Android really shows is strength in its flexibility. Where iOS can be more limited because Apple can’t or won’t do modifications, Google has no such qualms. Everything within the system is fair game under the open-source rules of engagement. It’s how we have creative tweaks like Facebook Chat Heads.
Along those lines, two Israeli Android developers named Lior Iluz and Dor Schaike made an app we definitely will not see on iOS anytime soon. Overlays takes a widget and displays it over the top of the screen within another app. You can interact with it and everything.
How useful is this? Does Overlays really work? Read on to find out.
The overlying widgets concept
Iluz and Schaike built Overlays in their spare time as a pet project. “I wanted to create one of those incoming call screen applications and it was very interesting for me to find out how the developers remove the call screen without root access,” Iluz said. “So both of us dug in and found out that they don’t actually remove the call screen, they just draw over it. That’s when we decided that if we can draw anything on top of everything, why not extend this to more than just a call screen replacement app?
“Of course, like all great ideas, we rushed into development only to found out later on these kinds of apps already exist. So we continued and will continue to improve Overlays to make it innovative!”
In its current state, Overlays feels very much like a finished project. The app is clean, simple, Holo-themed and effective.
It comes with several helpful features but without adding anything unnecessary. Overlays supports placing widgets in special layouts within portrait and landscape. These layouts can be edited and rearranged to include any widget you’d like.
The widgets can be placed anywhere on screen and even rendered partially transparent. Be careful with this, as a little transparency goes a long way toward illegibility.
The app includes a few starter widgets for the clock, battery, weather, missed calls and unread SMS shortcuts. However, any shortcut or widget is fair game.
The description claims that you have to buy the pro version in order to get app profiles (overlaid widgets that automatically start when you enter a given app), but we got that working in the free version.
What is reserved for the pro version, though, is Tasker integration. This opens some real possibilities. You could set up Tasker to create specific overlays for specific situations.
But what are those situations? How could you use Overlays effectively?
In the description, Iluz and Schaike mention that some people put a music player widget overlaid atop the GPS app. Having juggled those two apps before on a car trip, we can appreciate this idea.
“We can’t even begin to understand the uses people find for this app,” Iluz said. “Many use it with Tasker (Overlays Pro) – they create Tasker profiles that activate Overlays profiles on certain locations, incoming calls, when a specific screen in a specific application is shown, when headphones are attached, etc.
“When we began developing this app, we knew we’d never be able to find out all the cool uses, so we kept it as generic as we could and tried not to prevent anything. The community and users did the rest!”
Our reaction after using Overlays is mixed. On one hand, it works exactly as advertised. That’s cool. On the other, it’s not as good as simply reading the notification bar. For things like your SMS count, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Notifications are more elegant, especially on Jelly Bean when they can expand.
We also ran into some issues with screen real estate. On a 4.5-inch phone, space is at a premium. Having a widget cover part of the screen seems clumsy. Tablet users might get more mileage out of this app.
The user can also toggle whether the widget is interactive. While it is nice to manipulate the widget, you quickly run into the problem of trying to tap something beneath the widget and losing that tap to the overlay.
On second thought, maybe that’s more of a feature. You could always “borrow” a friend’s phone and cover the screen in overlays, rendering it unusable. There’s some practical joke potential there.
Regardless of its issues, we’d recommend trying Overlays. It checks all the boxes- free of charge, free of ads, a cool concept, Holo-themed, and guaranteed support in the future.
Iluz says he and Schaike will try to find a way to display floating widgets overtop the lock screen. “This is actually possible, but it seems that when it floats over the locksreen, the user can’t click it, which makes it unusable,” Iluz commented.
They plan on including more features as well. “We’re going to add more in-house overlays, much cooler than the current six and because we know not everyone has Tasker, we’re going to add a new tab, named “Events” soon that will enable users to create profiles on certain system events, like the ones I stated above.”
Iluz and Schaike are friendly and talented developers. Their attitude and app have earned them a lot of goodwill among Android fans. “We even get comments like, ‘I’m not going to use it but it’s cool so I bought it,’” Iluz said. “You can always count on the Android community to spread the word.”
Quotations edited for grammar and clarity.