Why we love guest mode in Android


15th January 2020


4 min

Ray Clarke headshot

Ray Clarke

Smartphones have become one of the most personal devices we own. With the vast amount of customisation options now available to users‚ from the choice of devices to different applications that change the look and feel of the device‚ they are increasingly tailored to the wants and needs of their owners. As a result‚ there is more personal information on an individual’s mobile device than in any other singular location. 

Despite this‚ many of us don’t think twice about loaning them to friends‚ family‚ co-workers or even strangers from time to time for various reasons. It could be something as simple as letting a friend try a game‚ to showing your holiday pictures to your family. This isn’t an issue when someone takes the device‚ uses it for the intended purpose and give the device straight back‚ but there are a few curious individuals who end up digging deeper into your device and subsequently personal information. 

A similar situation occurs when you have to share a tablet or smartphone with someone whose own device has run out of battery‚ so that they can browse the internet or check up on emails. They involuntarily end up accessing personal information regarding the owner‚ without their permission.

To solve this problem‚ Google had announced a feature called Guest User in their Lollipop version of Android. What this feature essentially does is enable the owner to give their device (be it a smartphone or tablet running Android Lollipop) to another user‚ to let them use the device without accessing their personal information.

Android does this by enabling users to access a guest mode‚ like they have on computers. This guest mode retains most of the device’s functionality‚ but restricts access to the owner’s information. For example‚ if the guest uses the email app‚ he or she would be asked to log in using their own credentials‚ and the owner’s credentials or emails would be hidden.

What’s more‚ the owner can also apply restrictions to various functionalities within guest mode‚ to ensure that the guest does not use certain functions of the smartphone. For example‚ the owner can disable call functionality‚ to prevent someone from making calls from the device without their consent. 

While in guest mode‚ the guest user can access their own Google Play account‚ to install apps and other content from the Google Play Store onto the device‚ using the available memory. If the guest is trying to install an app that is already available in the owner’s profile‚ the device will automatically enable the guest to access the app‚ but without any of the owners information. Essentially‚ it would be like installing and using a new app.

This system also enables the owner to create multiple users‚ for which apps and settings can be saved‚ to access whenever required. This works perfectly for families who own a single Android-based Tablet device and have to share it with their family members. Imagine having to give your smartphone to your 3 year old and praying they do not end up deleting the work app installed on your device – Guest User mode eliminates this problem.

Now‚ the owner of a device can set up a separate account for their toddler‚ so they can give it to them with peace of mind that their child only has access to apps that were installed for the sole purpose of their entertainment‚ preventing them from accessing work-related and other apps.

Android has always targeted a diverse consumer base‚ and the issue of privacy affects almost every possible consumer in the market. Guest User will stop snooping friends and family members in their tracks‚ making this system very appealing for Android users. As such‚ it’s no surprise that it has already been accepted quite well amongst current users as mobile app developers.

With Android’s latest OS‚ Android M‚ announced just last week‚ we are sure that this feature will be carried over from Lollipop to M. However we are excited to see how have they improved this to make life better for users.