Android 15 could include a desktop mode — but what for?

If there was ever a “will they, won’t they?” love story in mobile computing, it’s definitely Google’s on and off again relationship with Android’s desktop mode. There have been countless hints, efforts, and code pertaining to the mythical desktop mode for Android, but so far, Google has never flipped the switch and made it available. It’s 2024, Android 15 development is in full swing, and it seems Google and Android’s desktop mode are dating again.

This past spring, Google added DisplayPort support to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro in a Feature Drop update, allowing for easy wired connections to external monitors. Then, tinkering in Android 14 QPR3 Beta 2.1, Mishaal Rahman was able to get a new desktop interface up and running, complete with Android apps running in resizeable floating windows. It’s not confirmed that Android 15 will ship with a built-in desktop mode, but the bones are there. It does make me wonder, though: why? What would a desktop interface add to Android?

↫ Taylor Kerns at Android Police

I’m actually fairly convinced Android could, indeed, serve as an excellent desktop operating system, but without any official backing by Google, it’s always been a massive hack to use Android with a mouse and keyboard. It’s not so much the hardware support – it’s all there – but rather the software support, and the clunky way common Android UI tasks feel when performing them with a mouse. I’ve installed Android desktop ‘distributions’ countless times, and the third-party hacks they use, like clunky taskbars and custom menus and so on, make for a horrid user experience.

Samsung DEX seems to be the only somewhat successful attempt at adding a desktop mode to Android, but it can’t be installed on any regular PC or laptop, and requires cumbersome cabling or expensive docks, making it more of a curiosity than a true desktop mode in the sense most of us are thinking of. This feature needs to come from Google itself, and it needs to be something third parties can use in their ROMs and x86 builds so we can truly use Android on a desktop.

I don’t believe that’s going to happen, though. It’s clear Google is more interested in pushing Chrome OS for desktop and laptop use, and it seems more likely that any desktop mode that gets added to Android is going to be similar in nature to DEX – something you can only use by hooking up your phone to a display and configuring wireless input devices. Cool, but not exactly something that will turn Android into a desktop contender.

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