Android is really turning into a jack of all trades, having become the OS of choice for phones, tablets, face computers, and now wristwatches. The combination of flexibility, open source code, and low cost of entry make it a prime candidate for countless utilitarian purposes. With the upcoming release of Android L, Google is aiming to make it even easier to deploy highly specialized environments with a new feature called Task Locking that allows a single app to take control of the interface and prevent users from switching apps or even seeing notifications.


Task Locking isn't intended for use on average consumer-oriented phones or tablets. Instead, it requires a device running a custom build of Android, making it more practical for use in businesses or other large institutions. The operating system must be configured to grant special rights to a single, pre-selected application which will be able to activate and deactivate the locking mode as needed. When the system is locked, all notifications and status info are hidden, along with the Home and Recents buttons. Until the locking mode is shut off, only the selected application is allowed to start new activities (change screens), which is intended to prevent other apps from interfering with the intended behavior.

By introducing Task Locking, Google is setting up Android to become a contender in quite a few markets. The most immediate position for this feature will be in self-service kiosks, a market that has long been dominated by a special variant of Microsoft Windows. Educational institutions will likely put this functionality to work for SAT testing and in other licensing exams, particularly in the medical and legal field. Corporations may also adopt Task Locking as a way to turn general purpose devices into more specialized tools without sacrificing the other advantages of an open and flexible platform.

In a few years, there's a good chance many of us won't even notice that we're using Android to check in at the airport or to take a test in school. What will matter is that all of these systems are built with a robust platform that can be maintained and upgraded easily. Ultimately, this will shift a lot of attention to developing software and reduce the need for custom-built hardware, and that should contribute to lowering costs and improving quality across the board. Hey, even though we may not always see it happening, things like this can make a big difference.

Source: Android Developer Site

Photo: Pekskärm som börjar by Karl Baron (CC BY 2.0)

Cody Toombs
Cody is a Software Engineer and Writer with a mildly overwhelming obsession with smartphones and the mobile world. If he’s been pulled away from the computer for any length of time, you might find him talking about cocktails and movies, sometimes resulting in the consumption of both.

  • roy

    "a robust platform that can be maintained and upgraded easily"

    We will see about that.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Hey, artistic license ;)

    • Mike Reid

      Manufacturers of kiosks etc. will want to sell new kiosks...

      But if they could charge for software updates... then again it'd be run on "outdated" hardware at some point, where that matters.

      Everything is "easy" when it's someone else's job. :)

  • Crispin Swickard

    In the future ATM will mean: "Android Teller Machine".

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      • Chris

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  • http://www.bordersweather.co.uk/ Andy J

    And then Android can be used in the remote advertising industry - that will be pretty useful. I've been debating a Pi to install in a local shop that would just display details of our upcoming events and also adverts for local businesses. But something like Android, with an app that will download the data on a schedule and then just display it would be amazing. Something like Bluetooth or NFC could be used to enable and disable the Kiosk mode,

  • Alexei Watson

    I see a use; replacing the paper ballot in the australian voting system.

  • Sergii Pylypenko

    That will be popular, considering low-end tablets are dirt-cheap when bought in bulk.

    • BenfromNZ

      I don't see how that applies to task locking?

      • Marcus Low

        Because current "touch-screen" control systems typically cost thousands of dollars for one screen, and a servo controller (controlling lights or AV equipment). Task locking will allow for much cheaper fixed-purpose hardware, with more work done on the software side, thus reducing hardware maintenance costs.

      • kashtrey

        Task locking needs to be run on some type of hardware. He's saying that for the most part, many of the kiosk type implementations that this feature would benefit from go hand-in-hand with low end, bulk ordered hardware.

        • BenfromNZ

          Ahh I see, I thought it was a reference to consumer tablets. My mistake

  • Nick Bess

    This is great! We use Nexus 7's at the college where I work to control the AV system in the rooms (since a standard touch screen interface costs around $1,000). The teachers always find a way to exit the control app and screw up the settings. I can't wait to get this.

  • Olympus45

    A consumer use case would come in handy to keep kids from changing apps too so I hope there is someway to enable this on the consumer side as well.

    • Bob

      The 'child with tablet' was the first thing that came to my mind, too.

  • Dan Caseley

    My first thought on this feature was the possibility of ransomware, but those protections look okay.

  • Kostas

    Is there any app currently in the play store to provide kiosk capabilities for tablets?

  • ianjo

    It's a pity that you need special builds of Android, making this feature unusable for most people and small businesses, as you can't just buy 5 of the cheapest tablets running L and run with it.

    • Sven Dubbeld

      My guess is that those special builts are custom builds, everyone can build those themselves, regardless of business size.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

        To be fair, that's a fairly tall order for a lot of people. Even the majority of Android enthusiasts would burn quite a few hours figuring out how to set up a build environment. Most mom & pop shops wouldn't stand a chance, and even a lot of small businesses would probably reject this kind of thing. However, since it is open and buildable, at least it's not out of the question for a business of any size to do it, if the right people or skills are available.

        • Sven Dubbeld

          True, it certainly takes quite some time to get it all working. But with the right guide it's possible and spending a weekend figuring it all out is (almost) always better than spending $1000 on special equipment.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

            The interesting thing will be the number of random small contract jobs this will create for people who can just do custom builds along with apps to run on them.

          • Krzysztof Jozwik

            That's what I was thinking, those same mom and pop shops need a new roof every few decades and to resurface their parking lots, odds are they don't do that themselves, why would they program their tech stuff?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      I didn't include this in the post because I technically can't say it's a certainty (and I can't do my own test right now), but I'm about 95% certain that the only thing you actually need is root. I think the only requirement is to place an xml file into /data/system/device_owner.xml and it designates the package name that's allowed to enable task locking. If I'm right about that, this will be trivial for anybody that can achieve root.

  • cy_n_ic

    Android all the things!!!

  • Godspoken

    SAT testing? When I took my SAT two years ago, it was still all on paper! Imagine how much more I could have written for the essay if I could have typed it.

  • laurakelly

    It's a great post. Thank you. I like it.
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  • sears

    This is a very useful feature. Rooted user should be allowed to set it, not limited to few custom Android build.