Google drip feeds a few details about the hidden desktop mode in Android Q
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One of the cooler features in devices from Samsung and Huawei are desktop modes that allow users to connect their smartphones to a monitor, mouse and keyboard to enjoy a PC-like multi-window desktop environment. Given the amount of often untapped power in today’s smartphones, it makes a lot of sense to try find ways to maximize their utility. These OEM efforts have apparently made an impact on Google which is quietly baking in the same sort of functionality into its own stock version of Android.
As it is still in early development, Google didn’t actually say anything about the functionality at its recent Google I/O keynote; however, it has revealed a few more details at a related developer talk. In a talk titled “Build Apps for Foldable, Multiple-Display, and Large Screen Devices” Google has started to encourage developers to prepare their apps for use across multiple windowed modes. This includes the said desktop mode it is busy baking into Android Q.
Given Google already has a desktop operating system in Chrome OS, one might wonder why it would bother with a desktop mode running from an Android smartphone. However, if there is one fundamental problem with Android apps is that most don't support larger UI particularly well. The failure of Android tablets to really take off is the underlying cause of the problem, but with foldable smartphones that open into tablet sizes on the immediate horizon, it has become a noticeable shortcoming once again. This issue is also apparent in Android apps running in Chrome OS which just look like oversized smartphone apps.
Adding a desktop mode to Android is yet another way that Google can encourage developers to start thinking outside the traditional smartphone app interface so that they can be optimized for different instances of the Android UI across an increasing variety of device form factors and across multiple displays. It will be interesting to see just how functional the Android Q desktop mode is; Samsung DeX, while neat, still has fundamental system limitations that stop it from acting like a fully-fledged desktop environment.