Google’s Android operating system was originally designed for smartphones, but eventually found its way to tablets and smart TV devices. Google has long insisted that it’s not an operating system for laptops and desktops, instead positioning Chrome OS as its operating system for PCs… but that could change in the future.

While digging into the recently released Android 13 Developer Preview 2, Mishaal Rahman uncovered a custom user interface for Android that only appears when the operating system is installed on a PC.

Android 13 Developer Preview 2 PC user interface
Mishaal Rahman / Esper

It’s not a big change from the tablet-optimized user interface that arrived with Android 12L. In both user interfaces, there’s a taskbar at the bottom of screen with icons for currently-running apps and shortcuts for pinned apps, allowing you to quickly switch between apps.

What’s different with Android 13 for PCs is that you’ll also see notification and quick settings icons on the right side of the taskbar, allowing you to quickly access those functions on a PC without reaching up to the top of the screen.

Rahman note that apps also open in “freeform” windowed mode by default when you’re running Android 13 DP2 on a PC. While Android apps are typically designed to run in full-screen mode, opening them in “freeform” puts each app in a resizable window that can be positioned anywhere on the screen, allowing you to view multiple apps at once, tile them, or arrange them any way you’d like… much the way you can arrange Windows, Linux, or macOS apps.

Freeform mode has been included in Android since Google released Android 7.0, but it’s been hidden by default. It looks like that could finally change with Android 13… unless all this PC mode stuff is just a developer preview feature that will disappear by the time Android 13 is released to the stable channel later this year.

While Google hasn’t officially supported Android on PCs in the past, that hasn’t stopped a handful of companies from shipping notebooks powered by the operating system over the years. And third-party developers like the folks behind the Android-x86 and Bliss OS projects have been porting Android to PCs for years.

Google has also made the lines between its mobile and PC operating systems a blurrier in recent years by first making it possible for users to run Android apps on a Chromebook, and then optimizing Chrome OS for tablets.

You can already buy Chromebooks that are actually 2-in-1 tablets (or even standalone tablets without a keyboard). If Google really does release Android 13 as a PC-friendly operating system and device makers start to ship Android laptops, then it’ll be increasingly unclear why Google bothers to maintain two different operating systems.

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5 replies on “Android 13 has a PC user interface that’s shown on laptop and desktop computers”

  1. Maybe they’ll stop playing around with the “concept” of Pixel phones being able to output a desktop mode through USB-C since Samsung has had it for several generations and even Motorola has a version now. Somehow, I doubt it, though.

    1. They might let you output the whole “desktop” but they’d make you buy a chromecast dongle to do it. It’s why they’d actually disabled the ability to output video on pixel phones with SoCs that had it by default. To sell chromecast dongles.

    2. On their last phone, the V60, LG had a pretty decent desktop mode for external displays, too.

      1. ZTE and Huawei also have desktop experiences (even if Huawei isn’t officially “Android” anymore)

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