Android

Android L will bring multi-user support to smartphones

Jack Wallen ponders the upcoming multi-user support in Android "L."

Multi-user support

I've been watching the progress of the various incarnations of Android. Some of the developments (such as the Guest Access mode on the LG G3) point toward a certain feature arriving in Android L (the hotly anticipated next iteration of Android). But this is no longer a rumor or a "what if," because an unnamed developer with Google said "the development team has implemented this feature [multi-user], and it will be available as a part of the next public build."

We've seen it coming and anyone who uses a smartphone — especially for business purposes — will agree that this is a much-needed feature. Why? Simple. You have data on your device that you don't want others to see. If you allow someone else to use your phone (or you simply have to share a phone between workers), it's never a safe bet to just hand over the device and give that user unlimited access to your data and services. Tablets running Android 4.2 or later already enjoy multi-user support, so I'm not sure why this has been so long in coming for Android smartphones.

The good news..."L" yes, it's coming!

Multi-user support makes perfect sense for a number of reasons. The primary reasons are obvious:

  • Separate "business" and "personal" profiles: Multiple users on a single device can be the same person — only enjoy profiles specific to business and personal usage. This would be welcome on so many levels. Not only would it allow you to keep your business and personal data separate, it would help you to get a much needed break from work. On vacation? Log into your personal profile only.
  • Limited guest profiles: If you want to allow someone else to use your phone but don't want them seeing your data or information, create a guest profile with limited access. This means your data and all your customizations are safe.
  • Create child-safe profiles so that your kids can view your phone with very limited access.

Although the LG G3 already has a "guest mode" feature, the multi-user mode would vastly improve on that. With full-blown multi-user support, you could set up restricted users or full-blown users that would sync with their own Google account.

You may be wondering why this is important? Do people actually share phones? Yes, they do. For business (for example, field shift workers) and personal use (some families can't afford smartphones for all of their children), people share devices... so, this makes perfect sense.

But why is this really important to businesses when Google already has plans to release enterprise-managed and sandboxed profiles for Android? Honestly, most small businesses don't have the budgets or the savvy to navigate those complicated waters. Knowing that staff can easily separate business and personal profiles makes Android an even more appealing platform for companies large and small.

The one uncertainty is this: Will the smartphone multi-user profiles resemble what we already see in the Android tablet arena? If Google is smart, it will. But if they release a stripped-down version of multi-user support (such as only allowing restricted guest access), this feature will have little use in the business world. However, if the first release of multi-user support in "L" only offers such guest access, I think it's a safe bet that later releases will see the full-blown support already available in tablets.

I, for one, am excited about the possibilities that "L" and multi-user mode brings. What about you? Do you think having multi-user support for a smartphone is a necessity, a great option, or a gimmick? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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