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Google Testing Split Screen Feature for Android

It’s been only two months since Google rolled out Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but some Googlers are already hinting at some new features that might arrive with Android N, the next update to the operating system. One of those features might be support for a split-screen to enable easier multi-tasking on tablets.

That’s according to a couple of comments made during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit featuring several members of Google’s Pixel C team. The Pixel C, which came out earlier this week, is Google’s first 2-in-1 tablet to run on Android rather than the Chrome OS.

Both Andrew Bowers, director of product management for consumer hardware, and Glen Murphy, director of UX for Android and Chrome, dropped hints about Android N’s coming support for split-screen multi-tasking.

“We’re working hard on a range of enhancements for Android in this form factor — there are many things, like multiwindow, that we’ve been spending a lot of time on — hopefully we can share more about this soon,” Murphy noted during the AMA.

Split Screen ‘In the Works’

Bowers, Murphy and several other Pixel C team members — including Hiroshi Lockheimer, Kevin Tom, Puneet Kumar and Benson Leung — fielded a range of questions during the hour-long AMA yesterday, but spent a significant portion of the time responding to questions about the new Pixel C and some of the criticisms it has drawn.

Ars Technica’s review, for example, called the device “well-built but clunky” and also asked, “with Google’s lackluster app support, does anyone want an Android tablet?”

During the AMA, Reddit user MindAsWell asked whether there were any Android updates the Pixel C team wished they had had available before the device was released Tuesday. .

“We’re working on lots of things right now for N that, of course, we wish we had, you know, yesterday,” Bowers said in response. “But we’d spoil the surprise of N if we shared all of them. Split screen is in the works.”

Tablet Shipments Still Declining

If and when Google’s Pixel C — or any of its other potential Android tablets — begin supporting a split-screen view, they’ll be latecomers to the party: Microsoft’s Windows tablets began offering the feature in 2012, while Apple added it with the release of iOS 9 in September.

The consensus of many participants in yesterday’s AMA was that Microsoft’s Surface tablets remains preferable to the Pixel C and other tablets. In general, however, all the major tablet makers are confronting a declining global market for such devices.

Worldwide tablet shipments in the third quarter of this year dropped by 12.6 percent, according to the analyst firm IDC. Among the reasons for the decline, are competition from ever-larger smartphones and the tendency of tablet owners to hold onto their devices for “upwards of four years.”

“We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world,” Ryan Reith, IDC’s program director for Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, said in late October. “However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear.” There’s also a growing interest in other form factors such as 2-in-1 or detachable tablets, according to IDC.

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