Google is Adding Split-Screen Support for Android Apps on Chromebook

Posted on February 20, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 11 Comments

Chrome OS has long supported a Windows-like split-screen mode for web apps. But now the feature is coming to Android apps, too.

Today, you can easily display two web app windows side-by-side in Chrome OS: Just drag one window to the left or right side of the screen to pin it there. And then drag another to the other side of the screen. It works much like it does in Windows 8.x or 10. (With a mouse. I’m not aware of keyboard shortcuts for this, or advanced features like Snap Assist.)

But Chrome OS is evolving into a platform that will be more suitable for tablets and 2-in-1s like the Google Pixelbook. Part of that evolution involves bringing Android apps and the Google Play Store to Chrome, of course, and improving the platform’s support for those apps. But Chrome OS is also being adapted to work more seamlessly on these new form factors. It supports touch, of course, and even pen. But it also supports a new tablet mode that can be enabled automatically when a Chrome OS device is being used as a tablet. (Such as when you switch a 2-in-1 into a tablet usage mode.)

Split-screen web app windows work in Chrome OS today regardless of the mode. But when you put Chrome OS into tablet mode, an additional multitasking button appears next to the status tray, providing the user with a way to switch more easily between windows.

The issue with split-screen, to date, is that it only works with web app windows. But its coming to Android apps, too. And if your Chrome device is running on the developer-oriented Dev channel, you can test this functionality today. Plus enable the Split view in Tablet mode flag at chrome://flags/#enable-tablet-splitview.

Note that this doesn’t appear to work on traditional laptop-style Chromebooks, which is a shame. Obviously, the ability to run two apps—web apps, Android apps, or a combination of the two) side-by-side is a basic and very useful feature. And that’s true regardless of what type of Chromebook you’re using. I bet this changes over time, and we still have a few Chrome versions to go before this feature is even added for mainstream use.


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Comments (11)

11 responses to “Google is Adding Split-Screen Support for Android Apps on Chromebook”

  1. jimchamplin


    Why didn’t that work from the start? I’ve always had the feeling that Google made the Android layer in Chrome OS needlessly complex and hackneyed. The fact that the window manager has to treat Android software differently is a big clue that they seriously had no clue what they were doing.

    • longhorn

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Maybe Android apps are tied to the Android window manager (Surface flinger) in a non trivial way. I haven't seen Android apps integrate well on a desktop platform (different window manager), but I haven't used Chrome OS with Android support. One reason Google is writing Fuchsia could be that they realized (after 10 years) that Android (the OS) is no good on laptops/desktops. Best laptop/desktop option right now for Android apps (besides Chrome OS) is Android in a virtual machine.

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to longhorn:

        Makes me wonder if the apps are running in a VM and Chome OS just puts the Android framebuffer into a window.

        • longhorn

          In reply to jimchamplin:

          I don't know how it's done. However Android apps will never be a native experience on any platform but Android. So Google has just as much incentive to push PWAs as Microsoft because PWAs (and other web-apps) are the only native apps on Chrome OS.

          I would be surprised if Google continues to push Android apps on Chrome OS if PWAs get traction. I think Android apps are a stop-gap solution to keep Chrome OS floating (0.9% desktop market share according to StatCounter). Chrome OS can survive with PWAs and Android is doing fine on handsets.

          The long-term solution is Fuchsia. The question is if Google can pull this off without the help from thousands of Linux developers. Microsoft and Apple already have their NT and Darwin kernels and driver developers ready to support them. Except for those companies it's hard to target mainstream and a wide variety of hardware without using Linux or BSD. So I'm a bit bummed out that Google wants their own kernel because it will cost years of development that could be spent on user visible parts instead. Short-term both Chrome OS and Android will continue just like before.

  2. dontbe evil

    wow that's revolutionary, something I NEVER saw before /s

  3. cayo

    This is amazing. It will probably increase the total number of Chromebook users outside US schools from 20 to 25.

  4. JCerna

    So I can't get a straight answer about this but what is the support cycle for chromebooks, and how would I know if my chromebook will get this and future updates?

  5. petersl

    Good to see. teer

  6. Harrymyhre

    For years I have been trying to connect my nexus 5x to my chromebook via usb cable so I could copy pictures to the chromebook. It never worked. This week I tried again and my chromebook now can read the DCIM folder on my nexus 5x.

    Next, I connected my iPhone to the chromebook. The chromebook now recognizes the iPhone DCIM folder and I can copy pictures back and forth between chromebook and iPhone.

    Way way back in the days of windows phone I tried the same thing. Of course the two machines refused to talk. I remember posting a question in a chromebook forum. Someone responded:

    “there is is probably someone working in your issue right now“