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Google's Android N documentation hints at 'freeform', a Windows-like desktop UI mode

Posted: , by Mihai A.

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Is Google preparing Android to tackle the laptop/desktop market?

Is Google preparing Android to tackle the laptop/desktop market?


As many probably know already, Google has recently launched a first preview of Android N. We already know most of the main new features, and the new split-screen mode is one of them. As it turns out, however, the source code of the Android N preview and Google's own documentation also make mention of another, more complex multi-window mode.

The documentation refers to this new UI layout as a freeform mode and is basically a two-dimensional expansion of the split-screen mode. The split screen mode allows users to launch two apps simultaneously on screen and adjust the width of the apps to their preference. In the freeform mode, users will be able to set both the width and the height of the apps on screen.

Google's own Android N documentation reads:

Manufacturers of larger devices can choose to enable freeform mode, in which the user can freely resize each activity. If the manufacturer enables this feature, the device offers freeform mode in addition to split-screen mode.


While we can't tell how the Android's new freeform layout mode will look like in practice, we can imagine something similar to what Windows machines have been offering for years. 

Looking no further than the Android ecosystem, Samsung has modified stock Android to support a multi-window feature since late 2014. A similar functionality is also being offered by Jide's Remix OS, a forked (highly customized) Android implementations which can be installed on most laptops and computers.

In Freeform mode, Android users will be able to freely resize activities

The Android N developer documentation instructs developers on how to support both split-screen and freeform, which are both referred to as multi-window modes. It's also important to note that developers can either support both multi-window modes or none. When a user launches an app that doesn't support the new multi-window functionality, the app will take up the whole screen.

Now, the reason why this feature wasn't discovered earlier is because it's not actually available in the Android N preview. At this point, freeform is referred by the source code as an experimental mode, which might suggest that even if future Android N previews do come with freeform, the feature isn't a lock for the official Android N launch. Last year when Google launched the Android M preview, the source code mentioned an experimental split-screen mode, but the launch was obviously delayed for the next major Android iteration.

Since this feature only makes sense on larger devices, Android's new freeform mode does seem to give credence to rumors suggesting that Google's vision is to merge Android and Chrome into a single operating system.

source: Google via Ars Technica

12 Comments
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posted on 15 Mar 2016, 09:10 3

1. NoToFanboys (Posts: 1008; Member since: 03 Oct 2015)


This plus USB Type C 3.1, Android continuum LOL

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 10:25 2

4. LetsBeHonest (Posts: 1293; Member since: 04 Jun 2013)


Yeah man.. But I was expecting something like this to come sooner or later. Android needs to step their game up by merging chrome and android into one OS.

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 09:30 3

2. bucky (Posts: 2442; Member since: 30 Sep 2009)


Now this is something thats interesting.

posted on 16 Mar 2016, 12:06

11. igorb81 (Posts: 77; Member since: 27 Feb 2012)


This has been on Samsung devices for a few years now. But it's about time Google is looking to implement this. I love pen window apps on my Galaxy Note 10.1

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 09:39

3. IAMBLCKJ3ZUS (Posts: 172; Member since: 29 Sep 2015)


Not really an app will never be as powerful as its desktop counterpart. Google relies to much in apps to win this and if the surface phone is true. Panos is about to pull an upset, continuum is way better for bringing this gap of apps truely being something useful.

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 10:53 2

6. Finalflash (Posts: 2716; Member since: 23 Jul 2013)


Lol there is no difference in a desktop app and a mobile app other than the UI. What the app does is completely up to the designer and the amount of work it performs is up to the designer as well. Continuum has one crucial flaw and that is the lack of availability of hardware. No one is buying windows phone because no one is designing for it. But people are developing for iOS and Android with apps getting more and more powerful over time. Soon they will compete with desktop apps if some do not already but none of those apps will work on MS mobile devices. The growth of mobile apps to a more powerful state is organic. But no one is going to make desktop apps more mobile friendly.

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 12:03 1

7. IAMBLCKJ3ZUS (Posts: 172; Member since: 29 Sep 2015)


so snapdragon is more powerful than an i7?? what world are you in where you can use full adobe suite on your phone?

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 12:43 1

8. VZWuser76 (Posts: 3601; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


So are these smartphones going to have an i7 in them? Because from what I've read, Intel's new chips are strictly for laptops, convertibles, and tablets. This new feature sounds more like it's for smartphones rather than more powerful devices.

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 23:38 1

10. joey_sfb (Posts: 5236; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


To answer this question for yourself just install Remix OS for PC.

I install it on my DELL 7140 dual boot. The performance of a Core M on Android is simply amazing.

http://www.jide.com/en/remixos-for-pc

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 17:06

9. Settings (Posts: 1448; Member since: 02 Jul 2014)


PC MASTER RACE thinks smartphone users are peasants. Desktop apps is far more superior than mobile apps.

posted on 19 Mar 2016, 11:30

12. MrElectrifyer (Posts: 1861; Member since: 21 Oct 2014)


"But no one is going to make desktop apps more mobile friendly."

Actually, that's precisely what has happened to Office 2013/2016:
https://db.tt/zLEYH9JB
https://db.tt/cIRGxixQ

The Adobe CC suit:
http://www.dereferer.org/?http%3A%2F%2Fbit%2Ely%2F1pgy6jn

Steam with GestureWorks add-on:
http://www.dereferer.org/?http%3A%2F%2Fbit%2Ely%2F1Mx44Qj

and AutoCAD 2016:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP1DfwZuWko

Or you don't consider their devs as people?

posted on 15 Mar 2016, 10:29

5. phonearenarocks (Posts: 203; Member since: 26 Mar 2015)


First feature that is ground breaking in Android N, features like Quick reply/bundled notifications were the only good ones with others being Meh to say the most!!!

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