Android N has been available in the form of a Developer Preview now for a few weeks and is already in to its second preview. Part of this upcoming major software update is the baked-in ability to have two apps side-by-side on the screen, otherwise known as split-screen multitasking. Here’s how you use it…
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It’s important to note that, because this is beta software for now, the methods and exact UI may change over time, but we’ll be sure to update this guide with any changes if they’re going to impact you by the time the software is available as a public release.
It’s also worth noting that apps need to have split-screen compatibility. While many apps will support the feature once it’s a publicly available OS, there are plenty of third party apps that simply don’t support it at time of writing.
As of right now, there are a couple of methods for activating split screen.
Method 1 – Drag and Drop
Within Android N, when using any app, or even on the home screen, tap the app-switcher icon (that’s the square one on the bottom right of the screen in most phones). This launches the familiar card-based multitasking window.
Tap and hold one of the apps that you’d like to have onscreen, then drag it up to the top of the screen. Once you’ve done that, the app will take up the top half of your display (assuming you’re holding it in portrait and not landscape mode). The bottom half will show the app-switching screen.
Tap on the second app you’d like to have onscreen, then you’ll have two apps running side-by-side on the same screen.
Method 2 – Swipe up
The second method is much easier, once it’s been activated. To do that, you first have to enable System UI Tuner in settings. This means you need to swipe down from the top of your screen until the full notification shade and quick settings screen are on display.
You’ll notice a settings cog in the top right corner*. Press and hold this icon for a few seconds until it starts spinning. Let go, and you’ll see a pop up alert onscreen for a short while telling you System UI Tuner has been added to your settings options.
Once System UI Tuner is active, go to Settings>System UI Tuner>Other, then tap the toggle to ‘Enable split-screen swipe-up gesture’.
*If pressing and holding the cog doesn’t work, head to Settings>About phone and find ‘Build number’ at the bottom of the screen. Tap it multiple times until it says “Congratulations, you are now a developer”, then try pressing and holding the settings cog in the drop-down window again.
Once active you can simply swipe up from the app-switching button (that square one again) when you’re using any app and it’ll launch the split-screen mode.
Just press and hold the app switching button.
Adjusting, Swapping apps and Deactivating
While the apps each take up an equal portion of the screen with a split right in the middle as default, you can adjust where you want the split to be by touching and holding the middle split and moving it where ever you want.
What’s more, as hinted at previously, this works in portrait or landscape mode. Rotate your phone so that it’s horizontal, and the split-screen apps arrange themselves side-by-side instead of being stacked vertically.
With the split-screen activated, you’ll notice that the app-switching single square icon has turned in to two parallel rectangles.
When active, you can hide the apps to view your home screen by pressing the home button (the round one in the middle). This is also useful if the app you want to launch isn’t already active, or you want to chose an alternative secondary app. The running apps simply push off the screen and you can go look for the app you want, and it’ll launch as the secondary application.
There are a couple of methods of cancelling split-screen mode. First of all, you can press and hold the split-screen app-switching (those two rectangles). Second, you can just drag the app-splitter until it’s right at the top or at the bottom of the screen, filling your display with a single app.
That’s pretty much all there is to it for now. Once split-screen mode is active, you can use it to copy and paste information quickly between apps without having to keep switching between individual full-screen apps. You can search for directions in Maps while chatting to a friend on Hangouts, or Messenger. You can even read a book while looking up a definition online or using a thesaurus/dictionary to find synonyms and descriptions. Of course, it’s built specifically with tablets in mind, but for those of us with large-screened phones, it’s a great tool to have.
If you have a Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X or Nexus 6 phone, Pixel C or Nexus 9 tablet, the factory images are available to download right now. If you haven’t tried Android Developer Preview yet, you can sign up to join the beta program really easily by visiting google.com/android/beta, and have the software delivered to your phone without any complicated manual flashing.