How to Use Guided Access on Android Phones

Set up screen pinning to keep kids and nosy friends out

The “guided access” functionality that Apple popularized is not unique to iOS devices, but has an analogous feature in Android. Here’s how guided access for Android works, and what it can be used for.

What is Guided Access on Android?

Guided access is a kind of catch-all term for functionality that lets users lock one app to the screen of their device so other apps are inaccessible or unusable.

On Android, this is actually called “Screen pinning.” When enabled, all parts of the pinned app can be used as normal, but users cannot return to the home screen, open the app switcher, or switch to the previous app until Screen pinning is disabled.

There are two modes that Screen pinning can operate in when enabled:

  • Under the first mode, holding the back button and app switcher button is all that's needed to disable Screen pinning and re-enable normal OS usage.
  • In the second mode, the same button combination must be used, but this then shunts users to the lock screen, where the device PIN must be entered to resume normal OS usage.

What is Guided Access on Android Good For?

The main use for Screen pinning is locking down access to its contents when kids use it. If you share your main Android device with your family or friends’ kids, you may understandably not want them getting into your SMS messages, emails, or other sensitive areas.

For younger children, the button-only unpinning mode is usually sufficient to quickly pin the app before you hand off the device and quickly unpin it when they’re done.

Screen pinning is also useful when a friend wants to use your device, but you don’t want them poking around outside of the app you want them to access. For this, you'll likely have to use the PIN locking mode, thereby preventing them from using the aforementioned button combination to deactivate screen pinning and circumvent your protections.

While these are the two most common use cases, there are a couple of other situational instances where Screen pinning can come in handy. For instance, the button-PIN combination mode is useful for lending your phone to a stranger who needs to make an emergency call.

For a more novel use, if you have a friend you really trust, you could use Screen pinning as a productivity hack. If you want to lock yourself out of changing apps so you don’t get distracted and wander over to Facebook, you could have your friend pin your productivity app with a PIN you don’t know, then have them unlock it when your task is done.

This would involve changing the PIN to your entire device, as the Screen pinning PIN defaults to that.

How to Enable Screen Pinning for Guided Access

Before you can activate Screen pinning, you’ll have to turn it on.

  1. Open the Settings app.

  2. Tap Security & location > Screen pinning.

  3. Tap the Screen pinning toggle switch to enable the feature.

    Security & location, Screen pinning toggle on Android

    You can also tap Ask for PIN before unpinning if you want Screen pinning to use your PIN when attempting to unpin an app.

How to Use Screen Pinning

  1. Open the app you want to pin.

  2. Tap the square app switcher icon to open the app switcher screen.

  3. Tap the thumbtack Screen pinning icon.

  4. The screen of the selected app is now pinned.

  5. To unpin the app, simply tap and hold the back and app switcher buttons.

    Thumbtack icon, Back and Overview buttons on Android

    If you didn't enable PIN locking, you'll return to your home screen. Otherwise, you'll be prompted to enter your PIN before returning to your device’s home screen.