Google has big plans for using multiple windows on Android, starting with the next iteration of the operating system and directly inspired by the upcoming introduction of specific developments for folding smartphones announced during this year's Android Dev Summit. While most of the recently announced changes have been addressed in previous reports, there is at least one, called a "multiple curriculum," which seems to be applicable to all handsets and can be even more shocking. The multi-curriculum will allow multiple windows to run concurrently, and perhaps best of all, can be incorporated with relative ease with a simple addition to an application manifest. This means that users can run multiple applications at the same time on a single monitor without these applications being paused. With Android Q, this will look even better with full integration at the operating system level and additional optimizations, Google says.
Bottom: Before the new announcement, multi-windowed applications were already available but were severely limited in terms of real functionality and usability in the real world. More specifically, this is the "split screen" feature that was introduced in Android 7.0 Nougat and allowed users to resize an application, if enabled by the developers of that application, and display it side by side with another application. The task has also become simple and intuitive to accomplish, through a long push on the recent applications icon or capacitive button or by pressing a long application on the screen of recent applications itself. However, it does not allow both applications to run at the same time, despite the multitasking capability that Android has used since long before the introduction of the split screen feature.
Instead, it has defined both as an active application – whichever the user interacted most recently – and an "OnPause" application. The OnPause application, as this term implies, was essentially paused. In short, this meant that unless a user interacted with the panel, what the user was seeing was a frozen preview of the last screen of the application. While Google has introduced a number of recommendations for multi-window support, developers simply left things "as they are," so that the above situation remained true to the vast majority of applications. On the tablet side of the equation, this initial split-screen functionality went even further and allowed several applications beyond the first two, but the underlying problem remained until that point.
It seems like this will finally change with the multi-curriculum and, based on the introduction of multi-display capabilities introduced with Android 8.0 Oreo, it's really about the time that this happened. However, the change seems to be inspired by the fact that some devices will soon be dividing screens between multiple virtual monitors encompassed in a single display panel. Namely, these are the changes previously revealed to the Android interface and associated code to support the recently announced foldable smartphone screens by Samsung. As described in these ads, these monitors will require an OS that can adapt between a monitor or expanded views – or that support two monitors that virtually separate when they are folded. In other cases, this means incorporating a level of continuity between panels and creating a consistent display hardware experience that can change, from the user's point of view and from the code, in seconds and over and over again.
Impact: Keeping this in mind, this change will have benefits for those who can not afford to buy this functionality as well. To begin with, it should allow for better multi-app experiences – or at least multi-display experiences – when an Android smartphone or tablet is connected or mirrored to a secondary monitor. But this should also mean a better experience when using two or more applications displayed simultaneously on a single screen, since users may have two applications that are running visibly in real time at the same time. Once deployed at the system level, this will open up a new gamut of possibilities for entertainment, convenience, and productivity as long as developers are targeting the appropriate API.