The developer preview of Android N, the upcoming version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, comes with a few new features. These build on Android N’s predecessor, Android Marshmallow, right out of the box (and more new stuff will arrive in coming previews). One highlight of this initial preview is a split-screen mode that works in both portrait and landscape orientations on smartphones and tablets.
The split-screen feature is particularly impressive on Google’s recently released Pixel C convertible tablet, which is one of just two tablets that can run this first developer preview — the other is the Nexus 9. Sure, split screen does work on Android phones — I’ve been experimenting with it on a Nexus 5X — but on tablets it looks more impressive, and you can be more productive in the larger format.
This update is important because it will give Android feature parity. Microsoft’s Surface, and any other convertible tablet that runs Windows, lets you split your screen like a champ with little tinkering, and for years Samsung has included Multi Window mode on its phones and tablets. Apple just recently rolled out its take on multi-window functionality, though for just a single iOS device. That happened a few months after Apple introduced the Split View in Mac OS X El Capitan.
Compared with the Split View feature that came with the iPad Pro, the split-screen mode in Android N is more flexible.
You can adjust the slider between the two windows being shown on the display. Well, to a certain point — you can’t shrink either window down to less than about a third of the display. With the iPad Pro, Split View in landscape mode only lets you select proportions of approximately 75/25 or 50/50. Split View in portrait on iPad Pro doesn’t even let you adjust the proportions; you’re stuck at 60/40. That said, Android N is less flexible on a phone than on a tablet — that is, you can’t move the slider in landscape mode.
And, unfortunately, not all apps work with Android N’s split-screen feature at this time. For example Uber, Lyft, Snapchat, Instagram, and Minecraft: Pocket Edition don’t permit anything less than a full-screen view. The same problem hampers Split View on the iPad Pro.
The feature also has a few bugs. Some views in certain apps don’t load correctly, for example. But this is just one week into a developer preview. Google and third-party app developers should smooth out some of these kinks in the next few months, leading up to the official release of Android N.
And even with these shortcomings, the arrival of Android N’s split screen is a revelation, in terms of what you can get done on your Android device. Keep an eye on Twitter while you’re doing stuff in Chrome? Of course. Talking with your teammates on Slack while you’re dealing with email in Gmail? Sure. Talk with someone on Messenger while drawing stuff in Autodesk SketchBook? You got it. Adding a Trello card while you’re watching a YouTube video? Yup. On and on and on. App switching is just less time-consuming and error-prone when you can have two apps open at once.
On the Pixel C, this feature works especially well, because you can type fast on its sturdy keyboard and have the screen propped up at a comfortable angle. Tablet computing starts to feel like less of a novelty and more like desktop computing. And for an Android device, that’s exciting.