If I were to pick one marquee feature of Android 7.0 Nougat, it would have to be the system’s new multi-window support, which builds on past multitasking functionality and lets you display two apps on the screen at the same time.
Android’s support for this functionality lags a similar feature in iOS: Last year, Apple added a number of ways to view two or more apps in iOS 9, including Split View, Slide Over, and Picture in Picture. And while we’re giving credit where credit is due, let’s not forget that it was actually Microsoft—yes, really—that first introduced major platform support for side-by-side apps, in Windows RT back in 2012.
Not that the history of this functionality will matter much to Android users. Most of whom, of course, will need to purchase a new device in order to get Android 7.0 Nougat in the first place. But if you’re lucky enough to be using a modern Nexus handset or tablet—which, not to be belabor the point, I strongly recommend—you can get Android 7.0 Nougat and it multi-window functionality today.
Android 7.0 Nougat lets you run two apps side-by-side on handsets and tablets, and it supports a picture-in-picture mode—primarily for video playback, as in iOS 9+—on TV devices.
As always, there are caveats.
First, the apps you use must explicitly support this functionality. If you try to run an app that does not target Android 7.0 Nougat, you’ll get an error message. And in my experience, some apps that do work fine still throw up a weak defensive pop-up just in case as well. As you might expect, the built-in apps support multi-window.
Second, some devices may be constrained when it comes to freeform mode, which is the ability to resize the two side-by-side panes. That said, the device I’ve tested—the Nexus 6P handset and Nexus 9 tablet—both support resizing the app panes. I suppose they both pass some physical size/pixel density bar.
On a handset or tablet, you will typically enter split-screen mode by running an app and then long-pressing the (square) Overview button. (You can also do this from the home screen; see below.) When you do, a half-sized version of the normal Overview screen (the Android multitasking, or recents apps, view) appears, letting you pick the other app you’ll be using in split-screen mode. When the device is held in portrait view (which is perhaps more typical on a phone), this pane will appear on the bottom of the display.
But it works in landscape mode too, on both types of devices, and when used in this orientation, the half-sized Overview screen appears on the right.
If you select an app that does not support split-screen mode, it will simply appear full-screen as normal, and will display a pop-up indicating the incompatibility.
But compatible apps will fill the second half of the screen.
And in landscape mode too, of course.
This is obviously useful for reading from one side and writing into the other, but you can do a few things beyond just viewing two apps side-by-side.
Google says you an also drag and drop data between the panes—an activity I have never successfully completed—and you can resize the views using the splitter in the middle: Just drag it with your finger. (This requires specific app support, too, however, and will sometimes work in portrait but not landscape on phones.)
You can exit this mode by dragging the resizing splitter to a screen edge, leaving just one app on-screen as usual.
Note: You can also enter split-screen mode from the Overview (recent tasks) screen: Just tap and hold on the app you wish to “pin” to one screen edge and then drag it is as directed to that side of the screen. From here, you will then select the app for the other side of the screen normally, as described above.
While it’s clear why Google would add this capability to Android—this is the firm’s bid to make Android more useful for the productivity scenarios people use PCs and Macs for today—it is still very limited (as is the case on iOS as well) especially on phones, for which the use case is far less clear.
But the basics are in place. And with an attached Bluetooth keyboard, a tablet running Android 7.0 Nougat can be considered a basic productivity device, akin to an iPad Pro. Now if they could just figure out touchpad support, they might be on to something. (This may never happen given recent developments where Android apps will run on Chromebooks, which do have touchpads.)
Curiously, Google doesn’t support picture-in-picture on Android handsets and tablets—as Apple does on iPhone and iPad—so I haven’t tested this aspect of Android 7.0 Nougat’s multi-window support. But according to some Google developer documentation, it works as you’d expect, and lets you display video in a pinned window while another app continues in the background.
Note: Android 7.0 Nougat features another useful multi-tasking feature you’ll want to know about. I’ll be highlighting soon, so stay tuned.
Tagged with Android N