One of Android’s best features that make it an incredibly powerful mobile OS is the ability to multitask with apps. However, since most of these apps don’t run side-by-side, it technically isn’t “true” multitasking. If you’re looking for a way to get the most out of your multitasking on your Android phone or tablet, look no further than these floating apps; the apps float on top of everything else on your screen, giving you easy access to tools, browsers, and other types of controls so you don’t have to constantly switch between apps to get things done. Hit the break to get started.
If you’re anything like me, your phone or tablet gets almost as much web browsing time as your normal PC. Whether that’s news stories, links from Google Now, or anything and everything in between, the browser is one of the staple apps of a smartphone. Floating Browser is a fully featured browser on its own, but its floating ability makes it extremely handy. It will float over any other currently running apps, so you can look up information about a movie while watching it on Netflix or copy some recipe ingredients into a text message to your significant other without ever having to actually switch apps.
Even if you have a device like the Galaxy Note II that has a floating browser built in, Floating Browser has a few other tricks up its sleeve to keep it competitive over other apps. It’s completely resizable by dragging the lower right corner. It also features a minimize and maximize button; the minimize button essentially “docks” your current web page to a status bar notification which you can reopen at any time, and the maximize button stretches your web page across the screen. Tapping the maximize button again returns it to smaller, floating proportions. It also has fully integrated tabbed browsing support and bookmark support. The browser will scale up to 1080p resolution, so most users should be okay, but it might be a little wonky if you stretch it out to full screen on a tablet like the Nexus 10, or if we hit 4K resolution on phones by the end of the year. (Never say never, right?)
Floating Browser likely won’t replace your normal mobile browser, whether that’s Chrome or another personal favorite, but it works extremely well alongside it. It’s a free app with no advertisements, and it does offer an in-app purchase for the Professional Edition ($1.99) that adds a few things like independent browsing history and web page capturing. Give it a try and see if you can live without it after a week.
From the same developers of Floating Browser, GPlayer offers an identical feature set, except in a video player format. Everything Floating Browser does, like being easily resizable and customizable, GPlayer also offers. It’s an excellent option for chatting with friends about a movie while watching it, or keeping up with social networks while watching a few episodes of TV.
An extremely handy feature is its ability to open up YouTube streams. It’s a bit more work than just selecting a video to play, since you have to manually paste the URL into GPlayer, but once it’s going, you’re in great shape. If you’re the type to look up help videos for the more difficult levels on games like Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, this can be a great feature that’s hard to live without. Videos stored locally also works really well. You can use the built in file explorer to find anything to watch from your phone storage or SD card, or you can launch videos from your regular gallery app via the contextual sharing menu. If you really want to stretch what this app can do, it also functions as a sort of floating music player that lets you skip songs without having to mess with status bar toggles or switching back to a music application.
Like the browser, Samsung and a few other OEMs have dabbled in floating video players in their custom Android skins. But if you’re looking for a free, robust alternative, GPlayer is definitely worth checking out.
If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to some floating apps, Tiny Apps is a group of floating applications that you can use on top of any other apps. The Lite version contains five apps; Notes, Sound Recorder, Paint, a Music Player, and a Calculator. There’s a paid version of the app that also adds a floating browser and the ability to make any widget you have installed a floating app. That widget access is what makes this app really extraordinary.
Widgets are one of the top features of Android, and there’s no shortage of them to be found on the Play Store. The ability to make a widget float on top of everything else on your phone opens up some impressive possibilities. You can use your own note widget or calculator widget instead of Tiny Apps packed in apps, or you can throw in a floating calendar or messaging widget for extreme multitasking. There are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this, especially on phones with larger screens or tablets.
The widgets are the coolest part of Tiny Apps, but that’s not because the built in apps are bad by any means. The floating browser gets the job done, and having floating sticky notes is very handy and similar to Windows built-in stick notes app that I personally use all the time. The sound recorder is also a nice edition, especially if you’re the type of person to make voice memos to remember things, and the music player and calculator are helpful in some situations, too. You can give the lite version a spin to see how well it works for you, and get the Pro version with those awesome floating widgets for just under two bucks.
Facebook’s recent new addition to their app, Chat Heads, has been one of the most popular use of floating applications on Android. For what it is, it’s an extremely cool feature. Being able to text and message people with a floating “head” on your screen is handy and really gives you flexibility with your device. The only limits it has is that it has to be for either Facebook messages or text messages, and you have to have a Facebook account for it to even work. If you like the idea of Chat Heads but want it to be a little more powerful, Floating Notifications is your app.
The concept is the same as Chat Heads; a floating bubble that you can sit anywhere on your screen that you tap to interact with. However, it beats out Facebook by applying that system to every notification on your device. Texts, messages, email, you name it. You get full interaction with the notifications as well, such as responding inline to text messages, calling someone back after missing their call, etc. It’s very much like a system level Chat Head feature.
Floating Notifications also has a trick up its sleeve to really make it appealing to Android power users; in-depth customization. There are numerous themes for Floating Notifications on the Play Store, and the app itself has tons of customization options to tweak it to work exactly like you want it to. You can adjust whether or not the notifications show up on your lock screen, which apps to blacklist from being shown as floating notifications, and a handful of other tweaks. The app has also been recently updated to take advantage of Android 4.3 features such as third party apps being able to directly dismiss notifications from the notification shade. The app will cost you $1.97, but there’s a fully functional 30-day trial to give it a spin before you make your decision.
LilyPad was one of our top tablet applications, and for good reason. The application sets up a floating interface for using several instant messaging services to chat with friends and family and saves you the hassle of swapping back and forth between watching YouTube videos and keeping up on Hangouts.
The app itself is extremely intuitive and easy to set up and comes with gestures to minimize and hide specific chat windows. Double tapping a chat window, for example, will hide that conversation. All of the chat windows are completely resizable, and best of all, it’s Holo themed. The free version of the app only supports Google Hangouts, but the paid version supports all of the major chat services, including Facebook Messenger, AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and Jabber for just three bucks.
LilyPad isn’t one of the most feature-packed apps on this list, but it takes the one thing it does and does it extremely well. If you’re looking for something to make your instant messaging seem a bit more desktop PC-like, this is the way to go.