on. On Android tablets I am sure this could be accomplished with a few taps, and then switching to a “clean slate” homescreen and a limited app drawer. Once the owner has his or her device returned, he or she can revert to their own profile with a password. It would give me a great deal of comfort to know that people don’t have the ability to check my PayPal balance or publish silly tweets when I let them play with my tablet or phone.

Such a feature would be even better if you could set up individual profiles for people, and save their user data, home screen applications, and so on, accordingly. A “quick switch” feature like this may require a lot of computational power to pull off in a seamless transition, but the devices we have today are certainly up to it.

Work and Home Profiles

It’s easy to set your phone’s alert mode between “Work” and “Normal”, but how about the device as a whole? Wouldn’t it be nice for the device to alter its appearance, homescreen, and running applications based upon whether you are at home or at work? Adding in geolocation would make such a feature even sweeter. When you arrive or leave work, your phone switches profiles for you automatically.

Separate panes to keep work and home separate

Slightly off topic, but have you tried using different panes on your homescreen for work and home? It’s a good strategy to help you focus on your work and not become distracted by that bright blue Facebook icon. Likewise, when you get home, you can browse Twitter comfortably without having to see the Email widget on the work pane nagging you to do some work from home. Remember to keep work and home separate!

Final Thoughts

I think that, if done well, this feature could one day integrate into Android quite nicely. Having the ability to instantly switch to “guest mode”, would make letting people play around with your device a lot easier and safer. What do you all think?

PS: The Chameleon overlay, which we covered a while ago, provides some of the features I described in this article, including geolocation-based profiles, multiple user profiles, instant user profile switching, and more, all while looking awesome. But Chameleon is currently a work in progress and we can’t tell if it will ever make it to an Android device.