Android Q Has a Built-In Desktop Mode

Posted on March 14, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Android with 24 Comments

Google released the first beta of Android Q yesterday, and as expected, there are a bunch of major features. And although Google already listed some of the new features, it is yet to officially mention some of the hidden features. One of that includes a new desktop mode we wrote about earlier in the year.

As noticed by Michael Young on Twitter, Android Q has a new option that allows users to force desktop mode. And when connected to an external monitor, you will be able to use the new desktop mode with your Android phone. The feature works much like Samsung DeX and Microsoft’s Continuum on Windows Phone, but it’s a lot more limited for the time being.

Keep in mind, this is only the first beta of Android Q, so that’s not a surprise at all.

XDA Developers reports that the experimental desktop mode enables freefrom multi-windows, allowing users to open apps and move them around however they like. For now, though, the interface itself is just scaled to work on bigger displays and there isn’t much of a difference on the actual UI. So for example, you can only add app shortcuts to the desktop and nothing else. The navigation bar still shows up at the bottom, and the status bar is still at the top. So yes, Google has a lot of work to do for this to feel anything like an actual desktop mode.

If you are on Android Q, you can find out how to enable the new desktop mode here.

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Comments (24)

24 responses to “Android Q Has a Built-In Desktop Mode”

  1. dontbe evil

    wow android is going to invent continuum ... butbut nobody wants it, oh wait that was ms ... this is so coool, google is the best

    • nbplopes

      In reply to dontbe_evil:


      Maybe you haven’t heard of Asus Padfone. A product that was here before MS Continuum for phones.


      just in case you feel the need to play this game.


      And yes, nobody wanted it also in such form.

      • rmlounsbury

        In reply to nbplopes:

        The Motorola Atrix pre-dated that with it's dockable Linux environment.


        There are only two things standing in the way of something like this taking off. The first and biggest is that by the time your done buying the phone and dockable accessories you might as well just go buy a quality mid-to-high end laptop for the cost of it all. The second is that virtually no Android apps scale to a desktop size and offer extra features in that mode. In DeX you have a handful of apps from Samsung, Google, and Microsoft that do it and precious few outside of that. Without the app ecosystem that can scale (as Microsoft knows all to well) something like this never gets off the ground.


        It seems the next few years will be the best shot mobile devices will have to become your only computing device that can scale from handset to full desktop.

        • SvenJ

          In reply to rmlounsbury: The Cilio Redfly came out in 2008. That was a small netbook sized device that connected to a Windows Mobile phone and gave you keyboard, touchpad, larger screen. The Office apps actually scalled up pretty well.
          The key here is to have applications that scale well from phone to larger screen. Continuum actually did/does this very well. UWP apps are designed with this ability, though they do need to be developed with this in mind. MS has done a good job with the mobile versions of the Office apps. They scale from phone to TV. Too bad the windows phone is gone, but they work well on Android and iOS. Compatible file formats are critical as well. There was a time when the phone and desktop versions of Office products screwed up files. That's a thing of the past.
          I think this concept will take off when regular folks need a new computer to replace the one they've had for 7-10 years. If they realize they can just hook their phone up to a keyboard/mouse/monitor they may go that route. Just a matter of being able to do what they need to do.


          • nbplopes

            In reply to SvenJ:


            The idea of apps having UIs that scale as the canvas/display size change is as old as computing. Along time many technologies have been built to take changes in display size and aspect ratio. For instance media queries for web apps (reponsive UI) ...


            Yet the key here is not in this domain. It iis in how the operating system scales as a function of a set of use cases.


            That is the the key. Not in how it scales as a function of screen/canvas size.


            That is why those attempts failed, including Continuum. You see. Display size is in itself a function of a set of use cases.


            Given the use cases, there were and there are better and more cost effective approaches..


            • skane2600

              In reply to nbplopes:

              I agree and sometimes a control element that is appropriate for the desktop is unusable on a small screen even if its appearance is properly scaled. So you either have to design your program around the most restrictive environment or have to include platform-aware code which adds to complexity.

        • nbplopes

          In reply to rmlounsbury:


          Forgot about that one.


          You nailed it. It was never a cost effective approach. Meaning, in practice, you pay more or the same for less.


          And that is, if was more than an experiment, prototype or beta product.

        • prjman

          It will have Chrome, which is where 90% of computing happens now. When you add in desktop capable versions of Office, Gmail, etc. this will cover the needs of quite a few 'normal' people.


          Those of us with an eye for technology will scoff, but once this takes off it will be a powerful play.

  2. ben55124

    This is what MS should be working on tapping into instead of screen mirroring. Allow apps to be sent to Windows and appear as a windowed app on the desktop.

  3. locust infested orchard inc

    On a tangential note, I hazard a guess that the 'Q' in Android Q will be named 'Quality Street' – the Nestlé confectionery.


    Android certainly exudes a certain 'je ne sais quoi' quality – Qrap Quality.


    Now back on topic, Android in desktop mode will simply serve to make in-app ads more annoying and distracting. But that's the nature of beast that is Android, or should that be Addroid.



  4. Daekar

    Would rather see this than ChromeOS. Would make Android tablets a good bit more palatable, that's for sure, and make phones more useful.

  5. rmlounsbury

    This is a bit curious given that Google already has ChromeOS. One would think that Google would be headed towards a fully merged Android/ChromeOS environment instead of building a new way to access a desktop environment via Android. Then of course there is also Fuchsia as well.


    I'm very happy to see a desktop environment baked into Android. I very much like having DeX to have at my disposal and being able to plug in my phone to a hotel TV HDMI port with a cable and having a Bluetooth keyboard & mouse means I have a desktop environment anywhere I go with no more gear on me than what I usually carry. The only thing really missing is a laptop shell that I could pop open and use DeX on the go (ideally wirelessly so I don't even have to pull my phone out of my pocket). With the power that ARM processors are bringing and the amount of RAM manufacturers are putting into their flagship phones this is quickly becoming a realistic solution vs. a laptop or desktop for typical daily tasks. Especially with Linux on DeX.


    Of course, Android apps by and large don't scale on DeX today outside of what Samsung, Google, and Microsoft offer. Maybe between ChromeOS and this new desktop mode in Android; developers will invest more time in getting their apps to scale up to a richer experience in these environments.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to rmlounsbury: The problem with the laptop shells that have been tried, is that they are as big, heavy, and costly as a comparable laptop that does as much or more. The hassle of trying to sync your phone and PC data has largely been solved with the cloud.
      The ability to use a phone with a larger screen, keyboard and mouse, does seem to be desirable, but doesn't seem to have much widespread demand. Maybe when people's current PCs need to be replaced, and they realize they could just use their phone when they need a bit more screen and a keyboard, it will get some traction.


      • rmlounsbury

        In reply to SvenJ:

        I think your notation about how expensive the accessories are, are one of the reasons the concept of a phone as your only PC haven't taken off. I have found looking for DeX compatible shells that either the devices are cheap and flimsy or incredibly expensive (and there just aren't that many in the first place).


        It is a big sell to say: "Hey, you can use your $999 phone as a desktop/laptop. But to get there you have to buy a $40-$100 cable or dock and another $200-$400 shell to make it happen." By the time you are done you could have bought a really nice Surface Laptop, Surface Book, XPS 13, etc... Additionally, the limitations of using a mobile app on a big screen in a desktop environment is off putting. If the developers don't build extra functionality and the ability to scale apps up to larger screens then for most people this isn't a solution.


        I don't mind sinking $1400-$1600 into my phone + accessories to make my mobile my only computing device. But that setup needs to meet all my needs at the desktop level and we are no where near that today. I do use DeX quite a lot and for the most part it gets me by. But, if I have to get in and do heavy lifting sys admin work I really need a true PC. Though, I am experimenting with virtual desktop environments to cover the Microsoft side of things. The Linux of DeX pretty well covers that side of the shop and with the extra RAM on the S10+ I'm hoping performance is better. But for the moment the Linux on DeX is still only available for the Note 9 and Tab 4.


        Of course, I digress, what I'm doing is something no normal user would ever do. So I'm pretty unique in that space.

  6. jules_wombat

    This is an obvious play to wipe out 95% of the residual Window user base. Most normal users prefer Android over Windows, and for them to use their phone for mobile, desktop and business use, is the obvious objective of client compute.

    It is only Windows fanboys that cannot comprehend what is happening to their favoured platform. Everyone else is moving on without them.

    • Bob2000

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      A for trolling effort, well done sir.


      Seriously though Google can't even get developers to make tablet versions of apps, forget about desktop.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      I imagine you define "normal users" as users who "prefer Android over Windows".

      • paulc543

        In reply to skane2600:


        It happens all too often these days - people think "normal" people are like me, use technology just like me, have the same needs as me, etc, and therefore, companies should tailor every single product to my wants, needs and desires. What's that mental affliction where people think they are the only beings that actually exist, and everyone else is a figment of their imagination? That's pretty much the public at large today.


        It's admittedly as anecdotal as Jules' comment, but I know of no one who prefers Android over Windows. The closest to that is a single friend who prefers ChromeOS for it's simplicity. To everyone else, the two really don't overlap much, and many prefer full desktop Windows on their tablets. I've tried various Android devices on the family - tablets, TV boxes and sticks, etc. They've all sucked so utterly badly that they've been removed and are in some box somewhere in the cellar. Android is ok on the phone, but an abomination everywhere else with the exception of highly task targeted devices like the Fire Stick.

  7. codymesh

    isn't this basically the Android tablet UI that they abandoned a few versions ago?

  8. red.radar

    Still a Google product. Therefore no dice.

  9. BBoileau

    Slowly they will whittle away at Microsoft's software features.

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