One of Android's differentiating features has been the ability to multitask, especially by allowing apps to coexist on one screen or to show elements on top of each other. Although the concept of floating apps was prevalent for years on the platform, Facebook Messenger popularized the idea of less intrusive bubbles, which simply put round icons at the edges of your screen to allow quick access to your chats and contacts. Link Bubble further pushed the envelop on that approach, taking the bubbles and making them work for you in the background.

Pintasking is another step in the bubble's story on Android. Remember SwipePad (Holy Froyo, Artem used to write Android Police's app roundups in 2011!) and the hundreds of similar apps that tried to put a task switcher accessible from the edges of your screen? Pintasking is like them, except it uses on-demand bubbles to serve its goal. Think of it as SwipePad, designed like Link Bubble, and with a few bonus features on top.

Basic task switching

Pintasking sits inconspicuously on your device most of the time. It doesn't take over any pixels on your screen if you don't want it to, no edges, no tops, no bottoms. By default, it is only a permanent notification in your dropdown - it doesn't even show an icon in the status bar.

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It's a permanent notification, but you can hide it if you choose another way to trigger pins

You tap the notification to trigger it, pinning your current application (app A) and switching to the previous one (app B). (That behavior can be changed in the settings, but more on that later.) A bubble of app A's icon shows on top of app B. You can perform whatever actions you want inside app B and even leave it, but whenever you need to go back to app A, the bubble is there for a one-tap switch.

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When you're inside an app that's pinned, its pin shows as two arrows instead of the icon

If you want to move back and forth between apps A and B, you'll have to tap the notification another time when you're using app B. Another bubble shows up with app B's icon. This lets you quickly jump between both apps and keeps them handily reachable even if you venture outside to apps C, D, E, and more. Turn your display off, and all pinned bubbles disappear. If you want to get rid of them without switching your screen off, you tap and hold any bubble and throw it in the red bin.

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Left: 4 pinned apps (Pro version) Right: pin throwing

That's how Pintasking works out of the box, and for most people, this is the functionality that they'll need the most. It's an Alt-Tab for Android, triggered manually and only in the contexts where you need it.

Task switching on steroids

What if you don't like using the notification method to pin apps? There are a few other ways to trigger Pintasking. One of them is the Swipe pad (not to be confused with the SwipePad app I mentioned at the top of the article). This is where Pintasking overtakes some of your precious pixels by over-riding the right edge of your status bar. Tap and drag down and you'll be able to pin the current task or switch to the previous one.

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Swiping from the status bar to pin the current app

The third option for triggering Pintasking is through the swipe up from the Home button, which normally opens Google Now. You'll have the option to choose task pinning or switching as the default behavior. (But keep in mind, this gesture may not be available in Android M after Now On Tap launches.)

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Swiping up from the Home button to trigger Pintasking

Link loading and browser extension

Pintasking manages to replicate some of Link Bubble's link opening features, except it doesn't have a built-in browser. It simply tries loading links in your default browser, then shows a bubble on the side of the screen with the number of open tabs. It also offers a small overlay with a few options to pin the tab, share the link, or open it in another browser.

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Left: choosing your default html app Right: Pintasking's overlay bar

The functionality is limited though, especially on non-rooted devices. The first URL you tap will always open the full tab, and you'll have to manually pin it to get back to your app and keep it as a side bubble. Any subsequent links you tap will go directly to the bubble. Loading the full page in the background will depend on the browser you're using. On Chrome, with a non-rooted Android 5.1 device, pages didn't load, but the tabs had the URLs ready for me. If you're used to the convenience of Link Bubble, this will feel like a big step back.

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Left: loading several tabs Right: expanding a link from the overlay bar

Free vs paid

Although it does the job, the free version of Pintasking is very limited. You'll be constrained to two pinned apps, and very few customization options. Simply opening the app will annoy you as you'll be faced with one grayed out Pro setting after the other. You still have the option to disable throwing, enable the swipe pad, use the home swipe-up gesture, disable the notification, control the animation speed, and use the browser extension, but none of the settings to granularly control those features are available to you.

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Look at all the options you can't have!

Once you pay the $3.99 price of admission, all of these options are unlocked. Included are specific settings for the swipe pad and the home swipe-up when you perform them while on the homescreen. Since you're not in a specific app, you're obviously not intending to pin, so you can set the gestures to launch Google Now instead.

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Left: Swipe pad on the homescreen launches Google Now Right: the settings for the Home swipe-up assist action include a specific one when on the homescreen

There is a lot more you can personalize with Pintasking's settings, including the size and position of the bubble, whether to switch to the last task after a pin or not, the height of the Swipe pad and the apps where it's blacklisted, whether to remove pins when the display is turned off or not, the speed of animations and transitions, with a few more settings available if your device is rooted. Below are screenshots of the different Settings screen and everything you can change within the app.

Whether or not the in-app purchase is worth it will depend on what you'll be using Pintasking for. If all you want it to do is pin two apps so you can switch back and forth between them, the free version is more than enough. But if you find yourself glancing longingly at those grayed out Pro options, wishing you could tailor every part of the experience to your liking, then you'll find that the four bucks aren't such a bad price to pay.