This fall Google will released the next version of its Android operating system, code-named Android M. There are plenty of new features including settings that give users more control over app permissions, automatic app data backups, improved support for external storage, and more.

Most of the new features are available for smartphones and tablets. But there are a few items that are only available for tablet users.

Split Screen Keyboard

Android M 3

On tablets, it is harder to stretch your thumbs across the keyboard screen for typing while holding the device. So, Google has added the option to enable a split-screen keyboard so you don’t have to stretch as far.

Go to the Settings app. Under the “Personal” section, tap Language & Input. From the “Keyboard & input methods” section, tap Google Keyboard to access available options. Then, select “Appearance & layouts.” Toggle Enable split keyboard function on.

Unfortunately, the split keyboard will always be on once enabled. It would be nice if Android had the option of using a gesture, like pinching out on the keyboard, to enable split screen, and then pinching in to revert to the traditional keyboard. Maybe someday.

Notification Tray Changes

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Android M on tablets displays the the notification tray from the top bar anywhere you place your finger. It is most noticeable in landscape mode.

Place your finger anywhere at the top of the screen and the notification tray will drop down in that exact location instead of defaulting to the center of the screen.

Multi-Window Mode

Android M 1

Multi-window mode is not fully realized in Android M just yet. But if you take the steps to enable multi-window support, you’ll notice that tablet users get more options than smartphone users.

As noted in our previous coverage of the feature, users have to go through some fairly complicated steps in order to reveal the multi-window toggle switch in the developer options.

After editing the build.prop of the device and changing the user type from “userbuild” to “userdebug,” you can access the multi-window mode under the “Drawing” section of the developer options.

Once enabled, tap the recent apps button. You will see a square box next to each open app. Tap the box to access multi-window mode.

If you do this on a smartphone, you can run up to two apps in a split-screen view, with one app on top and another on bottom. Tablet users have four options, allowing them to see up to four apps, including side-by-side split screen and one of the four corners of the screen.

Multi-window mode is still in an early stage of development and has a lot of bugs. However, it is evidence that Google is working on multi-window mode, so the feature should be available by the time Android M is ready for public use.

The Android M developer preview is currently available for Nexus 5 and 6 smartphones, as well as the Nexus 9 tablet or a Google Nexus Player Android TV box.

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12 replies on “These 3 Android M features are tablet-only”

  1. The split keyboard is a nice improvement (finally). However, when using gesture typing the most annoying thing is the monstrous keyboard on tablets, especially in landscape mode. I want a 4-inch wide keyboard on tablets so I don’t look like a maniacal finger painter when I gesture type.

    1. SwiftKey allows you to resize as you describe, AND undock the keyboard. I have mine set to phone sized so that g gestures are consistent.
      The other upside of undocking is that you reclaim the screen area around it.
      If you gesture type you’ll never look back.

  2. Wow, this multi-window thing could really catch on…. hmm. haven’t we seen this before somewhere? Reinventing the traditional desktop, poorly. Oh well, better late than never.

    Now that tablets (Apple is doing split screen now, Samsung has offered it for some time, etc.) are rediscovering the joy of multiple apps on screen at once, could we get the desktop operating systems to realize emulating a tablet model that isn’t even working on tablets anymore is the wrong path and go back to a normal desktop again?

    1. I feel the same exact way. As a long time Mac person who loathes iOS, I feel that Apple renders each subsequent version of their operating system more unusable the more they make it like iOS. Tablet interfaces are a massive speedbump for power users who are used to true desktop multitasking and productivity.

    2. The problem is very few companies think for themselves. Someone comes up with a new product. It starts selling, and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Just because it’s selling, companies automatically think that’s what people want. The problem is that a lot of these product selling booms are driven by fad, not by the practicality of the product. I think the tablet fad is coming to an end (and the Smart Watch fad is gearing up). I think we will continue to see tablets produced, but I expect to see a lot of manufacturers scale back or completely exit the tablet space. I know tablets make sense for some people. I have some, and there are some uses that they are good for, but I want a real desktop/laptop and a real desktop OS when I want to do something productive. To show how bad the situation has become, Ubuntu Unity was heavily criticized when it came out in 2010 because it hampered productivity and users felt it dumbed down the desktop too much. I think Unity is substantially better than Windows 8/8.1. I think Microsoft has realized their error, and I’m expecting Windows 10 to be much better, but I doubt we will ever get back to the desktop being wholly designed for productivity.

      1. For some perhaps, I run Linux though and after the Gnomes went mad I just switched to XFCE (which is pretty good stuff, btw) for a year or so until Mate was forked out of the last working Gnome release, stabilized and merged back into the repositories. There is no productivity loss because literally nothing is different anymore. Mate isn’t similar to what came before, it IS what Gnome was right at the moment when they caught tablet madness. Open Source doesn’t die from corporate stupidity, it forks.

        Imagine what would have happened if the source for Windows were widely available when Window 8 was crammed into the retail (corporate users generally skipped both Vista and 8, business users are allowed to install any version that want) channel. The users would have won, which is why it will never happen.

        1. Whilst open source can be great, the people who preferred the windows 7 start menu could download a free utility in 5 minutes to do this, which is much easier than installing a different operating system.

          Businesses *always* lag behind new versions of windows, because they need to test it works on everything (and in some cases also cost reasons). It’s nothing to do with dislike of start menu changes, workers don’t get a choice to upgrade their work machines. With slow update time, this means a version with a shorter shelf life is skipped. E.g., we skipped vista, but that had nothing to do with the fud about vista, it was because of some compatibility issue with our custom development environment that we had to fix – we actually kept with xp until 2012, long after 7 became available.

          I hated the windows xp start menu, but I don’t try to create this mirage of how everything agreed with me and how xp was some great failure. It’s an opinion. (And XP was hated upon arrival – every new version of windows is hated by the vocal minority, then years later history is revised if necessary.)

      2. But that’s what I love about windows 8, there’s a tablet interface if I need it, but I can also drop into windowed “desktop” mode on my tablet, far more powerful than any android or ios tablet (and on my laptop I can stay in desktop mode all the time). Windows 10 improves on this, allowing modern apps to run in windowed mode. I don’t see anything that is worse for productivity over 7 (and plenty of things that improve productivity, e.g., start menu can make full use of the screen, tiles can display interactive info, the new right click power menu, improved task manager, faster start up, support for metred networks).

        The thing I hated about unity was the DPI scaling when showing icons seemed all wrong (just like on ipads – an oversized phone), so you could only see a few on screen. The other new feature where apps could be pinned to the side bar is actually comparable to windows 7’s pin to taskbar feature.

  3. They really need to deal with the onscreen buttons already, at least in landscape mode, it”s way too much wasted space on sane ARs. It’s been almost 4.5 years since Android went tablet, it’s time.

    1. Pie control! ! !

      Guess they think that is to difficult for users?

      All I know is, I use pie control instead of the buttons on my device 99% of the time, and I literally can’t use the device well when pie control is disabled–always the first thing to get up and running!

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