Android 4.2 now supports multi-user account switching for tablets, a great feature that will allow the entire family to share the same device. Similar to the way they can use PCs, consumers can quickly log in and out of accounts, bringing a customized appearance to the desktop and a whole new set of content.
The only problem is that the newest phones in the Nexus lineup show no indication of being able to utilize the feature.
On one hand, maybe phones don't need to be passed around between users as often as something like a tablet would, but the guys over at TechCrunch came up with an interesting theory that might explain the tablet-only preference of the software.
During its involvement with Symbian, Nokia (via ex-Symbian employee Tim Ocock) developed a patent called the "Multi-user mobile telephone." Here's a quick breakdown:
A mobile telephone is designed to be used by several different end-users at different times. A first end-user can alter the mobile telephone so that it operates in a manner specific to that first end-user and a subsequent end-user can alter the mobile telephone so that it operates in a manner specific to that subsequent end-user; each end-user has only to respond to prompts displayed on a screen in order to alter the mobile telephone so that it operates in a manner specific to that end-user.
Android, meanwhile, put the emphasis wholly on tablet-functionality in its recent marketing material:
With support for multiple users, you can give each person their own space. Everyone can have their own homescreen, background, widgets, apps and games - even individual high scores and levels! And since Android is built with multitasking at its core, it's a snap to switch between users - no need to log in and out. Available only on tablets.
If you weren't aware, Android and related companies have already had a few high-profile patent cases, so the decision to limit the functionality to tablet-only might be a matter of protecting the interests of everyone involved. Though Nokia / Symbian were working on technology that the companies felt would be expensive enough for families to want to share in order to bring down costs, the implications of the patent certainly extend into today's mobile-device climate.
Here's more from Nokia / Symbian's patent:
The present invention therefore moves away from the established assumption that a mobile telephone is personal to a single end-user and instead readily allows the mobile telephone to be used by several end-users through appropriate on-screen prompts. Such a device may be especially relevant to communities where few individuals can afford the cost of their own personal telephone. More generally, it is useful for any entity to whom there are benefits from being able to easily share mobile telephones across multiple end-users (e.g. large corporation may have a pool of such mobile telephones; any employee can then simply pick up one of these telephones and be able to use it like a personal device).
Will we see a multi-user interface on phones? Certainly not yet, and it may end up being rather costly for Android to make the option available.