Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Google eyes split-screen feature for Android tablets

Windows tablets and the latest iPads already can display two apps at the same time. With the next major release of its mobile operating system, Google could catch up.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read
Google Pixel C
Enlarge Image
Google Pixel C

The next version of Android may offer a split-screen mode for tablets.

Josh Miller/CNET

Google aims to keep pace with Microsoft and Apple by adding a way for Android tablet users to view and work with two apps side-by-side.

A pair of Google staffers spilled the beans in a Reddit discussion on Thursday, teasing that a split screen is in the works for next year's major upgrade to Android to version 7.0. Since each new version launches around October or November, that means Android users may have to wait almost a year before the feature is available.

"We're working hard on a range of enhancements for Android in this form factor," Android and Chrome UX director Glen Murphy said, referring to Google's new Pixel C tablet equipped with a 10.2-inch screen. A "multiwindow" capability, he said, is something "we've been spending a lot of time on -- hopefully we can share more about this soon."

Andrew Bowers, Google's director of product management for consumer hardware, revealed more specifics. He told the Reddit audience that "we're working on lots of things right now for N" -- referring to the next major release of Android -- "that, of course, we wish we had, you know, yesterday. But we'd spoil the surprise of N if we shared all of them. Split screen is in the works!"

With tablet sales dwindling, Google and other manufacturers have been looking for ways to boost demand. One tack they're taking is to make the devices function more like laptops via attachable keyboards and other features that can help users accomplish workday tasks. By allowing multitasking, split screen lets a tablet better emulate the experience of a PC. It's something that Microsoft and Apple already offer, so Google is playing catchup in bringing the option to Android tablets.

Split screen has been available on Windows tablets via a feature called Snap Assist since Windows 8 debuted in 2012. Users can open one app and then snap a second app onto the screen, viewing them both at the same time. Windows 10 enhanced the feature by adding the ability to snap up to four apps on the screen at the same time.

Apple got into the split-screen game with the release of its iOS 9 software in September. Displaying two apps together, the Split View feature is available for this year's iPad Pro and the iPad Mini 4 as well as last year's iPad Air 2. Another, more limited feature, dubbed Slide Over, supports a wider range of iPads, but the second app opens in a small right pane with no option to resize it. The first app also gets dimmed out, so you can only work with the second app.

Google usually reveals tidbits about the next version of Android at its I/O conference in May or June, so we might get to see the split-view feature in action at that point if it becomes a reality.

Google did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.