Mobility

What are Android Feature Flags and how to enable them

If you'd like to give a few experimental Android features a try, Jack Wallen shows you how with Feature Flags.

Android Pie has launched some pretty amazing features to the platform. Everything from UI tweaks to better battery life, to higher performance and everything in between. Yet, some features were tucked away simply because the average user might not know what to do with them. One such addition to Android is Feature Flags. I want to explain what they are and how you can enable them.

What you'll need

As you might expect, in order to try out Feature Flags, you'll need a device running Android Pie. You'll also need to turn on Developer Options. I'll show you how to do just that, and then where to find this new feature.

Developer options

Developer Options has been around for quite some time. It's also been hidden for quite some time. You might remember having to enable USB Debugging (in order to connect to the Android Software Developer Kit) required the Developer Options to be switched on. The same thing holds true today.

How do you reveal the Developer Options? Simple. Open up Settings, and then navigate to System | About Phone. In this window, locate the Build Number option, and tap that five times. After the fifth tap, Developer Options will be enabled. You can then find Developer Options by navigating to Settings | System | Advanced | Developer options.

SEE: Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)

The Feature Flags options is found within the Developer Options window (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

The Feature Flags option.

Feature Flags

What exactly are Features Flags? This option also appears in Google Chrome and serves as experimental (well-tested) features users can try out. In some cases, those experiments eventually make their way to the standard release, and in other cases, they simply disappear. The Feature Flags will most likely change, as new experiments are given life. As of this writing, the available Feature Flags are:

  • settings_about_phone_v2: Moves the 'About phone' section to the top of the System and alters the UI of the About phone section.
  • settings_bluetooth_while_driving: This enables an option called 'Use Bluetooth when driving' under the 'Connected devices' section of Settings.
  • settings_data_usage_v2: There isn't enough information to be found on what this option does to comment at the moment.
  • settings_audio_switcher: There isn't enough information to be found on what this option does to comment at the moment.
  • settings_systemui_theme: There isn't enough information to be found on what this option does to comment at the moment.
  • settings_zone_picker_v2: This offers more information for the 'Automatic time zone' option.
  • settings_battery_display_app_list: This feature offers a detailed list of the 'App usage since full charge' in the Battery menu (within the Settings app).

Some of those features will enable by default (Figure B), while some will not. If you find a feature you want to try, enable it by tapping the blue slider switch to the ON position. Unlike Chrome (where you need to restart the browser for the change to take effect), you won't need to restart Android after enabling a feature.

Figure B

Figure B

Currently enabled Feature Flags.

The caveat

The only issues you'll find with Feature Flags is that the names aren't very descriptive (so you'll need to do a bit of research to find out what they are) and that they can go away, to never been seen again. Of course, not all of these features disappear. As I mention above, some become permanent fixtures in Android.

But even with those two caveats, Feature Flags are pretty nifty to enable and try. You might find one that perfectly suits your way of mobility on Android. So, what are you waiting for? Give Feature Flags a go.

Also see

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Image: Google

About Jack Wallen

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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