Multi-window support coming to some Android tablets with Rockchip CPUs

Google Android has long supported multi-tasking. On most phones and tablets that just means an app can run in the background while you’re using another in the foreground (for instance you can listen to music while you surf the web).

A few software makers have added support for mini-apps that can run in small windows on top of other apps. But it looks like Chinese tablet maker Chuwi plans to bring support for running any app in a small window — much the way you can do on a Windows or OS X computer.

As Mike Cane points out, it’s likely that this feature doesn’t come from Chuwi itself, but rather from the folks at chip maker Rockchip. That means we could see support for running apps in windows on many more tablets, phones, and TV boxes soon.

Chuwi and Rockchip multi-window apps

Rockchip was showing off an early version of this technology at CES in January. The company showed me a tablet prototype with an RK3188 quad-core processor and demonstrated how you could play a video, shrink the video window and move it anywhere on the screen so that you could keep watching while using a different app.

But that demo seems pretty primitive compared with what Chuwi is showing off now. A series of screenshots show apps including the Android calendar, web browser, media player, calculator, and clock running in windows. These windows can be moved anywhere on the screen or resized to take up more or less space.

rwin_01

Overall it makes Android look a lot more like a desktop operating system such as Windows 8, OS X, or Ubuntu.

Since Android is open source software, there’s nothing stopping a company like Rockchip from modifying it to add support for this type of feature. What remains to be seen is whether problems will arise from running apps in a way that Google and app developers may not have intended.

When the folks behind CyanogenMod started working to use the Cornerstone framework to add support for windowed apps to their custom version of Android, they met resistance from Google and eventually scrapped the project.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible to bring support for multi-window apps to Android in a way that doesn’t get on Google’s bad side. But it’s also not clear if the folks at Rockchip really care.

There are plenty of companies that take Google’s code, modify it, and release something that hardly looks like Android at all, even if it means losing access to Google apps that aren’t open source, such as the Play Store and Google Maps. For instance the Amazon Kindle Fire line of tablets run heavily modified versions of Android, and both Ubuntu Phone OS and Firefox OS use some Android code.

Anyway, support for running apps in windows could be a way for companies selling device with Rockchip processors to differentiate themselves. While the feature could come in handy on tablets, it could be something of a game-changer on Android TV boxes which are sort of like tiny Android desktop computers that let you run apps on a big screen.

Support for running those apps in windows really could make some of these devices feel more like cheap desktop PC replacements.

It looks like the new feature could be available for devices with Rockchip’s RK3188 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processor and RK3168 ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core CPU.

Update: Mike Cane also found some videos showing the new apps running in movable, resizeable windows popped up on YouTube this week.

via HQSQ

  • ricord

    Very interesting for android notebook.

  • Arrdee

    Some Galaxy Note devices have supported this for a while too. Looks as if those use a Exynos quad-core processor, so while I’m not a chip-meister I suspect the issue is more about UI software than hardware.

    http://www.samsung.com/global/microsite/galaxynote/note_10.1/index.html?type=find

  • John Morris

    Time to find out if Google is really running an Open Source OS project or is just another Microsoft or Apple. While this would be a bad idea on a phone, a tablet really needs this and for any noteboot, netbook, or other traditional ‘desktop’ use it makes it something practical.

  • Noloqoq

    Galaxy note 10.1 support this feature since about one year. And more and more applicatin try to be compatible with samsung multi window,

  • Tsais

    Excellent move, whoever is behind it.

    I do use Samsung’s multi window feature on my Note II, but it could be done better still.

  • dgdr

    it is a bit too complicated, and the screen is too small to read… hmmm
    did android suppose to do this?

  • alexxx

    that is true Arrdee it is not hardware it is software, the ui. Acer when it presented is new phone/tablet the liquid s1 the the representative of Acer/Mediatek he said that they add a feature in the ui to open multi windows in android.

  • alexxx

    in the youtube video description it said that is an update for Android 5.0 But this isn’t 5.0. It’s a Rockchip update for Android 4.2.2 that is adding multiwindows.

  • Josh Brown

    What about the RK3166 all the MK808′s out there.