The addition of a split-screen feature to the underlying Android ecosystem was among the biggest additions since its inception but how does one actually access the feature. In fact, it was a big enough addition that it was eventually added to Chromebooks via an Android update too. And, of course, it works as well with Android tablet hardware as with phones. But it's not necessarily well-explained anywhere in the UI.
There are some differences between how OEMs have implemented the tool. And that's exactly why this guide exists. To examine and parse out the primary ways the feature is implemented and how you can access it.
For clarity, the split-screen feature we're talking about in this article was added way back in Android 7.0. Summarily, it allows users to open more than one app simultaneously. And, in some cases, for those apps to run simultaneously. That way, users can multitask, regardless of what they're trying to do.
For instance, a user might open up a finance-related app such as a spreadsheet or bank app. They might then open up a calculator or another finance app. All of the information that might be needed to set up a budget or check balances can, effectively, be open and on-screen at once. And users just need to navigate each as they normally would but without alternating between different apps through the Recent Apps view.
Conversely, a user might open up a YouTube video or some other media app on their smartphone. If a text message or other message comes in, they can then use the split-screen tool to respond in a larger format than the notifications shade allows for, all while continuing to watch or listen.
Here's how to use split-screen on your Android phone
How this feature appears on your Android phone, exactly, will effectively fall into two categories. There will, of course, be just a few exceptions to that, depending mostly on OEM integration of the feature. But, since Google baked split-screen into Android now, it should appear on just about every new Android smartphone.
It's worth bearing in mind, as well, that not every app supports split-screen. Others that do support split-screen on Android smartphones don't necessarily support it well. Those that don't support the feature will simply not be openable in a split-screen view. For those that do, but with issues, apps may appear stretched or shrunken down, not filling the entire available space.
There's not always an easy or clear way to see which apps don't support it or will have problems either. So getting a handle on how any specific app, phone, or game handles multitasking via split-screen may require some experimentation.
With that said, the process itself couldn't be simpler, if not more intuitive. To open apps in split-screen, users must first;
- Open the app you'd like to start with, to occupy one of the two split screens. We're showing two ways to accomplish the next step. For one example, the first app we've opened is a game called Pocket Ants. For the other, we've selected the game Free Rider HD as our initial app.
- Open Recent Apps view.
- For phones with gesture navigation, that requires a short swipe-up-and-hold gesture. Starting with your finger near the bottom of the display, move your finger upward a few centimeters and hold. Recent Apps view should open up
- Phones with icon-based navigation work a bit differently. The Recent Apps view is typically represented as three lines in a horizontal or vertical orientation
From there, there are two separate ways we'll cover for actually entering split-screen mode. Nearly every phone should utilize one of these two methods. Although there are some examples, such as Xiaomi devices, where a long-press on the app thumbnail itself is required.
First, to enter into split-screen mode using the first type of Recent Apps view;
- After opening the Recent Apps view, locate the first app to remain open in a split-screen view. As noted above, this first example is using the game Pocket Ants.
- Tap or long-press the app icon, located above the thumbnail image of the desired app
- From the resulting drop-down menu, skip past "App info," Pause app," or any other available options. Select "Split screen"
For the second split-screen method, users will need to;
- After opening the Recent Apps view, locate the first app desired. As noted above, this example will utilize the game "Free Rider HD"
- Tap or long-press the dash or dot icon next to the desired app icon. Typically, that will be located above the thumbnail of the desired app
- Once that's complete, from the resulting drop-down menu, skip past other available options to select "Split screen"
After opening the first of the two apps, the method for controlling and accessing other applications is a bit different from device to device. They should, however, look and function similarly, regardless of the device used. We'll cover methods in two different forms here, the first using a pure stock Android on Pixel 5.
- After selecting "Split screen" as denoted above, the first of the apps should shrink to fill the top of the screen
- Android will display the Recent Apps view on the lower segment of the display, swiping up or tapping the home icon will take users back to the main screen to select an app that hasn't been opened recently
- For our example, I chose another game — titled "Killer Sudoku" — and that app fills the lower portion of the display after being selected
- Now, the display shows a central line splitting the two apps. Android enables that line to be touched-and-dragged to resize the two apps based on individual needs, although some resizing does cause major issues in some apps. Once resized, the apps can be used as normal, each occupying a different part of the screen
- To switch back to a full-screen view of either app, drag the line all the way to the opposing edge. For our example, I dragged the line away from Ariel Games' Pocket Ants until the game filled the entire screen. It's also possible to close one of the two apps by navigating back to the home screen. From there, users need to swipe the remaining app to effectively minimize the app until it disappears
For non-stock Android, there are typically a few differences. Not least of all, some OEMs display options directly in the UI to switch between recent and all supported apps. And a tap on the center bar will sometimes yield further options, such as locking options for aspect ratio or for keeping the app open in split-screen view.
Google has other big changes coming for these features too
The split-screen features as they're currently found on Android smartphones are already useful. The feature provides a way to get two things done at once, whether multitasking for productivity or for entertainment. Or more, for those phones that have a floating window option for apps and a big enough screen. But Google has plans to make things even better in Android 12 with a feature dubbed App Pairs.
Now, App Pairs is expected to land in some form in the developer preview version of next-generation Android in the coming months. So there's no tutorial on that process just yet. Google may not end up releasing this feature at all, in fact. That is, as often as not, the case with features spotted in the code prior to release. If and once Google does release it, this article will be updated with steps to navigate the new UI.
In the meantime, App Pairs is exactly what its branding implies. It will be a new split-screen feature that works a bit differently by adding the ability to create App Pairs. Those pairs of apps will be persistent. So, unlike current split-screen apps, users will be able to navigate away from the pairing and come back via the Recent Apps view. In effect, the pairing will run just like a single standalone app.
How Google will implement App Pairs and what extra features it might bring along for the ride, however, is still up in the air.
For example, it isn't immediately clear whether those app pairs will be storable on the home screen or elsewhere for easy launching, once closed. Also unclear is how the UI will look and what other interactions will be available. But the ability to keep two apps paired at once will do a lot for multitasking on Android. So users who want extra features will want to keep an eye on news surrounding Android 12 in the lead-up to its announcement and launch.