Now that the first Android Q beta is here, folks are starting to poke around and see what it can do. Google highlighted some key features related to foldable and multi-screen devices, privacy, and support for new file types. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s also a new Files app, a new way to see how much battery life you have left, the beginnings of a built-in screen recorder, new Always-on Display features (for Pixel phones at least), and much more.

One particularly interesting unannounced feature? Support for a desktop mode that makes Android work a little more like Windows, macOS, or ChromeOS.


As noticed by @Shad0wKn1ght93 on Twitter, the new mode is baked into the Android Open Source Project launcher app. You can enable it in the Android Q emulator by running the following command:

adb shell am start -n “”

You can also activate this mode on a Pixel smartphone running the Android Q beta, but the use of the “SecondaryDisplayLauncher” string suggests that Google didn’t really design this user interface for your smartphone screen.

Rather, it could let you connect your phone to an external display to see a desktop, taskbar, and support for running apps in resizable windows that you can move around the screen.

As the folks at xda-developers note, the current Pixel smartphone lineup doesn’t support display output via the USB port, but I wonder if it might be possible to use a Chromcast or similar device to use desktop mode with a wireless display.

Desktop mode could also make sense for foldable devices, possibly giving you access to a desktop, taskbar, and freeform window support when you’re using a large screen, and a smaller, full-screen view when you fold your device up to use it as a phone with a smaller display.

It’s also possible Google won’t actually make this a user-focused feature. The company first started to include support for running apps in freeform windows in an early preview of Android 7 Nougat, but the company didn’t make the feature public when the operating system launched later in 2016. It was up to independent developers to find ways to enable it.

With five more Android Q beta released to go until the operating system is finalized, it’s a little too early to say whether desktop mode will make the final release this time.

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15 replies on “Android Q has a desktop mode”

  1. I was able to run desktop mode using a chromecast …
    for me it makes a lot of sense using the smartphone as worksatiton for work.
    Anyway I make a suggestion nunvem. for a perfect case I just need a case
    monitor + keyboard

  2. It’s a neat concept, and the Samsung DeX interface is already fairly refined. However, I have some concerns.
    When you are in desktop mode on a screen, you are basically opening up all nearby eyes to your private life. I’m not sure I want my friends or coworkers to be seeing my private text messages and email notifications.

    The concept would be great on one of those new portable monitors. But if I’m going to carry around a portable monitor, then it begs the question: why don’t I just carry around an equally-weighted laptop? Or a Chrome-OS tablet?

    1. I use DeX on a daily basis, and to tell you the truth I use most apps fullscreen and most of the time it’s the browser. Not that different from a deaktop.

    2. I use Dex (S9+) along with an HP Lapdock and a small BT mouse. Sooo good. Charges my phone while using the lapdock’s keyboard and screen. The touchpad doesn’t support the physical buttons hence the use of a more comfy mouse but the whole thing is so usable. I use it daily at work. No need for a Dex dock.

  3. I keep thinking that I want this feature so that I could carry around a folding keyboard and then work at any display with an hdmi connector, but in practice I’ll still get much more utility out of my laptop when travelling (waiting for planes, sitting on trains, sat in presentations) that I’ll always have it with me, so I’d just be carrying the keyboard and cables as extra weight.

    1. I had this epiphany about 5-10 years ago.

      Firstly, I was fascinated about getting a flagship phone (minus the touchscreen, battery, SIM card) squeezed into the size of a USB stick. Basically a real Liliputer. It would have a HDMI plug, and be powered by the TV or Monitor. You could do all your work, shifting your data by travelling from one screen to another with a one plug experience. However, it later became apparent this was a toy for enthusiasts like me. And we hit a wall in terms of power delivery from the HDMI port and USB ports.

      Then I thought this dilemma was solved once phones got more powerful and we had a Unified Wireless HDMI Standard (it was called Miracast). Now you could watch a 1080p YouTube video on your phone, and just beam it to any nearby TV or Monitor. Or use a gamepad to play a game while streaming it to a nearby TV or Monitor. Or walk into your presentation, and effortlessly beam your work to the projector. Unfortunately, there were latency issues with the protocol. Not to mention artefacts and some glitches. And the worst offender was the lack of support for the Miracast protocol from Projectors, Monitors, and TV’s not to mention Phones, Tablets, and Laptops.

      ….Now I’m not as hopeful, and quite more pessimistic (realistic?) when it comes to technology.
      I don’t think we’re going to have a fast, stable, reliable internet and wireless standards in the near future. So its always going to be a better experience relying on dedicated hardware (ie Laptops) for such tasks. While phones will/are the de facto computing platform internationally, that’s akin to saying most people own hatchbacks around the world…. yet, there will always be a market for trucks and tractors (Laptops, Consoles, All-in-Ones, Desktops etc etc).

  4. My non-tech users want Andoird desktops, but precisely to get the same UI as on their phones and tablets. SO this is exactly the opposite of what’s needed.

    1. Yeah, but their high-DPI devices mirrored to a huge screen would make a horrible interface with buttons the size of their heads and fonts as big as on a billboard. Just try to mirror your phone to a chromecast on a big TV.

      1. Agreed screen mirroring isn’t a solution either.
        But a low-DPI, large-screen option would be. I managed to do that on one Android TV box and it works OK for a very basic user such a my elderly mom, she prefers it over her Windows PC. But it’s a bit of a hack (I built that off an Android TV box) and the hardware is 3rd-rate.
        I’d have gone for a ChromeBox if that didn’t mean yet another OS to learn, different UI and apps, and iffy Android compatibility.

    2. Google isn’t innovating products for your users, because that already exists. Buy a $35 Android box from China. There are many options for your plebeian users.

      1. You seem well informed. Which $35 box would you recommend ?
        Of course, it needs to run regular Andorid, not Android-TV; and to have reasonable oomph (at least 3GB RAM, referrably 4, and A72 or better cores). But you already knew that.

  5. > Desktop mode could also make sense for foldable devices

    It bothers me to consider the possibility that Google could have created this long ago to enable greater productivity on tablets but waited until it was a value add-on for handhelds. Lots of factors go into a decision like this, including competing against their own ChromeOS, fending off future IP challenges from partner-competitors (Samsung DeX) and more.

    Still… happy to see this finally emerge. Would be great if, like Material Design, they could push developers to embrace external mouse support in their apps too.

    1. I think its a little early to suggest that this feature is even intended at all for phones and tablets.

      If it turns out that Google is going to start promoting the idea of tablets with an Android desktop-mode running on the tablet screen itself, then yes I would say we could have used this feature years ago.

      If this is something that is going to be a DeX-style feature that allows you to plug your device into a monitor, and use it only in that way… well I would say this idea is not exactly late to the game. There are many factors that lead up to Google being able to offer a feature such as that, mostly hardware compatibility. There are very few phones out there that are equipped to offer such a feature via their USB-C port. None of Google’s own phones are currently capable of outputting video via their USB-C port.

      I’m hopeful that this is not going to be either of those concepts, but rather a new device concept. Maybe a pocket-size Chromecast PC (like the idea of those mini HDMI Dongle-PCs that were all the rage a few years ago, but no HDMI port, just a battery powered, pocket sized device that casts a desktop-OS to your TV or monitor)

    1. It sure could! 🙂 Although you can already force desktop mode on the Gemini and Cosmo by connecting it to a display and using OIX, but it would be nice to have it on the main screen as well 🙂

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