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You'll soon be able to use Circle to Search in Android's split-screen mode

Circle to Search will soon finally work in split-screen mode on Pixel devices.

Published onApril 26, 2024

Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority
  • Google is testing an update to the Pixel Launcher that enables Circle to Search to work in split-screen mode.
  • On Pixel devices currently, Circle to Search doesn’t work while in split-screen mode.
  • The feature lets you tap, scribble, or draw a circle over any text or image on the screen that you want to look up on Google Search.

I frequently search the web through Google Search each day, which is why I think Circle to Search is one of the best Android features Google has made in years. If you come across some text or image you want to look up, all you need to do is press and hold on the navigation pill at the bottom to bring up Circle to Search on almost any screen.

The key phrase there is almost any screen because there are some areas where Circle to Search won’t work, either because the app blocks it or because the feature itself doesn’t support it. For instance, Circle to Search currently doesn’t work when you have two apps side-by-side in split-screen mode, at least on Google Pixel phones. That could change in the near future, though.

Under the hood, Circle to Search uses Android’s Assist API to access an image of the screen. That’s why the feature doesn’t work if you disable “use screenshot” under Settings > Apps > Default apps > Digital assistant app when Google is set as Android’s default digital assistant app. It’s also why changing the default digital assistant app to something other than Google breaks Circle to Search, since the feature is part of the Google App.

Because Circle to Search utilizes Android’s standard Assist API to take screenshots, it has all the limitations that come with it, such as not being able to take screenshots of secure windows in apps. I originally assumed before writing this article that there was a limitation in Android’s Assist API that prevented apps from working with screenshots of other apps in split-screen mode, but my testing with a third-party assistant app later showed that’s not the case. In fact, Circle to Search on the Samsung Galaxy S24 series (and I assume other supported Samsung phones) already works in split-screen mode.

While it’s odd this limitation seems exclusive to Pixel devices, Google is at least aware of the problem. While I was digging through Google’s Pixel Launcher app in the latest Android 15 beta, I discovered a flag that, when enabled, allowed me to invoke Circle to Search while in split-screen mode on my Google Pixel 8 Pro. Here’s a quick video that demonstrates what that looks like:

It’s just as you’d expect, which makes us question why this limitation currently exists on Pixel devices. In any case, we’re glad to see this limitation will be fixed and hope it makes its way into a stable release for Pixel users soon.

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