Android 4.2 introduced support for multiple user profiles, and while that was great for tablet users, a similar feature didn’t arrive for Android smartphones. Last fall, there was a rumor going around that Nokia might be to blame for this decision, upon the discovery of a Nokia patent outlying just such a system for phones, but not necessarily tablets. With the release of Android 4.3 and its new multi-user enhancements, this disparity is once again in the public eye, but this time we get some useful insight from Google as to what’s really holding it back.
Google’s Dan Morrill took to Reddit for an AMA yesterday, where this very subject came up. According to Morrill, the big problem with multi-user on phones is the phones themselves. That is, when you’re on something like a tablet, the only messages coming in to the device – emails and IMs – are going to be those intended for the currently logged-in user. On a phone, voice calls and text messages are going to arrive regardless of who’s logged-in – so what do you do with them?
Send everything to voicemail until the primary account is active? What if it’s an important call? The big issue for Google is that there’s no obvious way something like this “should” work, and everyone seems to have their different opinions on what to do.
Lacking any clear vision of how to implement it, the feature just sort of stalled. Morrill says that a “lockdown” mode might eventually be available, when you’re just letting someone borrow your phone briefly, but we shouldn’t count on ever seeing full-on multi-user support on phones.