Thursday, February 04, 2010

iPhone/iPad/iPod Multitasking -- stop the silliness!

We interrupt this otherwise-productive workday to get this off my chest:

Stop mis-using the term multitasking. Most people don't really use multitasking anyway.


From CNet News:

How important is the ability to multitask on tablet-class devices like Apple's iPad? Important enough that the feature will likely be touted as a trump card for Intel-based smartphones such as a tablet-size phone from LG due later this year.


From The IPhone Blog:

iPad — What We Didn’t Get: Multitasking, Notifications, TV Subscriptions, Camera, Tethering, Textbooks, iTunes.com

Multitasking. Apple only showed one iPhone app or iPad app running at once. We’ve heard it’s running iPhone OS 3.2, and multitasking might be an iPhone (and iPad) OS 4.0 feature, but again, we wanted to see it now.



How often does a normal Windows XP or Mac OS X user actually make use of multitasking? There are two defensible arguments, because of the fuzziness of the way the terms are used:

Normal People Almost Never use Multitasking. In fact, when you're using a Windowing environment like Mac OS X, only one window is active at a time. The other programs are almost always sitting completely idle. If you don't believe me, and you actually care about truth, honesty, and the American Way use the "Activity Monitor" or "Task Manager" to watch the process state on your system. It's incredibly rare for multiple applications to actually be Runnable. In practice, most programs are sitting quietly, doing nothing, even though you can see them on your screen.

It turns out the iPhone OS can do this already. When you switch between programs, the iPhone OS retains the memory state of the application you just left.

When do ordinary people REALLY use multitasking?

  • If you're waiting for Microsoft Word to do something like print, or re-format, you can switch back to some other application, such as email. In reality, you're slowing MS Word a bit, but it can continue processing in the background while you're looking at your email.
  • When a message arrives from the network that needs to be displayed; e.g., an instant message. The task you're using is momentarily paused while the new message is processed. This is useful because your display is large enough to display both your main application, and the Instant Messenger client.
  • If you're actively viewing incoming data from multiple data feeds. E.g., if you're watching multiple incoming security cameras. Again, this is mostly interesting because your display can display multiple sources simultaneously.


If "multitasking" means that we can switch between applications (as often demonstrated on the Palm Pre), then the iPhone/iPod OS does this already. They're just smart enough to know that the screen on a pocket-sized device is too small to display multiple applications simultaneously in any useful way.

And the iPhone/iPod OS can handle incoming messages from the network, and render notifications. For example, when you get a new email, the iPhone can notify you of the change.



Normal People Are Multitasking All The Time, they just don't know it.. Another reasonable argument is that people are multitasking all the time. The operating system utilities are running regularly in the background handling maintenance task.

But the iPhone/iPod is doing this already. E.g., when it synchronizes a calendar, it's doing it in the background.

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