Freeform Multi-Window, Like It or Not

Android 7.0 offers a freeform multi-window mode. We do not have an official freeform test environment. And, since Google has not yet published a Compatibility Definition Document for Android 7.0, it is unclear to what extent device manufacturers are authorized to enable freeform multi-window mode.

However, you – and perhaps power users of your app – can play around with freeform multi-window on Android 7.0 devices, with the help of the Android SDK or the combination of a developer setting and third-party apps.

Developers can enable platform-level freeform multi-window support by running the following adb command:

adb shell settings put global enable_freeform_support 1

(UPDATE 2016-10-12: many thanks to Mike Evans for pointing out the typo in an earlier edition of this post!)

(UPDATE 2016-10-19: also, you then need to reboot)

Note: this works without root. At that point, you will have the same freeform mode that we could play with on N Developer Preview environments. Pressing the RECENTS button brings up the overview screen, where the cards will now have a button in their title bars to move that app into freeform mode.

However, even non-developers can play around with this, courtesy of apps like Braden Farmer’s Taskbar… or the Freecar sample app from my latest book update. These apps rely on power users enabling developer mode (i.e., the Seven Build Number Taps to Glory) and toggling on “Force activities to be resizable”. Then, from the home screen or overview screen, a third-party app can launch an activity into freeform mode. In the case of Taskbar, it does this via an always-available floating bar; in the case of Freecar, it does this via a notification shade tile.

Will many power users do this? No. I would expect it to be roughly on par with the number of power users who force your app into multi-window mode, possibly even with multiple instances of your activities. However, some might play with your app this way, particularly if your app has a large user base. I would not be surprised if third-party home screen app developers elect to integrate these sorts of features, either in baseline functionality or in some sort of “experimental mode”.

How close is this freeform multi-window behavior to the “real thing”? I have no clue. This freeform mode is very limited, and so it is difficult for me to believe that Google really wants manufacturers employing it in this state. But, since Google has released what we have without much guidance, we have no good way to know right now.

But, since some users will start playing with it, like it or not, you may need to consider spending a bit of time trying it yourself. You may want to understand how your app behaves and whether there is anything that you want to do to help those power users use your app in freeform mode… and perhaps set yourself up to handle freeform better when it is more widely available.

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