Floating apps have become emblematic of Android's unique flexibility and range. No other mobile OS allows non-system apps to directly interact with users and overtake the screen while another app is supposed to be in the foreground. This capability allows for a powerful and customizable user experience, but it can also quickly become a problem if an app is poorly implemented or its developer abuses this privilege for malicious purposes.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow is setting some new rules for drawing on the screen. Starting with Developer Preview 3, apps targeting API 23 (or above) will have to ask users to grant permission for them to draw on top of other apps.
Mobile devices are designed primarily as a modal experience. You use one app at a time, but can switch between them quickly. Multi-window interfaces and floating apps have been implemented a few times as an alternative, but most of these solutions are a bit clunky. Ixonos has released a new video demo of its multi-window technology, and it looks much better. If only we knew where to get it.
Windows can be resized dynamically by dragging the corner, just like a desktop. Apps can also be snapped into a grid that can be re-proportioned as needed. Additionally, each one of the tiled apps is running live and the UI looks very responsive.
Today has become Facebook day, whether we like it or not, it seems. If you're sick of the social network, but still like the idea of having a floating app to message your friends, Ninja SMS may be what you need. This app commandeers your text messages when you receive them, hovers over whatever you're doing, and lets you roll up the conversation when you're not in the midst of a message.
Curiously, there doesn't seem to be a way to initiate a text conversation with the app. You can only wait for someone to message you first.
There are few things on Android more useful than good floating apps. Because, honestly, how often have you been looking at something and needed to jot down a quick note but didn't want to leave the foreground app? Or how about those times when a calculator is clutch, but so is seeing the numbers you need to calculate? We've seen various apps that answer these quandaries before, but now there's a place to get a handful of mini-apps all in one place. It's appropriately called Tiny Apps, and consists of some of the most useful tools one could have atop other windows: notes, recorder, paint, music player, and calculator.
Between AirCalc, AirTerm, OverSkreen, and LilyPad HD one this is certain: we love floating apps. And by "we," I mean basically every Android user in existence who multitasks with their device. These apps are insanely useful, especially on large-screened devices like tablets.
What we need, though, is more of them. Now, thanks to a new open source library called StandOut, it's going to be easier than ever for developers to create floating apps.
As you can see, this basically lays the framework down for app developers to build their own windowed apps. Best of all, StandOut is completely free and open source, so, with enough support, will likely get better as time goes on.
Finally! Since the dawn of floating apps (which was like, what, three months ago?) this is the one that I've hoped for: a chat client! Brought to us by the Tablified dev team, LilyPad HD finally makes it possible to rid yourself of the full-screen chat client on your tablet for something far more practical.
Like other floating apps, LilyPad offers basic features needed for an always-on-top app, like quick-hide mode, resizable windows, and even tabs for chatting with multiple people without having a slew of small windows taking over the entire screen.
At the current time, the app costs $1.49 and only has support for Google Talk.