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1/24/2013
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Samsung Adds Multiwindow Mojo to Android

Multiwindow, multitasking features in Samsung's Android 4.1.2 update for the Galaxy Note 10.1 push Android's user interface into new territory, adding Windows-like capabilities that are sure to delight many users — and aggravate others.

Samsung's recent Android 4.1.2 upgrade for the Galaxy Note 10.1 adds power and flexibility to the company's unique offering of Android multiwindowing features. With this update, the Galaxy Note 10.1 can run up to 16 multiwindow-enabled Android apps at once, Windows/Mac-like, on a single screen.

Apps endowed with Samsung's multiwindow technology are usable in three viewing modes: full screen, dual view, and cascade view, as shown below.


Fullscreen view
Dual view
Cascade view
(click images to enlarge)

To accomplish this, Samsung added a multiwindow app framework to its proprietary Android "TouchWiz" user interface, and tweaked a range of Android apps to support the framework. There currently are 18 multiwindow-enabled apps, including browser, email, contacts, calendar, alarm, calculator, YouTube, video player, office suite, and other frequently-used functions. Presumably, the will grow over time.

Running multiwindow apps

Multiwindow apps can be launched either in the normal manner, from the homescreen or All Apps screens, or from a pop-open "multi window apps tray" conveniently located at the bottom of any screen. The apps tray opens up when you tap the up-arrow in the middle of the screen's lower panel (illustrated on the right).

The screenshot below shows the multiwindow apps tray.


Multiwindow apps tray
(click image to enlarge)

A pair of buttons located in the lower-left of the apps tray (illustrated on the right) determines whether the apps launched from the tray start in dual-view or cascade-view. However, once one or more multiwindow apps have been launched from the tray, you can switch their modes (as a group) from one view to the other. You can also switch any multiwindow app individually into full-screen view.
(click to enlarge)

Manipulating multiwindow apps


(click to enlarge)

When they are running in either cascade- or dual-view mode, multiwindow apps have three control widgets along their top border, as shown on the left.

Here's how to use the control widgets that appear at the top of multiwindow apps when in cascade- or dual-view mode:

  • Tap the pin widget (at the left) to make an app remain in the foreground, with other multiwindow apps behind it. After being tapped, the pin widget turns green so you know the app is "pinned" to the foreground.
  • Tap the empty square widget to maximize the app to place it in fullscreen view mode.
  • Tap the square-with-X widget to close the app.

Additionally, you can resize and reposition multiwindow apps. For apps in cascade-view mode...

  • Press-drag within the app's top panel to move the app around on the screen.
  • Press-drag one of the app's borders horizontally, vertically, or diagonally to resize the app's window.

And for apps in dual-view mode...

  • Swipe the app's top panel to the right or left to switch its position with the other dual-view app.
  • Press-drag the border between the two onscreen apps to the left or right to change how much of the screen each dual-view app occupies.

Launching multiwindow apps the normal way

same as caption
When you launch a multiwindow-enabled app from an icon located on a homescreen or All Apps screen, it runs in fullscreen view, just like a normal Android app. However, once it's running, you can move it into multiwindow view mode by tapping the multiwindow widget in its upper-right corner (shown on the left). At that point, it will go into cascade- or dual-view format, depending on the current view selection setting in the multiwindow apps tray.

Current set of 18 multiwindow apps

The screenshot below shows the launcher-icons for the 18 multiwindow apps that were included in the Galaxy Note 10.1's recent Android 4.1.2 firmware update.


Samsung's current set of 18 multiwindow apps
(click image to enlarge)

The screenshot above shows the multiwindow apps tray in "edit mode," with which you can determine which apps you want to appear in the tray. To accomplish that, you tap the icons in the tray to move them to the upper area, after which they are hidden from the tray; or tap the ones in the top area to move them down to the tray. You can also drag icons around in the tray to change their position.

Android multiwindow apps demo

Here's a YouTube video tour of Samsung's latest Android multiwindow apps technology:

The bottom line

By releasing most of the Android system under the ASLv2 open-source license, Google has enabled device manufacturers to customize the Android OS, which helps them differentiate their products.

As the most successful Android device maker ever, Samsung has invested heavily in TouchWiz, which it wraps around Android to add value to its products. The new multiwindow features in the company's Android 4.1.2 update for the Galaxy Note 10.1 push Android's user interface into new territories, adding Windows-like capabilities that are sure to delight many users — and aggravate others.

From a practical point-of-view, I don't find Samsung's multiwindow apps to be of much interest, other than for a few pop-up functions such as a calculator, alarm clock, or other occasional use. That's because I make a habit of organizing my tablet's homescreen such that any tool or app can be launched in a tap or two. Still, I'll be curious to see whether Samsung's newly enhanced multiwindow technologies thrive ...or languish.

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