2014-06-30 01_19_02-Switcher.png - Windows Photo Viewer

We had a little early information on the Project Hera task switching system before the announcement, but now things are becoming clearer as Googlers chime in with the specifics. At the I/O keynote, Google showed Chrome adding multiple tabs to the app switcher, but that's just the start of what's going to happen in Android L's multitasking.


First things, first – it looks awesome. The stack of cards is animated very smoothly and the way apps slide into place when you select them is great. Material Design apps also get title bar colors that match the app's dominant color. Beyond the visual appeal, the improvements to multitasking will allow all apps (not just Chrome) to have more than one card, provided they are for different tasks. Multitasking in L stresses documents, rather than activities (in the application sense). This leads us to the most underappreciated change to multitasking in L – the labels will always match.

If you're on Android 4.4 or below, try going to the Play Store and share an app to Gmail, Twitter, G+, anything really. The Play Store pulls up the app in question and you do your thing. However, if you hit the multitasking button, you're going to see an entry for the Play Store with a different app inside the preview (whatever you're sharing to). You can get pretty deep into another app like this, but the system still considers it part of the originating app's activity (in this example, the Play Store), so it stays under that single multitasking card. This is super confusing, but that's the way Android has always worked.


Android L changes that by tweaking the FLAG_ACTIVITY_CLEAR_WHEN_TASK_RESET flag. Even though the Play Store in the above example is launching the shared-to app, the L system goes out of its way to treat them as two different tasks. FLAG_ACTIVITY_NEW_DOCUMENT ensures that when you tap a link in an app that routes to a different app, that you aren't going to see an entry in the multitasking UI with the wrong name and icon attached to it. Additionally, when you go back to the original app, it should simply show the last screen you interacted with before the link. See the GIF above if you're still fuzzy. Even though the Play Store launched the Twitter share, it gets its own card in the stack. Going back to the Play Store is just the Play Store. It makes a ton of sense when you see it in action.

[+Adam Powell, +Dianne Hackborn]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.

  • http://www.westagemusic.com/ Marc

    Can we expect to see the implementation that swiping down the statusbar would result in seeing the multitasking overview?

    • Matthew Merrick

      No. Swiping down the status bar gets notifications. Multitasking has its own dedicated button

      • http://www.westagemusic.com/ Marc

        Oh, sorry I meant ACTIONbar... Have read the rumor some weeks ago here together with hera I think...

  • Bariman43

    Wow, so that's how they decided to fix that issue? Cool, I'm digging it. I like the new card interface for recents as well, should be much easier to tell how many apps are in your history and let you swap between them much better.

    • MikeOxlong

      I'm definitely finding it faster so far...

    • Imparus

      "should be much easier to tell how many apps are in your history"
      Why is that important?

      • MikeOxlong

        I think he means easier navigation, which it is.

        • Imparus

          Ahh, yeah i misread it as they needed to make it easier to tell how many are apps and not just an activities. My mistake :)

  • asd

    Now they only need to fix the behaviour of the back button to what I as a consumer expect, not to what is logical from an engineering point of view, and I am happy. So the back button needs to go the last location I was performing my task, not up in the app

    • Phil Oakley

      Yep, and devs need to learn that going Up in an app isn't cycling through the previous activities; it literally takes you a level Up. From a UX standpoint Android is really bad at this. reddit sync is a good example where Up just doesn't work as intended.

    • joser116

      Yup, back button should take you to the previous screen you were on, not up within the current app. That is what the top left up button with the app logo is for.

      • MikeOxlong


      • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

        And if such button is not present? How are you going to go back? Close and open the app again?

        • PhilNelwyn

          If such a button is not present you just give that crappy app a 1 star rating and uninstall it. :P

    • Grahaman27

      As said at Google io, the back button should go back to what the USER remembers as back.

      • Gokh

        Like WP

    • Eric

      They should change back button icon accordingly what it will do. (with software navigation buttons of course)
      e.g. if it's going to exit the app, maybe show an exit icon so I can predict its behavior.

      • James Sully

        That's a really cool idea. Maybe a little cross icon or something, to go with the new simplistic look of the new nav buttons.

    • BruceWillisThrowsACar@You

      It already does that, the back button on the nav bar/physical back button does this. The back button in the upper left side of an app goes UP a level in the app itself. It makes more sense that way and ppl have already learned this system by now.

  • joser116

    "However, if you hit the multitasking button, you're going to see an entry for Chrome with a different app inside the preview (whatever you're sharing to)."

    You mean an entry for Play Store?

    • http://mrmcpowned.com mrmcpowned

      No, theyre referring to the way android currently works, where if you want to open a link from the play store, it shows as the play store with a thumbnail of the chrome tab within recents.

      • PhilNelwyn

        No, the article doesn't say "open a link," it says "share an app."
        Now maybe was the author thinking about using the web version of the Play Store, but that's not clear, especially given that the illustration below shows the Play Store application being used.

      • joser116

        You're wrong. The author has since fixed his mistake. At first, the author had that it shows as Chrome with a preview of whatever you used to share.

  • http://lightyear.be teranex

    On KitKat I use the ActivityForceNewTask module for Xposed to fix this. When sharing from the Play store, for example, it will force the app you're sharing to, to be a new activity, so it has it's own entry in the recent app and you can switch back to the original app from the recents. Although occasionally it breaks stuff, such as sharing to facebook.

    • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

      I think we're gonna need a "Xposed Modules that made it into Android L" article this fall

  • http://www.thejunglephoto.pw Thejungle

    That's epic! These are changes we really want!

  • Tom Erlandsen

    I can't even emphasise just how long I've wanted this

  • Grahaman27

    You call that "project Hera"?? Sorry to say it, but you guys were pretty far off with project Hera. Project Hera was a bifurcatated web/android os, not simply adding chrome tabs to the task switcher.

    Just saying, don't extrapolate so much and stay a trustworthy source.

    • Phil Oakley

      We've only seen a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of L so far.

      This is the start of Hera. I would expect when they fully unveil L later in the year, we'll see a lot lot more about Project Hera.

    • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

      Did you need that article to say RUMOR with giant letters across the whole screen?

    • Daeshaun Griffiths

      This is Androids biggest change ever. It will feel more like a desktop. Isn't it possible to have more than one facebook tab open on chrome? So why cant the Facebook app be broken down into tabs too? If you hear the google devs talk about this feature, your eyes will open up.

  • grgml

    The card deck interface is less functional IMO. currently, I can see the four most recent tasks after touching the task switcher. with the deck interface, I would see only one and would have to start flicking. It may look nicer, but not as functional.

    • MikeOxlong

      Wrong. With the "deck" interface as you call it, you actually see and can touch up to 4 cards before having to give it a flick to see additional apps.however, if you have a lot of apps open (ie:10), it'll flatten them and you'll have to scroll. No big deal tho.

      • Patrick Smithopolis

        I have to disagree. When I use the task switcher on my Nexus 5 I'm looking for a thumbnail, not the name of the app and color. I installed the preview version and it's much slower to me.

        • MikeOxlong

          To each their own. I've been using it on both my n5 and n7 since it came out and absolutely love it. To me its faster.

      • mgamerz

        I don't really like this solution either. I use the previews as a "multiple window" solution when I need to read something from one app (not copy-pastable) and put it into another. On my N5 it's possible due to the screen resolution, but this interface hides too much for that to be very useful.

        • MikeOxlong

          I have to disagree. I too do exactly the same thing at least a couple times a day, and have zero issues with the new interface. In fact, since the individual windows are larger (200%), you can see even more than you used to.

    • Imparus

      "I would see only one"
      No watch the gif, in there you can see 3 task and then you can see a bit of the top of the rest. If apps use different colors I would be able find them immediately when hit recent, like the calculator is easy to see in this new design.

    • joser116

      It's not as bad as it seems. That's exactly what I thought too when I first saw it. But then I saw that it works just like the Chrome for Android tab switcher. That tab switcher is really good.

      However, they could improve on this new multitask screen by showing the full title bar of each card when stacked. If you look at the 1st GIF, you can see that the title bars of the cards in the back are more than halfway hidden.

    • pinetreehater

      I agree...less functional. This is one aspect of HTC's Sense that I hated, having a limited view of cards (it was left to right in Sense last I remember). On my G2, all my open apps are presented as small thumbnails without the need for scrolling (or very little..they are small). Instead of two taps (tap task manager...tap thumbnail) you have tap..scroll...tap.

    • Prahlis

      As stated, apps using material design will get their primary color on the tab, which most likely will make finding your way through the deck very fast and easy. I think it will make sense, when you start getting used to it.

  • Mark Curtis

    Do web apps show the correct icon and title in the multitasking area instead of the Chrome icon and "web app"?

    • Peter

      Still the same chrome icon and 'web app' text.


      • Mark Curtis

        Ugh, is that a 'bug' in Chrome? Android? Both? I hope that gets addressed. I figured that was the whole point of having every Chrome tab be in the multitasking view. Web App = "Android" App

  • BarKa

    My request to AP staff. Compile all the feature spotlight articles and publish Android L 101 when Google pushes final version. You guys are simply awesome

    • Robby Smet

      Go belgium! Good idea btw

    • RyanWhitwam

      We're doing that soon.

  • Prasad Tiruvalluri

    It is good to see so many updates in this.. It would have been better if they had made some updates to make the contacts app suck less..:)

    • vyktorsouza

      they are working on it and it will be released alongside with L and all the GApps, check the I/O video, it looks amazing

    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      You'll be pleased to know that's receiving an update as well.

  • vyktorsouza

    man those gifs are REALLY distracting

    • joser116

      Yup; the first one should have been slowed.

      • Amarus Kh

        The point of that gif is to show that the animations are fast and smooth...

        • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

          only the gifs are not 60fps unlike the actual interface

        • joser116

          But then he told us to look at the colored title bar of the calculator. It's moving so fast!

          Also, the word fast never appears in the article. And who would use a GIF to show how smooth something is.

          • Jason Bourne

            Jesus Christ. You are the single most annoying poster on AP.

          • Landy

            Are you gonna... silence him?

          • joser116

            Why do you say that?.... Is this because of that whole ART debate?

          • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

            If you apply even just the tiniest bit of common sense none of what you've said is an issue.

          • joser116

            Don't you think I realize that it's not even a big deal? I decided to reply with that long response cause I was dragged into it. I was only countering what someone replied to my comment and I like to support things very thoroughly. There is no problem with that. It's not that it's an issue, does it have to be?

      • x3haloed

        I came here to say this. I would recommend an HTML5 video element with a playback control slider, or perhaps an HTML5 canvas that draws each frame invidually, and can be finely controlled manually. It would be awesome If the video played once and then invited the user to play it again or drag the progress bar around to watch the animation at their own pace.

        • De5str0yer.

          GIFS should die , they're outdated , annoying , slow , only allow less than 26 FPS , have laughable quality , but people FOR SOME REASON still use it.

    • ShaunTheSheep

      Yep, really defeats the whole point of the exercise. Video it properly and stick it on YouTube if you can't afford the bandwidth to do it properly on this site.

  • Niveus

    This is super annoying when you click a YouTube Video link and it opens within the Browser so in recents it shows the Browser ins ead of YouTube app

    • NinoBr0wn


  • philknall

    Does this mean we can now share from inside the first shared action? For example, I often use share to look up words in a separate dictionary app, and then I want to share the definition from there to AnkiDroid to create a flashcard. Right now I need to replace one of these actions with a copy/paste because I cannot share from within the shared app.
    Does this work in L?

    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      I don't understand, are you asking if this will magically add "Share" functionality to apps that don't have it? If that's what you're asking, the answer is no.

      • philknall

        No, that is not what I'm saying. Virtually all apps on android have "share" functionality, because it's baked into the OS. it's either a menu item that says "share" or an icon of a circle with two arrows/lines coming out of it. It pops up whenever you select anything in most apps.
        This functionality is what the second half of this article, and my comment, are about. Right now it opens an action within the first app, from which you can not use the same functionality again. The article says that this has changed in L, and I am assuming that it might mean we can share, then select something in the "shared" activity and share that to yet another app.

        • philknall

          Having played a bit with the L Preview someone ported to grouper, I can confirm this works just fine now. tested on the same chain I always had problems with (Chrome -> Dejizou dictionary -> Anki). I'm extremely happy about this change!

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  • http://www.littlegreendude.com/ wollac11

    I like it but is does not work well for landscape on large screens and is an inefficient use of the space. I would prefer if the cards (of the same design) scrolled across horizontally when in this view.

    This would also make multitasking in landscape quicker because you could see more. It would be more like what we have know but obviously the design, size and content would be as shown with the new cards. It would also be more like the WebOS multitasking which was great.

  • NinoBr0wn

    The wording confused me at first, but thank God this is being fixed. This happens a lot, and you don't always realize it at first if you're multitasking a few things at once, which I guess would be just multitasking..

  • Marcus Clendenin-Bey

    I am still seeing the incorrect functionality on the L Release if it involves multiple redirects. For example if you open a link via Twitter that leads to the Play Store, since it uses link shorteners it opens in chrome first and then the Play Store. This leads to a Multitasking entry for the Play Store that has a Title Bar of Chrome.

    • PhilNelwyn


    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      From the way this article is worded, it seems as though the developers of the apps may need to call new activities with a special flag in order to take advantage of this improved functionality. It's possible perhaps that Chrome isn't updated to do this yet.

  • FrankJL

    webos legacy now an android fundamental.

    • http://mrmcpowned.com mrmcpowned

      Well, Matias Duarte was the design lead for WebOS. Also, some of WebOS's Core team became part of the Android team a couple years ago.

      • George Kaimakas

        Duarte ftw

      • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

        I wonder what was his reaction when LG got WebOS from HP into its hands

  • John

    Where´s the ´close all tabs´ button? Really miss that one

    • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

      What do you mean "miss"? It doesn't exist in Chrome, it doesn't exist in stock Recents menu

  • 3rdflyleaf

    Activity force new task Xposed.

    The function really useful, but I don't like that it displays only one app screen when you flick it.

  • Guest ?

    Did they notre added a similarités fonction where web app have their own tab in multitask ?

  • Adam Novák

    I have tried sharing something from app store on Android 4.4.4 and in task manager it shows the proper app. I have noticed this after I have came back to 4.4.4 from L, might be cause by the factory image.

  • Google_Is_The_Higgs_Boson

    All tho I like the new features it's bringing... I really don't like the look of it... My biggest problem with the icons being smaller... I don't look for the window while looking in the multitasking... I look for the icons... Wish they made them bigger, or stand out more...

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    I wonder if Google is going to change the launcher in some ways in the final version? I mean, I don't mind it being the way it is now, but since it's an all-new OS - maybe GNL will too get some meterial design stuff or anything?

    Apart from the redesigned quick access menu to wallpapers, widgets and such and the google now access from the homescreen, the launcher was pretty much the same since ICS days, so...

  • Mark01

    While it's nice to have multiple instances of same app, with this card thingie visualization it's way harder to find apps then previous implementation. Before you could see four recents at once, now barely two.

  • Aleksey_US

    Did they finally add the Kill All button?

    • CoreRooted

      There should never BE a kill all button.

      • Aleksey_US

        I didn't mean all processes running in the background just the ones visible in the app switcher view.

        • CoreRooted

          Hmmmm... Still not sure I agree with any kind of a kill button. It violates the base principles that Android and Linux are built on. An app should "never" have to be killed by a user (unless it's hung up or behaving badly, but that should be handled by the dev, not the user anyhow).

          Any app that hasn't been used for x minutes should be hibernated and then eventually cleared. The whole thing with killing apps on Android has never sat well with me as the system itself is designed to use the maximum amount of RAM possible and swap as needed.

  • frozencloud

    can you move the different pages around within the multitasking section?

  • Felipe Barros

    Still missing a button to close all the windows...

    • miri

      My guess as to why they don't have the button is they same reason they discourage task killers: it's inefficient for both the system and the user to constantly clear out your sessions. As far as I'm aware no [mass market] OS has a clear all button in the recents view.

      • Michał Ostrowski

        It's right there in Sense 6 on my One M8...

      • Google_Is_The_Higgs_Boson

        They have a clear all in TouchWiz... I kind of miss it on my Nexus 5... But thats the only thing I miss from TouchWiz...

      • Keith Zubot-Gephart

        /me weeps for the lost promise of Harmattan on the N9

  • Tyler Shaw

    Its really hard to scroll down the page with the gifs... Why didn't you just make a quick YouTube video? Then we could actually see how smooth it was.

    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      "Its really hard to scroll down the page with the gifs..."

      Hahaha what.

  • JG

    I dunno if I'm too fond of all open browser tabs having their own multi-slacking window... I'll often just open pages from my G+ stream (theoretically) go back and read later, either after I've gone through all of the new posts, or when I have time to sit down & actually focus on the article... I frequently have over 100 tabs open in Opera at any given time... I'm just imagining having to scroll through all those tabs in order to find the app I want to go back to... Of course that might encourage me to keep the tabs under control a little better (less "Out of sight out of mind" kind of deal)...

    Maybe the tabs could form a folder type deal. If any app is producing a large number of entries in the multi-task screen they all get condensed down to just 1 entry, tapping on it open to a new screen with all it's entries. Back sends you back to the main multi-tasking page.

    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      Over 100 tabs. What the hell.

      • JG

        Just in Opera. I use Samsung's stock browser & occasionally Chrome for regular web browsing and keep their tabs down to a more manageable number.

        Opera is my "read it later" store... And of course usually "later" never comes... It took me an hour one day going through all of my open Opera tabs to get down to just 99 when Opera starts showing how many open tabs you have... And then mostly it was "Eh, I've read this else where"/"It's too late for this info" and the tab was closed or "yeah, I should keep this" & passed it on to an even worse "read later" system - Google Keep - before closing the tab....

        I am not looking forward to trying to clean out my Keep account...

  • Nick Riley

    That's more like it! I've been asking myself since I first used Android, why when sharing something the task stays under original app. This felt quite confusing a few times. Glad this is changing with L...

  • tokuiten

    I just wish Android would adopt Maemo-style multitasking.

    No mobile OS ever did multitasking as well as Maemo.

    • Keith Zubot-Gephart

      What it evolved into with Harmattan and SailfishOS is fairly good too, and the precise UI/UX is a bit better suited for capacitive touchscreens (people sometimes forget, but resistive touchscreens can be much better at precise pinpoints, especially since you can use fingernails or literally any other solid object). But generally, yeah. It's kindof sad that we still haven't done better than Maemo for many aspects of smartphone OSes.

  • NF

    This is great.

  • mgamerz

    I imagine this is going to cause some problems for developers, or maybe apps that aren't going to be updated for this. If I start an activity for a result (or shoot off an intent, like 'pick a file' or 'pick a photo'), it will now have 2 slots instead of 1. Say the user is in the second activity, and uses multitask to go to something else, or presses home. Then uses multitask to go to the first application. You then have started a new activity that will be unable to deliver the result back to the originating one, and when the user returns to it, could become confused when they perform what they were originally supposed to, and it doesn't work.

  • Wesley Modderkolk

    A search option would be a welcome sight.

    • Google_Is_The_Higgs_Boson

      A search option for what?...

      • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

        for recents maybe

      • Wesley Modderkolk

        Well, seeing how the article is about the recents screen/multitasking I thouhg it would be clear it applied to that.

        • Google_Is_The_Higgs_Boson

          How would a search option make this any easier?...

          • Wesley Modderkolk

            To search through the many recent apps that might be in there.

          • Google_Is_The_Higgs_Boson

            Unnecessary clutter if you ask me...

          • Wesley Modderkolk

            It doesn't need to be more than just a button. Imo not really cluttering.

        • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

          Yikes, how many recents are you expecting to have that typing in a search would be faster than scrolling to it?

          • Wesley Modderkolk

            Enough to get stuck in it. I don't know how many people have it open on average, but I often clear it out to keep track of everything, because else I would get lost in all those open things.

            So yes, for me a search function would be more handy rather than scrolling through the list.

  • http://www.geekdime.com methamp

    Hello again, webOS.

    • _artem_

      I RIPed my palm pre as it once froze on a very important task... as I was composing a long email but that crap just hang and froze. I smashed it against the floor. display cracked (I didn't know it had a glass display... thought it's plastic but it was glass lol) first all the bottom part became dead (it showed pictures but didn't respond to touches and couple of hours later whole display stopped to respond to touches. :-D

  • Orlando Vito Júnior

    When I search for an app on Chrome and from that open it as a link on the Play Store, I still get that ONE CONFUSING app log.

  • james fuston

    I'm really hoping the playstation style buttons are just placeholders.

  • Dan, From The Internet

    I've noticed that problem since Android 4.0 introduced the current multitasking style, but ever since Android 4.4.3, I've seen this fixed. In fact, I can duplicate this fix on my Nexus 5 right now (4.4.4)

    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      It's definitely improved in some situations, but not all.

  • Tj Hariharan

    O DEAR GOD YES..just tested this out with a bunch of links from all over ...YES..SO MUCH YES..

  • http://www.friendlyphotozone.com/ Friendly Photo Zone

    Is this referring to the fact that when I click on a Wikipedia link in Chrome and it opens Wikipedia to display the article, my "recent apps" window shows me Wikipedia where Chrome should be? If so... THANK JEEBUS ALMIGHTY! That was super-annoying!!!