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Rise of the planet of the lockscreens

Mike Elgan | July 21, 2014
The humble lockscreen is about to become the most important interface on your smartphone, says columnist Mike Elgan.

Lockscreens were supposed to be a subordinate interface — a kind of screen saver for smartphones that told you the time and put a barrier between your phone's home screen and the world.

But soon, lockscreens will take over, moving from the least important interface on your phone to the most important.

Here's why I'm going bananas over the new smart lockscreens.

Planet of the apps

For years, some obscure apps have been available for making dumb lockscreens super smart. Power users have enjoyed them, but most people never replace their phones' default lockscreens.

One example is Slidelock Locker, which allows notifications to appear on your lockscreen and even supports touch-free viewing of those notifications.

Besides notifications, however, a range of apps have tried to put all kinds of features on top of the lockscreen.

For example, a minimalist anonymous chat app called Wut (backed by Google Ventures and others) pops messages right up on top of your lockscreen as push notifications. (You don't know who sends messages, but you do know it's one of your Facebook friends.)

There's even an app called Slidejoy that pays you to view ads on your lockscreen.

An update to the Facebook app for Android added Facebook notifications to the Android lockscreen, but a subsequent update made it go away again. It appears that Facebook was testing the feature for a future release.

Facebook clearly wants to get on that lockscreen. Remember Facebook Home? That was Facebook's attempt to replace the lockscreen with photos from your Facebook News Feed and also put messages and conversations right there on the lockscreen.

Like so many Facebook initiatives, Facebook Home fizzled and the company disbanded the team.

Lockscreen upgrades have been even more rare on iOS because they require a jailbreak.

LockInfo and IntelliscreenX are examples of iOS lockscreen replacers, which bring notifications, RSS feeds and other features front and center.

Apps for power users are nice, but lockscreens that are teeming with options and functions are about to become mainstream.

Android: L is for 'lockscreen'

Google's code names for versions of the Android operating system have proceeded in alphabetical order and, since alpha and beta, they have been the names of sugary desserts and snacks: Cupcake, Doughnut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean and KitKat.

That stopped when Google offered an early peak at its upcoming Android release: Apparently unable to come up with a name in time for the preview, the company just referred to it as the "L" release.

But based on what has been made public so far, I think the L should stand for Lockscreen.


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