Android has decent multitasking, but the missing piece of the puzzle is the ability to have multiple apps on-screen at the same time – particularly useful on a larger tablet. Floating apps fill this need.
Floating apps function as always-on-top windows, allowing you to watch videos, browse the web, take notes, or do other things while using another app. They demonstrate how Android’s interface is more flexible than iOS and the Modern UI in Windows.
With these apps, you can use a browser while using another app, open multiple floating browser windows and view multiple web pages at the same time, or both.
Video players are an obvious use case for pop-up apps, especially on a larger tablet. You could watch a video while browsing the web, doing your email, or using any other app on your tablet or phone. DicePlayer, BSPlayer, and Super Video are all free floating video players. Stick It! is a paid app, but it also supports YouTube videos in addition to local video files.
Want to take notes while reading a web page, PDF, or any other type of document? Switching back and forth between a note-taking app and the main app you’re using can be tedious. Instead, try hovernote – a floating notes app that hovers over the other apps you’re using. It’s a paid app, but there aren’t any free floating notes apps on Google Play at the moment.
Chat & IRC
Old-school desktop chat programs like ICQ, AIM, MSN, Pidgin, Trillian, and the others didn’t force you into a full-screen chat mode, but most apps on your tablet do. LilyPad gives you a floating chat window, allowing you to chat on Google Talk, Facebook, and Windows Live Messenger (MSN). The developers promise future support for AIM, Yahoo, and Jabber.
If you’re a geek who still uses IRC for your chatting, try FloatIRC.
The default Android calculator app looks a bit ridiculous in full-screen mode on a tablet. Try AirCalc or Float Calculator instead – both are free and allow you to use a calculator while using another app.
While floating apps are useful, the selection is currently a bit limited. For example, there’s no floating app that shows your Gmail or a Pandora music player. However, many apps provide widgets, which are normally attached to your home screen. A floating app like Floating Banner (free) or Floating Widget (paid) allows you to turn any widget into a floating app. If you can’t find a floating app that meets your needs, you can find a widget and turn it into a floating app.
AirTerm gives you a floating Linux terminal. If you want to SSH into your Linux server or use Android’s terminal (particularly useful on rooted devices), AirTerm will allow you to do it in a floating window. It’s a paid app, but it’s the only one of its kind on Google Play.
Apps like Cool Tool (free) and PerfMon (paid) give you a floating window with information about your Android device’s system stats – resource usage and everything else you might want to know. If you like seeing this stuff, you can see it all the time.
Android developers who want to create their own floating apps can use StandOut, an open-source library for creating floating apps.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 12/13/12