Android 12’s hidden app pairs feature is incomplete but promising


In case you missed the deluge of news last week, Google released the first Android 12 Developer Preview, and we’re really excited about all the changes we’ve found so far. One of the changes we heard before launch was a feature called App Pairs. Through our own sources and code analysis from Android 12 Developer Preview 1, we can confirm that the feature is in development. We have even managed to play with it in its unfinished state.

For the sake of it, App Pairs is a new feature in development for Android 12 that will allow you to create a couple of apps to launch in split screen view simultaneously. This app pair acts as one task instead of two, making it easy to restart both apps in split screen view after entering the recent apps overview. You’ll find a similar feature in Samsung’s Android software (debuted on the Galaxy Note 8) and Microsoft’s dual-screen Surface Duo, but Google’s version of the software should be accessible to all devices running Android 12, as long as do it in the stable version.

Using a hidden shell command, we managed to play around with the App Pairs function a bit, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes usable. For one thing, while the two apps are treated as a single task, they aren’t actually grouped together in the recent apps overview. There is still no way (as far as we know) to create a home screen shortcut to launch a couple of apps, but interestingly enough, launching either of the two apps in the pair will restart the app pair.

While third-party alternatives such as “Split Screen Launcher” from developer Francisco Barroso currently provide a superior user interface, they rely on Android’s built-in APIs to manually launch activities in split screen mode one by one. Also, the applications are not grouped together so they are still treated as two separate tasks. That means the app pair is not only a bit slow to launch, but requires activities to refresh if they are relaunched. A proprietary implementation made by Google for all Android 12 devices will certainly be appreciated.

For comparison, here is a video showing my device launching a couple of apps created by the “Split Screen Launcher” app:

And here is a video showing my device launching a couple of apps created by Android 12’s App Pairs feature:

How to Pair App in Android 12 Developer Preview 1

If you want to try building a couple of apps yourself, you’ll need to download and install the first Android 12 Developer Preview. Then, enter ADB shell in a terminal or command prompt on your PC and run the following shell command:

dumpsys activity service SystemUIService WMShell pair {taskId1} {taskId2}

where {taskId1} and {taskId2} are the task IDs of the two applications that you want to group. You can find taskIds in the output of “dumpsys activity”. After running this command, you will create a new task for the application pair. If you want to unlink these applications, you can run this command:

dumpsys activity service SystemUIService WMShell unpair {taskId}

Featured image is merely a mockup and is not representative of how the app pairs may look in Android 12.

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