Update: Freeform is mentioned in the Android N developer documents as a mode that manufacturers of larger devices can enable to allow users to freely resize an app.
Android N will bring a much-needed split-screen mode to tablets when it comes out this summer, but Google might have more ambitious plans as code references to “freeform windows” were discovered by Ars Technica in the Android N Developer Preview.
Specifically, there are many references to “experimental freeform windows” in the framework-res.apk, SystemUI, and SetupWizard. In settings, presumably in the System UI Tuner, the option to Enable freeform windows is hidden. There are also references to close and maximize buttons. The end result would be an interface quite similar to Chrome OS in tablet mode or the work Remix OS has been doing.
In the first Android N Developer Preview, the screen can be divided into thirds or half. It is possible that freeform windows would allow more size options, but it alternatively could also be an attempt to create a desktop interface for Android.
Last year, the WSJ reported that Google was going to merge Chrome OS into Android. Google vehemently denied those rumors, however, with Hiroshi Lockheimer saying, “there’s no plan to phase out Chrome OS.” A merger would have given Android much-needed windowing capabilities. However, as Android N already features a robust split-screen mode, it seems more likely that freeform windows are just an expansion of those features, most likely for a tablet interface.
Whatever the use, Ars was unable to get freeform windows working. With the Android M previews, developers were able to get split-screen mode working by changing the pertinent setting from “false” to “true.” In this case, the dev tools are too new and incapable of decompiling an Android N APK to change the setting.
It’s possible that future developer previews will enable the feature. Either way, freeform windows sounds like a great addition for tablets interfaces.