Google’s Pixel C tablet and keyboard dock launched this week to mixed reviews. And I don’t mean some reviewers liked it while others didn’t. I mean almost all reviews I’ve seen have the same mixed opinion about the tablet:

  1. The hardware is great.
  2. The software can’t really take advantage of it.

Fortunately it’s a lot easier to address software deficiencies than hardware ones, and Google says it plans to roll out software updates for the Pixel C about once a month, which means the tablet could get better over time.

One of those updates will bring a key feature that the tablet currently lacks: multi-window support.

pixel c_01

Members of the team that developed the Pixel C are answering questions about the device in an Ask Me Anything session on reddit, and while they won’t spill many details about upcoming software, they do acknowledge that multi-window mode is on the way… although we might have to wait for the next major release of Android to get it, currently code-named “Android N.”

Right now you can only view one app at a time on most Android devices, and that app will most likely take up the full screen of your phone, tablet, or TV. But some companies (like Samsung) have been offering custom versions of android with support for viewing more than one app at a time for a while, and some third-party developers have baked the feature into custom versions of Android like Remix OS.

But Google doesn’t officially supported the feature yet. We’ve known for a while that the company is working on multi-window support for Android though. When Google offered the first preview build of Android 6.0 Marshmallow to the public it included a hidden experimental feature that allowed users to view multiple apps at once. The feature didn’t make it into the final version of Android 6.0 which launched in October.

Now that Google is offering its own Android tablet that comes with a specially designed keyboard that lets you use it like a notebook, it makes sense that the company would want to give users a better way to multitask on devices with a laptop-style layout. You can already do it on Windows tablets and convertibles like the Surface line of devices. And even Apple now offers multi-window mode on its iPads.

Of course lack of multi-window support is only part of the problem with the tablet’s software. The other is that there just aren’t as many good tablet-friendly apps for Android as there are for iOS, because many developers only really focus on creating apps designed for smartphone screens.

The Pixel C team says its hoping that this will change if high-quality Android tablets like the Pixel C are adopted. But I suspect it’d take more than that… Android tablets have been available for a number of years already, and it’s not clear whether shoppers will rush out to buy an expensive new model like the Pixel C (which starts at $499), even if it is cheaper than an iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro.

Here are a few other things I learned from the Pixel C AMA session:

  • The bootloader is based on Coreboot and it’s unlockable, allowing users to load alternate operating systems. The tablet will also be supported by the Android Open Source Project.
  • Right now there’s no support for video output, but the team is working on adding support for USB C to DisplayPort adapters.
  • Double-tap to wake was left out to preserve battery life, since the tablet will wake up when you attach the keyboard anyway.
  • A future software update will add support for using “OK Google” hotword detection when the screen is turned off.

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15 replies on “Google Pixel C team confirms multi-window is coming to Android”

  1. The only good news I see here is the unlocked bootloader. Get Linux on it and you get a desktop browser and mult-window support. Oh wow, Google has discovered the laptop… but they already sell Chromebooks. Now if they hadn’t gimped the keyboard layout to the point you really have to consider getting a generic BT keyboard…..

  2. Give me this hardware, running Remix OS v2 and I’d go and buy one immediately… But with stock android? No change… though that might change if 1) the price comes down 2) software comes up to remix os standard. Oh and of course 3) my remix tab dies.

    1. I wish they’d focus more on making custom roms for existing devices since their hardware is rubbish. I understand that they need to make money, but look at cyanogen they leveraged their large userbase for crowd funding and now their their own corporation. I seriously think if they can get their product into the hands of more users that they really have something. I hope cyanogen buys them out or something since it is a shame that remix os remains largely a niche product..

  3. Yeah, I’ve never understood why there aren’t more Android Tablet optimized apps. Why in the heck devs stop at mobile versions is beyond me??? The tablet platform is never going away, so it makes no sense as to why they stop at the phone UI? Lazy, I guess???

  4. It’s funny how there apparently wasn’t a problem running mobile OSs with one-app-full-screen on 10″ devices for years. I don’t recall Apple being criticised, or Samsung Android tablets (which do have multi-window support) being praised for this.

    Personally I’ve been using Windows and enjoying multi-window on 10″ devices for years, but I don’t see this as something to criticise only Google; all mobile OS tablets (except Samsung) have been late on this. But I guess MS really have turned things around now that everyone’s comparing tablets to Windows tablets – it’s just a shame the mainstream media didn’t realise these issues sooner when they were crawling up Apple’s arse. Better late than never I guess – and I get to say I told you so, whilst the bias of the two-faced Apple media becomes all the more obvious.

  5. NO ACTIVE STYLUS
    NO REGULAR USB PORT
    NO EXPANDABLE STORAGE

    This does not even come close to competing with the Surface or iPad Pro.

    Remember when one of the main complaints about the Surface was the kickstand and how it wasn’t great for laps? What a joke of a device. /rant

    1. Why some people want to write off products because they don’t compete with another product twice the price is beyond me. The Pixel C tablet isn’t even intended to be direct competition to either or the devices you mention. Such a shame all that ranting for nothing.

      1. It’s supposed to be direct competition to the Surface 3, which has all of those things… and a proper tablet OS…

    2. But at least it’s priced comparable to other 10″ mobile tablets, which don’t have those features either. An Ipad RT doesn’t have expandable storage either (does it support regular USB? Google Android devices do support USB OTG). And Apple don’t get to be praised for having a _stylus_ of all things, not after all those years of people saying Apple was better because it didn’t have them!

    3. The iPad Pro has a USB port and expandable storage? What a special retard you are.

      1. I never said the iPad Pro did. The iPad Pro is a stupid device as well. But it will sell well because the iPad ecosystem is well developed and the OS is actually tablet-friendly.

  6. I think all the reviews are fairly misguided on the multi-app moaning. Ipad only recently gained this. For years now there has been article after article about using ipads as productivity machines. Can you? Can’t you? How well? Etc… During that whole period ipad did not have multi-app capability.
    Suddenly now though it is some major problem.
    The real issue with the Pixel C isn’t the lack of multi-app – though that would be nice. It is the absence of desktop class browsing. This would have been better as a ChromeOS device. That would have solved both issues really.
    And that’s the funny thing. Based on coreboot and updating with both features and security every month to six weeks? Does that sound familiar to anyone else? All those articles going off about ChromeOS and Android merging. Well this is one version of it right here I think. I’ll be incredibly curious to see two things from this.
    1. How many feature updates actually come by way of these rolling updates and how they are contrasted to typical Android. Included in this would be how they handle the version numbers.
    2. If any other devices come out with this sort of rolling Android release.
    What would really kick ass at the moment would be if they provisioned a dual-boot ChromeOS/Android capability.

      1. The multi-window in the Samsung tablets I think is actually a wrapper on a native Android windowing feature, but it’s very low level. See apps like Calculator++ (it appears as two apps, one runs in a window) to see a window-over-app style app running on any Android (even stock).

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