Understanding Multi-tasking on the iPad: What is it really?

by Milind Alvares

Understanding Multi-tasking on the iPad: What is it really?

by Milind Alvares on February 1, 2010

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[tweetmeme]iPad haters harp on two things lacking on the iPad, that most commoners can relate to. One is Flash, and the other, multi-tasking. The first one is as even more irrelevant today as it was back when the iPhone was first announced. Lack of Flash is not going to stop people from having a better internet experience on the iPad. John Gruber sums up the Flash argument nicely.

Multi-tasking on the other hand is a different matter. To be able to perform more than one task on a computer has been heralded since the first GUI based computer first showed up—the Macintosh the MultiFinder extension for the Macintosh in 1988. But it’s a bit hasty call on the iPad’s lack of multi-tasking, when in fact most people don’t understand what it really is. To that end, here’s my take on what multi-tasking means for the end user, and how the iPad will do it surprisingly well. I promise to be eccentric, fanboyistic, and optimistic. You retain right to disagree with me completely.

Multi-tasking is running apps in the background

Let me say this straight up: The iPad (and the iPhone) supports background processes. It supports multiple processes, and it can do this without any adverse effects on your battery life. This capability however, is reserved for built in applications, and not for third party applications. So you can listen to music, receive emails, and have the iTunes app download podcasts while you send out tweets through your twitter client. That’s multi-tasking at the technology level, and the iPad fully supports it. I know you’re disagreeing already, so let’s see what kind of ‘background’ tasks one might perform on a desktop:

  1. Rendering some video, exporting in Quicktime, copying a file. This point is moot on an iPad, because it’s a mobile device, limited in screen size, speed, and battery life. If Apple does create a device for professionals, I’m sure it will allow them to render video while they tick off that task in their GTD app.
  2. Monitoring. People want to keep track of their twitter feed, know when someone wants to get in touch over IM. Stuff like that. Push Notifications. I agree that the current notification system on the iPhone (and iPad I suppose) is the most intrusive one I’ve ever seen, but it’s functional.
  3. Listening to internet radio (and third party music apps). The only real reason to have apps run in the background, seems to be running Pandora radio. It’s everyone’s want. And it’s a valid one. But unless Apple makes an exception for one type of app—which they won’t—I think the trade off is worth it.

What the user gets instead, is increased battery life, sustained performance, and reduced confusion. The battery life and performance issues are evident not only on jailbroken iPhones running more than one third party app at a time, but also on other devices like the Android and the Palm Pre. Perhaps Apple might enable low level background processes in the future, or as Steve Streza suggests, bring in a Dashboard like feature for widgets to supplement that functionality, but as of right now, it’s definitely a beneficial tradeoff.

Moreover, having just one way to quit an application also greatly reduces user confusion. Think of the number of people having open applications in their desktop dock without even knowing it. Or open ‘cards’ on a Pre without knowing that they’re sucking up resources. As Patrick Rhone mentions, on the Mac there are currently 4-5 ways just to quit an application. On the iPhone, it’s just one—press the home button.

Multi-tasking is a workflow

To me, multi-tasking is a workflow. You want to do more than a couple of things at one time. And by one time, I mean “during one session”—because there’s no way you can possibly devote your vision to two tasks. On a desktop computer, I would have a Safari web page open in one window, and floating beneath or beside it, is a TextEdit window. I can research multiple articles using different tabs, all the time copying stuff over to TextEdit for my research. Some variation of this is the most common form of a multi-tasking workflow on a computer.

That above workflow is based on the fact that screen real estate allows you to have more than one window visible at a time. The smaller the screen gets, the kludgier the window management gets, as you constantly have to manage your windows. Apple negates all that in the iPhone by running every app in full screen. Here’s the kicker. Every iPhone application is already a potentially a pre-launched fullscreen application window. Think of it in relation to Cmd+Tab on the desktop. It’s where you can switch between all your running applications. With the iPhone, you can see all your applications. Fundamentally that’s the only difference.

The iPhone’s SDK allows an app to keep a totally persistent state. Take Tweetie 2 for instance. It’s like you never really ‘quit’ the application—the app returns to the exact same state you left it in—yet the OS makes sure Tweetie isn’t sucking up any precious mobile resources and battery life, along with the simplification of user interface workflows. This way of ‘multi-tasking’ may not be so apparent on the iPhone (although I hear the 3GS is quite there), but the iPad’s speed improvements. Andy Ihnatko impressions:

Fast. Fast, fast, fast. I did absurd things, like zoom in and out of webpages with fast twitches of my finger tips. The iPad kept right up with me, millisecond by millisecond. When you drag something, you feel like you’re physically sliding a photo across a surface; no need to wait for the OS to catch up with you. When you turn the iPad, the screen switches display modes almost instantly.

But the iPad’s multi-tasking is more than just speed. It’s a brand new user interface bringing in a new a new workflow. Something that’s simple, logical, focussed, and human. It’s multi-tasking dictated by end goals. What are you trying to achieve on this device? The iWork applications exhibit completeness within the user interface, including the media browser, file manager, and I’m sure it can send those documents as attachments via email as well. The iPad is definitely not just a bigger iPhone, and even thinking its multi-tasking workflow will be alike is (I think) a mistake.

Letting go of the old; making way for the new.

Instead of holding on to your old notions of how computers should work, take a look at what the new offers. The iPad is a half inch thick device, with multi-touch, forever connected to the internet, simplified, focussed, affordable, and most importantly, can be superbly productive. Sure it won’t be just as efficient and productive as your desktop or laptop, and that’s why they will continue to remain production machines, but given the iPad’s size and mobility, I think the lack of traditional multi-tasking is anything but bad design.

I suppose we all have to wait and see what the device feels like, and more importantly, how developers take advantage of its added screen real estate. But I have full faith in the Apple developer community to bring out some real surprises in the way we use the iPad.

{ 65 comments }

qka

Great article. Speaking from 30+ years of software development experience, you are completely correct in your assessment of multi-taking.

Simon DeMartini

Exactly! We have all been going along just fine without multi-tasking on our iphones, and the iPad isn’t much different! The only thing that I really want is Apple to allow apps to be able to stream audio, the same way Push Notification works, so the app is not running, but you can listen to Pandora or whatever while playing games or something. Hopefully that comes in iPhone OS 4.0 :)

Josh Gertzen

Agreed, Apple just needs to provide an API that allows third party apps to control the iTunes background process to some ‘safe’ degree so that Pandora and the like can play background music.

On a related note, you should try pulling up SomaFM through your iPhone web browser. Choose a stream, then quit the browser and navigate to a different app. Guess what? The music continues to play in the background!

Jocca

I think you need to also mention the fact that for third party applications, the iPod Touch handles application differently from the way a desktop does. When you quit an application on the iphone or ipod, you get back to the same spot when you restart the application. You do not start from the beginning again. This is the best compromise that you can get in the absence of multitasking because it gives you the impression that you have never actually quit the application.

Milind Alvares

I did mention Tweetie’s state of persistence. Corrected the article to make my point clearer. Thanks.

tommy

My droid’s battery life is much better than my ipod touch (3gen). I multi-task on the droid often.

Simon

Well done, your medal is in the post!

Sean

I have yet to need a reason for multi-tasking on my Touch. When I do need to switch Apps the old one tends to keep it’s state when I revert back anyway.

However, I see Apple implementing some form of multi-tasking in iPhone OS 4. I don’t think they showed all of their cards at the iPad event. Apple is very crafty. :o)

Stephane

Quick correction, multitasking didn’t appear with the first Mac, it actually came in 1987 with the MultiFinder application http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MultiFinder.

I do think that the iPad could use some sort of multitasking even if it’s blindingly fast to go to back to the home screen then to another app.

vincent

Another interesting possibility for multi-tasking; considering the ipad’s bigger screen and chip than the iphone/ipod is that maybe developers will create application suite. Being one application, technically, but still able to do various tasks.

str1f3

I disagree with this article. Yes, one usage case is Pandora but there are 130,000 apps available and there are many that would be useful running in the background. The PNS cannot handle every type of app.

I want to handle which tasks are running in the background & not Apple. I don’t believe in this idea of Apple pandering to the lowest common denominator being the technologically ignorant. It may mean more sales but it also limits the moderate to power user who knows what they are doing. Younger generations already know how to use a computer and know, from laptops, that the more stuff you do causes a decrease in battery life. I can assure you that there will be iPhone sales lost when customers (even the novice) find out you can’t do two things at once with third party apps.

Another issue that pertains to this is fast switching between apps. While Apple’s apps run in the background you constantly have to quit out of apps to access one that is running in the background.

Marc

I mostly agree, but I’d add one important example of a background process that would be useful: uploading and transferring data. For instance, uploading photos to Flickr requires the application to running, which can tie up the system for extended periods of time. When traveling I would love to take all the photos off my camera and then upload hundreds of megabytes to Flickr.

Wil

This is a great point. The Flickr app is currently a horrible user experience through no fault of their team because you have to watch the upload. We talk about the iPad as an “abstraction of computing” but what is watching an upload/download if not what we’re trying to abstract away from?

_mark

this thing is destined for the WNBA. An oversized Ipod Touch, Wow.. Revolutionary. Layups and Jumpshots.

bbebop

discussion of multitasking tends to focus on our inability to focus on more than one thing at a time. my interest is in having the computer do more than one thing at a time even while I’m focused on a different thing. clearly listening to music while browsing the web is one example. on the iphone, I’d love to have the nike plus app running in the background while i take a phone call or check an incoming tweet.

how about the ability of a utility like TextExpander to interact with any text entry form in the iPad/iPhone system or any app without that app having to use TextExpander’s API? Or being able to send a clip to Pastebot without having to quit the app I’m currently using?

one more. I’d like have a metronome playing while a different app records me practicing playing my bass.

perhaps there would be a way for users to determine which apps can run in the background, and perhaps Apple could provide a way to allow users to shut down background processes?

Milind Alvares

One more. I’d like have a metronome playing while a different app records me practicing playing my bass.

This is what I mean by focussed tasks. There’s no reason why the iPad couldn’t house an excellent music recording application that doesn’t include a metronome as well. The iPad’s larger screen and system resources can definitely push this device to create some amazing apps. It’s all in the hands of creative developers, and going by what they’ve done on the iPhone, it’s very possible you’ll see your dream app soon.

I do agree about TextExpander. Although, the TextExpander API can be used by almost any third party app. It still would be nice to have some sort of ‘low level’ background process running to get the true benefits of TextExpander.

I think background processing can and should only be achieved on a per app basis—enabling it instead of having to kill it. Apple definitely doesn’t want to bring in a task manager, although Palm’s “cards” user interface is killer for managing applications.

Whatever be the case, I’d rather have the speed and battery life the iPad sports rather than have the ability to play internet radio and expand snippets.

Justin

We complain about the iPhone’s lack of openness.
Android is open, we complain about the thousands of total crap apps that show it.

We complain about iPhone’s lack of multitasking.
Android & WebOS have multitasking, we complain about the horrible battery life that comes with it.

You can’t please everyone. That’s where competition comes in. May the best platform win.

Daniel

Yes, however with Andriod, you can choose to run one app at a time or many. The choice is left to the user. A user who complains about battery life can easily remedy teh situation by only running one app at a time. It’s no fault or flaw in the system, the problem is the user.
With the iPad, you have no choice. The problem is with the system, the user is unable to remedy the problem.

Matt Freedman

It’s worth noting that Safari can also run in the background, allowing you to stream audio while running other apps. All we need is a Quicktime-friendly, web-based audio stream from a company like Pandora.

Aayush Arya

One more area where multi-tasking is required is when you are waiting on an app to complete doing something and have nothing to do in the meanwhile. I would love to be able to switch from Instapaper to some other application while it downloads new articles and from Tweetie to the iPod while it opens an image or a link.

Milind Alvares

I’d highly suggest you use the iPad at a zoo or a museum with a subject of your interest. That way when the app is working on something, you can observe wildlife and amuse yourself with historical artifacts.

Point taken

Wil

This is such a good point. I launched an app the other day and it took 5 minutes to log in to the service. The app is irrelevant, but the 5 minutes of my life where my phone was useless is a huge problem (and had I gotten a phone call I would have had to repeat the process).

Aayush Arya

Also, having to quit whatever you are doing when a new e-mail comes in is quite annoying, specially when the app in question was doing the sort of task that would have to be restarted if it’s stopped before it’s done.

There is definitely a need for multi-tasking on both the iPhone and (specially) the iPad and I bet Apple’s best engineers are hard at work trying to come up with an elegant solution. Just like SMS-forwarding, copy-and-paste and the SDK, I’m sure they’ll come up with a killer implementation sometime in the near future.

Jasper

The thing that annoys me is the blind commitment to push notifications. They were supposed to be there to improve performance and battery life. Fair enough, they’re probably better for battery life, but if you’ve actually left push notifications on all day then you’ll notice that they’re a massive drain on the battery (3G user here, though I can’t imagine there’s been a lot of optimisation for 3GS) and if you turn on wifi as well, you can almost hear the battery dying.

Jasper

*Fair enough, they’re probably better for performance, not battery life!

Wil

Like Jasper, I think you’re really over-complementing push notifications. They’re intrusive, they actually don’t work very well, and they’re definitely a battery drain.

However, in the form demonstrated by Steve, I think multitasking is a much smaller problem on the iPad than on the iPhone. Why? Because on the iPad no one can interrupt you. On the iPhone multitasking needs huge improvements (like you I admit that some things run in the background). When someone calls me or sends me an SMS I should not be booted out of my current application. The phone call and the SMS should be above the current app, so that when they end I can return. Using Google reader is a great test. Read a feed in reader, take a call… oh… reload the whole reader interface. As Safari is a huge part of the iPhone, it needs to remain active. Re-loading everything on launch is not “seamless”.

And SMS? “Reply” or “Close”? No. “Reply, closing what you’re doing” or “Ignore”. Bad options. SMS is the lightest-weight activity a cell phone does, and the most frequent. It sorely needs to be made available on top of the running application.

I agree with your argument for the iPad. But on the phone we are in sore need of better management for tasks that interrupt us.

addicted

The issues people don’t like about iPhone OS are not multitasking (although, Techies seem to love throwing that one around) but rather (1) Notifications (2) App Switching.

Springboard is not a good longterm solution. Before the App Store, it wasn’t too bad, since switching apps meant hitting the home button, and tapping the icon you want to open. Since the App Store, that process is intermediated by a bunch of swipes, and confusion discovering the page/icon you want to tap.

Apple needs a CMD+TAB alternative that displays a subset of “open” apps, that don’t necessarily need to be turned on…Kind of like a bigger, more easily modifiable bottom bar (that stores the 4 icons persistent across all docks). Additionally, the Pre’s swipe to switch apps makes this really comfortable and easy.

Jon Fabritius

Another case worth considering is VOIP, as it mixes your archetypes 2 and 3. The app will need to both play and listen to audio in the background. You also want to have a trusted system level notification on whether some app is listening to you or not. As in green led in built-in Mac iSights etc.

The Phone app, being a system app, does audio i/o in the background, while letting you hit home and use other apps while the call stays active. The green indicator (‘Touch to return to call’) is Apple’s current method for both switching to a background app and being notified of an open mic.

neilw

At minimum, I want quick access to my working set of apps. Every time I quit out of an app to go do something else (most common example: follow a web link, app quits and Safari opens), I have to navigate back manually afterwards to re-open the original app. I find this highly irritating. On a full multitasking desktop OS, I have the taskbar or dock or expose or cmd-tab to enable me to bounce around my working set. While this is mildly irritating on my iPod Touch, I’d expect it to be a major annoyance on the iPad.

Mind you, I tend to agree with many of the arguments in favor of a fuller multitasking implementation, but maintaining a working set would mollify me for now. Of course, many of same UI challenges would have to be solved in either case.

I am optimistic that a solution for this is forthcoming, and I have my fingers crossed for OS4.0.

neilw

Looks like “addicted” was quicker than I. What he (or she) said.

MrAGi

Finally a blog post that gets the iPhone/iPad design.

Most people (and that excludes all of us reading this blog) use their computers to do one thing at a time – (mainly) surfing the web or writing a word document or editing photos or whatever. Almost no-one outiside expert users will have a web browser + office apps + video ecoding + productivity apps running at once.

Obviously in the background people play itunes and have their e-mail available but iPhone OS already allows for this. The only other application that most people would have open in the background would be an IM client – I bet if Apple found a way to allow for this (shouldn’t be too hard with these new overlay UI widgets on the iPad) most of the multi-tasking complains would go away.

The Tweetie 2 persistance example and improved loading times in future pretty much cover all the other app switching complaints.

Therefore if we had: current app + (Mail + iTunes + IM available via overlays) I think the vast majority of folks would be more than happy.

David W.

Allowing more than one app at a time is a trade off. Because there’s only one app at a time, you get:

* Improved battery life
* Simpler interface. You don’t have the notion you quit an application, you merely leave it. If you had multitasking you would have both quitting the app and tossing it in the background.
* No app manager is needed. Users don’t have to wonder if they kept that app running in the background and if they have to kill it to gain some extra memory.
* Better written apps. When you write an iPhone app, you must understand that the user could leave your app at any time. You can’t hold onto the user. You have to constantly be saving your state. You can’t be sloppy and assume you can keep running in the background. I’ve seen the quality of the apps on the Blackberry and find the equivalent program on the iPhone to be more solidly written.

However, there are some shortcomings with not allowing multi-tasking:

* Apps can’t do stuff in the background. A spreadsheet program can’t recalculate while you modify the spreadsheet. A Word processing app can’t run a search and reformat in the background. Fortunately, iPhone apps are still small enough that these issues shouldn’t be a problem.

* Some apps like Pandora can do things such as stream music or have a timer program that keeps counting down when the user leaves the timer and does other stuff.

* App Switching is slow since you have to have each App restart in order to run. I can quickly switch from Safari to Mail with a few key presses on the Mac. It takes several seconds on an iPhone as I quit one, and then select another.

The iPhone API with things such as the Message Processing SDK can help relieve some of the pressuer for full multitasking, but in the end, certain programs simply need it.

Milind Alvares

* Apps can’t do stuff in the background. A spreadsheet program can’t recalculate while you modify the spreadsheet. A Word processing app can’t run a search and reformat in the background. Fortunately, iPhone apps are still small enough that these issues shouldn’t be a problem.

I see no technical reason why this can’t be possible on the iPad. RSS readers update their news feeds while you can still read and send updates to twitter. Just because you haven’t been able to do simultaneous tasks within an app on the iPhone doesn’t mean the iPad should suffer the same fate.

Unless there is a technical reason, in which case it sucks.

squishyent

To echo Milind Alvares, the iPhone SDK does support multithreading, so these kinds of tasks are already possible on iPhones and will surely be possible in the iPad. An app can easily perform background tasks as long as it’s open and running. It just has to stop as soon as the user switches to another app.

squishyent

I hope that Apple has a wonderful coup brewing, and isn’t just leaving us all hanging on this subject :)

Push notifications are in their 1.0 implementation, and are clearly in need of some love. The interface is ugly – how is that Applesque? :p Worse, it’s unsatisfactory for showing a large set of notifications of various types, for propagating the notifications you care most about to the top of the list, for responding to a notification without opening a separate app, and so on. These seem like problems that a competent Apple developer could solve well with a month or two of effort. I hope they’re working on it.

I agree that app switching counts as multitasking for most apps, but it’s worth pointing out that a cluttered multi-page home screen is less than ideal for quickly switching between the four programs you’re working with right now. It would be great to be able to, say, hold down the home button and get an app list sorted by most-recently-used.

There are certainly many apps which are only vaguely useful if they must terminate when you switch away and extraordinarily useful if they can stick around. Pandora always comes up, and TextExpander was mentioned. A password manager would be great. Another case for switching out without killing an app is for any app which has a lengthy update process, or is otherwise making you wait a while. An RSS reader typically renders the device useless until it’s finished downloading. A program which updates content or state based on web requests might do the same for as much as a minute or two. It’s vexing that I have to simply wait for it, when I could be getting something done in another app.

Still, I see both the iPhone and iPad platforms as being in very early stages, and I actually appreciate Apple’s caution in implementing features like these. I want them to get it right, and make sure they’re right the first time (copy and paste) – or at least only release something they can develop into the best answer (push notifications).

In the meantime, what tech-savvy iPhone user is actually limited by Apple’s white picket fence? Task switching on the iPhone with a Palm-like card UI has been around for quite a while, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty.

Shaun

How about Apple allows multi-tasking and indicates which program is running with an indicator next to it’s icon like it does with the Dock on OSX or like Nokia do with Symbian?

Then to switch apps you double click or hold in the home button and select the app from the list – like Nokia does.

To close apps you drag it out of the list into a puff of smoke. On a Nokia you just hit the delete key.

Simple. That’s how Nokia does it and most of their phones get a couple of days out of the battery with no stupid push notifications or constant state saving.

Multi tasking is essential for VOIP apps. It’s essential for ssh terminal sessions and remote desktop apps. You just wouldn’t want either closing during your call or remote session. It’s essential for uploading/downloading anything large.

You mentioned the early Mac, which didn’t multi-task except for a few system tasks and desk accessories. No multi-tasking in the iPad is plainly a twenty-six year step backwards in computing.

Shaun

@Luke

It works well and it’s simple. There’s no silly task manager like in WinMo. I know there’s this big ‘not invented here’ thing with Apple fans but Apple usually does take things invented elsewhere if it’s a good solution.

Jon Fabritius

Ok, a bit conceptual and doesn’t scale, but could answer some cases and not invent too many new user- visible UI elements:

When an app gets the signal to “save state and quit”, which happens when the user hits ‘Home’ or receives an incoming call, it could signal for an exception if it is currently doing something it deems worth keeping going. It could then spawn or keep a thread or two alive to do something stripped down. (This is assuming you could save some power by doing so. In most cases apps would just quit as they do now.)

Pandora or Skype could ask for an exception if they are in the middle of an active session, but not unnecessarily if they aren’t. The OS would indicate this as it currently does for ongoing calls or active tethering, as a visible target at the top of the screen. This would serve as indicator as well as switcher. (Though not for switching back.)

Watching for incoming calls or other events could go through the current notification process, so Skype wouldn’t need to signal for an exception just to receive calls.

Shaun

I don’t know about Skype which has it’s own protocol but in order for SIP and standard VOIP apps to receive incoming calls it needs to maintain registration with a server so it HAS to have a background task running to maintain that. A push notification will not work and I can’t imagine the VOIP companies wanting to rely on Apple’s push server for such an important part of their service.

Of course it would be useful if Apple implemented it’s own SIP stack and integrated it into the OS and contact application and perhaps that’s one less reason to allow background apps. There’s a million others though.

Adam Bridge

Here’s one I think you’ve missed: using Dragon Dictation to replace keyboard entry. It takes a while to shift from program to program and I’m often stuck having to dictate text, copy it, fire up another program, and then paste the text in. It just doesn’t work well. If DD (for short) were always there as an aways useful program I could just skip over to, dictate the text, and then have back in pace in the original app, without any loss of context, I’d be happy. But there’s always a loss of context (it seems to me) when a program is shut down and restarted.

John

You act as if the multiple ways to quit are a bad thing. How? Pick the one you want, and use it. I’ll pick mine.

Besides, are there really four or five ways to quit a Mac app?

1. Command-Q
2. Quit from the app menu.
3. Close the window on one-window apps.

bbebop

at least three more ways to quit an application:

4. Command-Q from the Command-Tab open app dialog
5. Using the Force Quit Applications dialog via Force Quit in Apple Menu or Command-Option-Escape
6. Force quitting the app using Shift-Command-Option-Escape or from the Apple Menu with shift key pressed

Can also quit an open application using QuickSilver (and, I assume, Launchbar??).

John

Ah, good. #4 I’ll give you. But 5 & 6 are not really plain old quits. You could also fire up the terminal and send a kill command, but a regular user wouldn’t do that and it really works outside the GUI.

However I’ll add:

5. Quit from the dock.

Craig Bradley

Good article.

There are ways for media streaming apps to get around the background streaming limitation. The ESPN Radio app handles this seamlessly, by having a “Play in Background” function that basically launches Safari and plays the stream from there.

Pandora and the like could easily add this functionality.

The is really the main use case I see for backgrounding/multi-tasking, and I think it’s easily worked around.

Luke

The problem with the “Safari based internet radio” is that, while it’s playing, you can’t use Safari because it opens the audio in a video style “Now Playing” window, covering the rest of the browser. It’s actually quite annoying. And in no ways constitutes a “fix”.

Milind Alvares

Not necessarily ;) (Thanks, corrected)

jaredthensomenumbers

my iPhone has really bad battery life compared with some of my other smart phones which happened to have multitasking (i’d listen to internet radio whilst doing other things for example). then again, those smart phones looked ugly as….. it’s always just a compromise. when battery technology gets to the stage where we can have multitasking and all day usage, apple will make the switch. the reason people (including developers) are so angry with apple is that they have forced this way of thinking upon us.

Pustoolio

Hi Milind! Nice article. One point, not sure if you are saying that the first GUI computer with multitasking was the MultiFinder… if so then that is incorrect, that prize would go to the Amiga computer in 1985.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AmigaOS

Oneofayykind

Who the hell still uses pandora radio? Everyone should be using grooveshark.com and no I don’t work for them I just use them and am a VIP member. Much better than pandora radio and it also has a radio feature.

As far as multi-tasking goes it should be up to the iPad user to determine what they want to run. Its nice that Apple makes their device stupid friendly but it would also be nice to have full control over it. Maybe they should have 2 options? Option 1: Typical User Option 2: Power User. If the device is plugged in it doesn’t matter how much battery life we save. Do you think everyone is only going to use this on the go? If so whats the point of having the keyboard dock? Its just not good in my opinion. Will I still buy one? Probably…but that doesn’t mean Apple shouldn’t do something about all these complaints.

tolsto

Can you answer my question?

I am making translations, and I want to be able to check the dictionary, the web and be able to read and translate at the same time.

Will it be possible with this iPad thing? Or will I have to close the word processor and then open the dictionary, and then close it and reopen the word processor?

Thanks.

Milind Alvares

Why can’t the dictionary and web view not be integrated within a specialised application meant for research? Think goal oriented applications rather than “here’s something, see if you have any use for it” type of apps. I’m not saying your workflow will be possible at iPad launch, nor am I saying it will be within the year. But if there’s a market for it, someone’s going to make an application for it.

Moreover, the iPad is going to evolve in a greater way than the iPhone did. There’s definitely going to be hooks into things like springing out the dictionary from the text view (the larger view means the cut/copy/paste pop up can incorporate extra functions).

Everything of course, is speculation.

Ping Guo

I think you’re missing the point of multi-tasking. Just because the computer is multi-tasking doesn’t necessarily mean the user is. Sometimes we must use our computers to multi task, for us to complete a single task. Take, for example, the inclusion of iWork on the iPad. Working on a presentation in Keynote, or writing an article in pages. You’re going to do that without accessing other programs, your browser and your emails, for material and research?

Let’s say you’re using Numbers to put together a spreadsheet of customer orders, or sales figures for the last quarter. You’re travelling with your iPad and you need to update some figures. You’re going to memorize them and then fill in all the cells by hand? No, you want to drag and drop the info into Numbers (or cut and paste) because any other way is just clumsy.

So, I would disagree and say that, yes, to be taken seriously as a productivity tool and not just a light browsing and media-consumption device, the iPad really does need multi-tasking.

Anton

Is it going to possible to have two or more windows of the web browser open and another application (like a word processor) at the same time and switch between them?

I want to buy the iPad and have the ability do everything I would on my desktop or laptop. For me the iPad would be like a laptop but with much greater flexibility in terms of user convenience.

Anton

Thanks for the suggestion. But that’s a laptop, isn’t it? I am looking for a tablet type device that can replicate a desktop/laptop. I was hoping the iPad would do the job.

Yesudeep Mangalapilly

Uh hmm. Background processes reserved for Apple applications only? Oh, “make way for the new”? This really puts a question mark on your ability to detect the new. This “new” smells like MS-DOS to me on the way-back-in-time machine. New package, old story.

Since the iPad is meant to be a network device, Apple certainly cannot ignore latency. And Mr. Network Latency isn’t a very supportive guy, you know. Currently, users tend to be stuck *waiting* for an upload or a download or some other form of network activity to finish before they can move on to the next application. In all honesty, this stops you from “multi-tasking” or in simpler words: get on with life. What’s happening now instead is because of the workflow Apple has pushed into these devices, applications written for them assume they cannot multi-task and are limiting their possibilities. So you’ll never find out whether you could make your iPad fly.

Almost every mobile device that Apple shat out has felt like an expensive car that cannot be driven on any road other than those which Apple authorizes. Shame, people don’t realize that. Good luck driving yours.

Mysid

Background apps: You missed one reason you might want to have an app in the background.
To maintain connections, logins, and other stateful resources. Take for example, a terminal emulator, a SSH client, or a Telnet client used to connect to an online game (such as a text-based MUD). You want to check your e-mail real quick, and then resume gameplay. Without the ability to perform multi-tasking, the network connection to your game will be lost when you switch apps.

Another example would be an IRC client. You join a channel, and start chatting, then you want to open a web browser for a few minutes, to lookup or visit a web site that was mentioned in the discussion.

Unless you can run the IRC client in the background, you will be disconnected from the IRC server and miss the rest of the chat session. Also, you may have to send a channel operator a message asking them to re-invite you to the invite-only channel, and re-identify to your nickname.

Yet one more example, would be a SSH client or other command-line based application used to connect to the remote administration interface of a server.

But the same is true for just about any interactive network application — closing the application, closes the TCP socket, it is a hassle to reconnect, and your app can’t accept and retain data that occured during the session while you were doing something different real quickly.

Luke

It is VERY annoying to not have multi-tasking on my iPhone.

I mean sure, it saves battery, but can’t we decide when we want to save battery and when we want to have a better user experience? can’t I choose to close apps to save battery when I’m out, and then choose to keep the open when I’m at home on my sofa and not worrying about battery life?

it’s so annoying when I’m using, say, the Myspace app and I get a new IM. I have too close the myspace app, open IM+, wait while it loads/connects. Then when I’m done I have to open Myspace and go through the same load/connect process followed by navigating back to where I was in the Myspace app (friends photos, comments, bulletins, ect.). And changing the song on the iPod app is just as useless. :/

I have actually experienced multi-tasking on an iPhone; my friends is Jailbroken. It works great, you can just switch between the app having “back grounding” status or not, and the app behaves accordingly. it’s great!

any-who, I think it is well slack on Apples part to not incorporate multi-tasking into the iPad (Or the iPhone). I know it’s not supposed to be a full on PC (or Mac, what effs =P), but being able to at least IM, Myspace and iPod on the go is slow, in-efficient and plain ugly. Even my old sidekick did this. flawlessly.

tl;dr Can’t we choose how to use our own devices?

Beth Rudkin

Great article, I was searching for information on what people mean by “the iPad doesn’t support multitasking” and here I found the answer.

I now understand what multitasking means for the iPad and this has now moved off my con list. Unfortunately this has only made me want an iPad even more.

Anyone got a spare $500 lying around?

Highwind

Multitasking: as mentioned before, it is easy to allow multitasking and I’d like to have it. It will only drain my battery if I allow it to do that. I don’t think Apple should dictate these things (as I think apple should not decide about the applications in appstore either). The Ipad is more like a notebook and I want to be able to install whatever I want on it, and use it as I want (if I buy it, I own it, I decide how to use it).
There is another even more important feature:
Multiuser. The operating system has already different users. For the Ipad that will be used by several people in a household it is essential to deal with multiple users (for email, web bookmarks and settings/ data of any application).

Curtis Ruck

Why i need multitasking.

I need multitasking for my Pre so i can run Pandora and listen to music, while using the Navigation app to get me where i’m going. Yes the battery life sucks, but thats the trade off, and the high amperage chargers that come with most phones these days can keep up with the drain when i’m multitasking. I don’t need it all the time, but the ability to switch between facebook/flickr and an the camera app makes all the difference.

Monroe

You CAN listen to online radio in background on iPad. I’m doing it now! Multitasking I guess!! I just don’t use Pandora, I use SHOUTcast and open it through Safari and keep it on then I’ll open this page or whatever other site I wanna check out while SHOUTcast keeps playing on separate page. I can also just press “Home” and open up other app and all while still listening to radio. I attempted a “add to home screen app” but that just opens up a new link to SHOUTcast and doesn’t return to streaming. I originally tried Pandora Online and kept asking me to get app ’cause site knew I was on iPad, I even went through the “sign on” link and logged into my acct but still was not able to stream due to the fact that Pandora online runs on Flash. So I found this loop hole and it works well… PEACE

Andyc

This seems like quite a biased and patronising article written by someone with an apple mac heart beating in his chest. I fancied an ipad but the lack of support for multi tasking and the fact that flash is still not supported are my main reasons for not buying one. You can’t tell people they should think about changing the way they work just to excuse the inadequate features of the ipad. Only apple could get away with providing a browser without flash support, it’s essential for a full browsing experience. As multi tasking, whether or not people understand the dictionary definition is not really the point seems to me you are just making more excuses about the lack of true functionality.

Milind

If you don’t want a different experience, why buy an iPad anyway? Why not just use a netbook and be done with it? In case you haven’t heard, it’s not a legal requirement for you to own, or even temporarily use an iPad.

Bomji

GPS applications on the iPhone need to run in the background to be fully useful.

Curtis Ruck

So, i want a tablet, i don’t want a netbook. I want a small lightweight screen that i can carry around and use without needing a desk, or sitting somewhere.

The iPad would be great as an interactive guide through a city like NYC. Assuming that AT&T actually had signal in NYC. Lets see, a gps app running tracking my location throwing up web pages about sites i am near, or switching to a facebook application to tell people where i am. I shouldn’t have to keep reopening an application because the operating system doesn’t let it run in parallel.

Find me another tablet device that actually works. I love the concept, but i want multitasking, if i am running multiple apps on a tablet, than yes performance/battery life could take a hit.

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