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Why We Can't Have Multi-Users on a Smartphone. Yet.

Kris Carlon
4

If you've been wondering why you haven't been able to use the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean multi-user functionality on your smartphone, well, here's the reason. A Google engineer by the name of Dan Morrill has explained why the handy feature is not yet enabled on smartphones.

FullPhonebox628
Do you want to share your phone? Or do you like it all to yourself? / © Joe Munro

The main reason, it seems, is simply because your phone has a telephone number. How to handle the switching of a phone between users when you have incoming calls, SMS and so on linked to the phone number is a tricky scenario. In a dual-SIM device this might make better sense, but that would mean each user can only really use the one device between them, so this doesn't help.

As Morrill stated on Reddit: "Suppose you have device sharing enabled and then a call comes in. Who gets it? Do you punch through to the current user? Only the owner gets it? If only the owner can answer, does it ring for the second user? Is it worse to annoy the current user with a ringing phone they can't answer, or worse for dad to miss a call from his boss because Junior was playing Angry Birds?"

Another reason the feature hasn't appeared on smartphones is because test groups didn't seem to like it. There's a bit of a resistance to the idea of sharing your smartphone, which seems pretty normal, as our smartphones tend to be a bit more personal and more intimately bound up with our daily lives than other computing devices. We certainly tend to share PCs, laptops and tablets much more readily than we do our smartphones.

android multi user tablet
Would you like to see the multi-user feature on your smartphone? / © Google, Inc.

So, what happens if and when we do see the feature enabled in future handsets? Well, it sounds like it'll be confusing for a while, but a certain standard for usage will naturally emerge. As Morrill also said: ''user research showed that if you ask 5 people how this should work, you get 6 answers.'' It would most likely appear as a ''special use'' feature, like for shared workplace handsets or a ''lockdown'' mode for younger users.

With the enhanced Android 4.3 multi-user functionality out now for tablet sharing, we should see more discussion of the feature for smartphones, and a natural set of demands for smartphone application should emerge. Considering the proliferation of phablets in the market now too, it makes sense to have the feature available on those devices at the very least.

The question is: would you share your smartphone if this feature were available? Or are you too firmly attached to your mobile device?

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Comments

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  • Philipp Junghannß (My1) Jul 29, 2013 Link

    I would rly like it since i wouldnt have that much of a problem handing my phone pver to my annoying sister when she wants to play. About calls and such I'd say incoming calls go through, but outgoing calls and outgoing and incoming SMS and MMS should be ABLE to be blocked (as an option)...

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    Kris Carlon Jul 29, 2013 Link

    Yeah, that was the feedback on the Reddit page too - set some basic standards and have everything else user-definable. I have to say I think it could be very useful in family situations, say where dad has a high-end phone with specs to handle great games. And if the functionality is already there, why not include it?

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  • Dave Jarratt Jul 30, 2013 Link

    Gawd, my S3 is less than 8. months old and it's obsolete! Then again I'm 70 so I am doomed to the knackers yard. I wish all today's yuppies the skill to stay sane and solvent. I really think I was happier with the old feature phone, where the playing fields were pretty level if only for a moment.

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    Kris Carlon Jul 30, 2013 Link

    I wouldn't be so quick Dave, I reckon there's a bit of life left in you and your S3 yet! The S3 is still a fantastic device, which is part of the reason the S4 didn't sell as well as Samsung had hoped - S3 owners were simply too happy with the S3! So I think you chose well.

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