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I’m Pre-envious of Palm

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[image from Palm.com]

The topic of Apple ‘s Push notification isn ‘t a new one, but in the wake of Palm ‘s keynote I figure now is as good a time as any to revive some talk. Engadget wrote a piece about the iPhone in relation to the Palm Pre, and although it was very detailed I felt it skimmed over the area from which my envy stems: Palm ‘s ‘cards ‘ multi-tasking system. This system allows users to see all currently running programs like a set of cards at the push of the center button. Users can then flick between these cards like Safari tabs, or flick upwards and close programs.

The feature that iPhone users and devs alike are awaiting is that delicious Push Notification system that will allow iPhone apps to display system alerts almost like native apps do “ the only catch being that an internet connection is needed. This allows users the ‘illusion ‘ of multi-tasking without all the hassle of poor battery life (because the iPhone 3G has such a stellar battery?!).

But after seeing what the Pre is offering in terms of multi-tasking, I really do wonder if when Push comes to shove: will it be enough?

How will it work?

Let ‘s pretend for a moment that I ‘m a cool, popular person with connected friends. I ‘m not talking friends in high places, but just friends who are on instant messengers and who love texting as much as I do (they don ‘t “ sigh). How am I going to handle a bunch of incoming messages or alerts? According to what I ‘ve read the Push system can push badges like the ones above the Mail icon, message pop-ups like for new SMS ‘es, or sound alerts like err, woof woof.

As things are right now, I won ‘t know about any new instant messages, Facebook notifications, or new Twitter tweets unless I already have the appropriate app loaded up. Yes, there are e-mail notifications for each service, but you know what I mean. The moment I press the home button I am killing (via blunt trauma) all of an app ‘s means of notifying me of activity.

The magic that Push would then inject would be the ability to receive text pop-ups or see badge icons on my home screen when new tweets of IM ‘s come in. I can ‘t switch between a few active programs, but most iPhone apps load up pretty darn quickly “ so fast as to be almost like multi-tasking. However, I think there are still a few problems that keep the proposed illusion of iPhone multi-tasking from coming to life.

 

Not all programs save their state

The title here says it all. If I exit my Phone, Mail, or Safari app then I know that loading it up again will bring me right back to the same place. On the other hand, YouTube will kill the current video and bring you right back to the lists if you come back to the app (the exception being an incoming phone call). This is also the case with certain games that don ‘t include an auto-save feature “ especially the ones that aren ‘t turn-based.

Push will tell me about new events on Facebook, sure, but that won ‘t prevent me from restarting a particularly annoying level of game X when I go to check. This wouldn ‘t be such a problem if we could multi-task, since the apps we weren ‘t currently using could just reside in stasis

 

Push isn ‘t alt-tab!

Now let ‘s go back to the reality of iPhone usage and multi-tasking.  I ‘m in YouTube watching a 10-minute video and then I get an SMS. That means I have to leave YouTube and SMS will load back up. Not only will I lose all buffering in my video, but I ‘ll also have to load the app up again and select the video. The same thing applies to internet radio programs — losing or interrupting music just to answer an SMS is silliness!

Imagine an Apple ad showcasing Push notification: they show a user blogging a post in iBlogger when a Facebook message pops onto the screen. The user taps on it to respond to the message in Facebook, but then has to switch back to iBlogger. Ideally, iBlogger would be on the same home screen as Facebook for the ad, but what if it were two or three pages over?  I ‘d venture that most users have about three screens of apps and the apps with push notification aren ‘t necessarily going to be right beside each other.

If I had a ‘cards ‘ interface, such as the Pre ‘s, I could just press a button (or make a gesture?) and swipe once to get back to YouTube after answering an SMS. Each iPhone home screen features 16 apps “ I probably never use more than four or five at any one time, so the number of running programs will almost certainly be easier to flip through than the number of apps I have installed.

 

Apple-gument: ‘yarr, the battery life, she will suffer with the multi-tasking! ‘

Ok, so they didn ‘t quite do it in pirate speak, but they did give us that Apple-licious explanation of why they are going with Push and not some ‘true ‘ multi-tasking. Battery life and performance, they say. The funny thing is I haven ‘t exactly heard stellar things about the 3G ‘s battery life, and like Engadget said “ why does SMS still take five seconds to load right now? If the system is so optimized now, all these tasks should be near instantaneous, but I simply don ‘t experience that speed when loading certain programs up.

 

Wow, jerk. Way to spit all over the ideas.

The point of this piece wasn ‘t to spit all over the Apple ‘s solution, but rather to say that Apple should spit-shine it (eww!). I think the Push notification system is a step in the right direction, but I ‘m still not convinced that it ‘s better than coming up with real multi-tasking capability like the Palm Pre seems to have accomplished.

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