Do phones need multi-user support?


Earlier this month I wrote about why I’d use the heck out of multi-user support on my Android phone. That spawned quite a debate among Pocketnow readers as well as those in my social circles. Before we dive too deeply into that, let’s look at the history of multi-user support on Android.

Back in the early days of Android 4.2 A New Flavor of Jelly Bean, we got our first taste of multi-user support – but it was limited to only tablets. Phones didn’t get the same multi-user capabilities. As it turns out, it’s built into the operating system and many custom ROMs took advantage of that fact and exposed the ability not long after Android 4.2 was released. That was great news for many of us, but it raised some questions: do phones really need multi-user support, and why didn’t they get it when tablets did?

multi-user support

Keep your grubby little fingers offa my homescreen!

Google’s Dan Morrill addressed why multi-user support wasn’t included in Android-powered smartphones back in 2013. The big problem with multi-user support on phones, he said, is the phones themselves. When you’re using 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 those?

Morrill says that a “lockdown” mode might eventually be available, when you’re just letting someone borrow your phone briefly, for example. He went on to say that we shouldn’t count seeing full-on multi-user support for our phones in the future.

Back in 2012, when we started talking about multi-user support, I voiced a concern I’d had since the days of my first PDA:

“You know what I hate? Handing my tablet over to one of my kids to keep them entertained ‘for a few minutes’ only to discover that their ‘entertainment’ was changing my wallpaper, rearranging my icons, and messing up my tablet!”

The same is true for my phone. Sure, I want to be able to share my phone with my wife, my kids, or even a co-worker or friend, but I don’t want them in there digging around and making changes. All the social networks that I’m connected with are pre-logged in on my phone. I’ve got more than one friend (and at least a couple kids) that wouldn’t hesitate posting a social update for me, all in “good humor”. Sorry, but I’m not down with that!

Apparently I’m not alone. Windows Phone has Kid Corner and LG introduced “Guest Mode” with the G2. It’s obvious that multi-user support is something that not only consumers want, but at least a few OEMs are prepared to offer – at least in a limited fashion.

Rumor has it that Android L will (finally) bring multi-user support to phones once it’s officially released. We don’t know if that’s going to be true multi-user support like we’ve seen on Android-powered tablets or if it will be limited to a “Kid Corner” or “Guest” mode like Google’s Morrill implied back in 2013. Regardless, I’m certain that what we ultimately get will be better than what we currently have!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.