Back in 2009, LG launched a high profile feature phone, the BL40 Chocolate Touch, an obscenely long handset with what LG touted as a unique “dual-screen” UI. While LG’s long lost the lead in mobile, this feature: a two column view making full use of a large screen, has popped up in the unlikeliest of successors, the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The Pop-up Play feature included on the new Android flagship launched last night gives you the ability to push a video into a floating window and continue to use other apps around it on the phone’s giant 4.8-inch screen. It’s awesome. As we said last night, it’s the reason for quad-core phones.
But it also points to something else: phones are getting so powerful, and users so demanding, that sooner or later this split-screen functionality is sure to become standard, just as it has on the desktop. The question is, who’s going to jump first, Google, Apple, or Microsoft?
Samsung’s implementation on the Galaxy S3 is well thought out: with a tap, a video becomes a small window you can move around so you can text, chat or surf the web, with no sign of slow down. It could be improved further of course: there’s no indication it works with Flash videos or those played inside other apps (such as the shonky BBC iPlayer Android app). But Samsung is clearly reacting to what it thinks users will like, and from our hands on time with the device, we think they really will like it.
And if they do, the possibilities are endless. Tweetstream windows side by side with the TV stream you’re watching, IM chat sessions next to a browser window. So long as the screen is big enough, of course, but as “typical” screen sizes get closer and closer to five inches that should cease to be a problem.
So this is the start of a trend: who’s going to take up the challenge and flatter Samsung with imitation? Just last week we saw an amazing iPad jailbreak which let you run side by side iPhone apps on Apple’s table. But I think it’s unlikely we’ll see this from Cupertino. After all, in OS X Lion, its push to full-screen apps that you swipe between with a three finger stroke on the touchpad suggests it’d go the other way. Its vision? Easy swiping between apps; it’s certainly a bit more elegant than floating windows on very small screens.
On the iPad running iOS 5, you can swipe with four fingers between apps for quick multitasking, and it seems likely Apple would want to bring this to the iPhone at some point; there are already jailbreak solutions for the iPhone that do this too. Probably when the iPhone, as rumoured, moves up a screen size.
Google’s a potential candidate. The next version of Android, Jellybean, may well debut before the end of the year. I wrote about Samsung’s huge significance to Android last night, and Google could well adopt some form of this picture-in-picture skill into it, given its stance towards full multitasking – by contrast, multi-tasking on iOS and Windows Phone is still very much “on rails”, albeit cleverly done.
Actually though, it could well be Microsoft who uses something like this. The next version of Windows Phone, codenamed “Apollo”, is expected to be a huge revamp with close Windows 8 integration. And Windows 8 on ARM-based mobile tablets boasts something very interesting indeed: “snap” multitasking, which lets you run two apps side by side on screen at once.
On a Windows Phone with a huge screen, such as a HTC Titan or a Nokia Lumia 900, I could see Microsoft implementing something very similar, if not in Apollo, then somewhere in the near future, to keep the Windows 8 experience similar across all screens. And that sort of productivity boost could be just what Windows Phone needs, given the current grim app outlook for the platform.
What do you reckon? Are split screen apps the future for smartphones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.