Google recently released Version 4.2 of Android, or as they like to call it, a new “flavor” of Jelly Bean. One of the cool new features in this version of Android is the support for multiple users on a tablet, the feature is not available for smartphones. Basically, you can make it so that different people can use the same Android tablet but have a different set of applications and home screen configurations.
While Android 4.2’s support of multiple user ids is new to tablets, it is not new to computing. Windows, OS X, and Linux all support multiple user ids and the concepts of separate configuration settings for each user for many years. What is new, however, are application stores that come bundled with tablet and now desktop computers, and I think that the model being used for app stores and multiple user ids for computers is broken.
Setting up a new user on an Android tablet requires creating a new Google account that includes access to the Play store. Each new user on a tablet only sees the default Google apps and they need to then access the Play store to install any additional apps. According to the documentation, Android is smart enough to not actually download and install multiple copies of the same app, but a user still must go through the process of installing the apps she wants, which can be a time consuming process.
Windows 8 follows the same process as does Android. With earlier versions of Windows, at the time you install a new app Windows prompts whether to make it available to all users of the PC, or just the user that is installing the app. Now that apps are tied to a store the installation of a new app is restricted to the user id currently installing it. In order for a new Windows 8 user to install apps from the Windows store a Windows Live account is needed.
Apple has taken a better approach with their App Store for OS X by requiring a separate administrator logon to access the store, purchase, and install applications. The applications that an administrator ID installs are available to all users of the computer, with each apps’s settings separate so that different users have separate app experiences.
I think Android and Windows 8 need to borrow Apple’s concept of administrator access to their app stores and for the management of apps on the device. I would like to see a special administrator app management setting that allows one to check-off which apps a user id sees and can use on the device. If you want to set up a user id on a Nexus 7 for your child that restricts them to only playing Angry Birds, you should be able to lock down that ID so that all they see is Angry Birds and no other app, including the default apps that come with Android.
The process of simply checking off which apps an administrator assigns to a user id will be more efficient than having to manually install additional apps, and provides a simple way to manage access and spending on an app store.
My recommendation may come across as too restricting, but I think given the personal nature of tablets that if a person is to have complete control they should have their own device rather than sharing with another person. It seems to me that the scenario for tablet sharing will typically occur with one “power user” or administrator, and other “regular” users. Think sharing a tablet within a family or between young children with whom you don’t want to allow full and uncontrolled access to apps or the Internet. In this scenario it makes sense to me to provide administrator tools on the device to allow that “power user” to control the apps that other users of the device can use.