In Android Q Beta 3, background activities were made the scourge of the kingdom. No background app could start a foreground task. Sure, it was meant to stop any malicious developers from doing some unwanted snooping on their users' devices, but it also cuts off automation apps like Tasker from triggering their jobs. Google does allow for exceptions to this ban, but none of them have suited those apps until the company introduced a new exception to the list with the release of Android Q Beta 4: SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW.

So, why couldn't these automation apps take advantage of previous background activity exceptions? One reason is that some of them require either the app in question or another app to be visible in some way to declare their intent to trigger a background task. Other exceptions require the app to interact with the system on the bases of launching a user interface in scenarios such as a virtual reality environment or for an accessibility service. Still others allow background tasks to be triggered when companion hardware, like a flash drive, is connected. In any of these cases, the rules in place generally make triggering actions impossible while the device is idle, off, or when the user isn't in a relevant app.

The new exception, which Action Launcher Chris Lacy has been advocating for, occurs when an app is granted the SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW permission by the user, which allows the app to draw overlays like chat heads and non-notification pop-ups on top of other apps at any time.

In earlier versions of the Q Beta, the system was directed to revoke this permission for all apps, meaning that users had to dig through their app settings and re-grant it. The permission has previously been exploited by malicious developers who used overlays to track where unwitting users tap on their screens and, potentially, obtain passwords. However, after a tidal wave of criticism on this behavior in the Google Issue Tracker, the company has seemingly ended its crackdown on SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW and has integrated it as a condition for apps to launch tasks.

Granted, some developers were pushing for a new, dedicated permission for apps in the background to launch foreground tasks as an ideal. Furthermore, the permission cannot be used in Android Q (Go edition). But for now, it looks like this mea culpa will do just fine for many. We'll have to see if SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW is officially set to stick around for another year — we're reaching out to Google to see what its plans are.