One of the most common criticisms of the iPhone OS is that it doesn ‘t do multitasking.  It ‘s one that is aimed at all the iPhone devices as well as the upcoming iPad.  It ‘s not strictly true, as the iPhone OS does multitask already (that ‘s why we can listen to music on […]
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Do You Want Multitasking or Just Clever App Switching on the iPhone?

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One of the most common criticisms of the iPhone OS is that it doesn ‘t do multitasking.  It ‘s one that is aimed at all the iPhone devices as well as the upcoming iPad.  It ‘s not strictly true, as the iPhone OS does multitask already (that ‘s why we can listen to music on the iPod app while working in other apps), it just does it in a very controlled manner and does not allow 3rd party apps to run in the background.

Many iPhone ‘power users ‘ and tech-savvy types want more though.  They want 3rd party apps to be able to run in the background.  So Pandora can play music while you quickly reply to a text message, so a game can continue playing fluidly after you take a phone call, and so on.

I ‘ve seen a few developers talking about this subject on Twitter recently, and putting forward an argument that I think is spot on.  It is that when most users say they want multitasking, what they really want is clever app switching. 

Seeing those comments from developers, and also discussing the topic in this thread over at the everythingiCafe forums, has helped me get my thoughts together on the iPhone OS and multitasking and app switching.  Helped me work out what I would like to see and what I think might be a good happy medium between what we have now, which leaves power users frustrated and wanting more, and full-on multitasking where all third party apps are allowed to run in the background. 

Here are my quick thoughts on this:

— As a ‘power user’ I’d love to see a switch / toggle provided so those who wish to could choose to let the iPhone do more multitasking.

— I don’t think we have to jump all the way to allowing all third party apps to have the ability to run in the background.  Thought this might be manageable for power users, it could also prove a big headache for many ‘normal ‘ users “ and would make the iPhone far more vulnerable to serious issues that could wreck the user experience, from running out of resources to malware running rampant.  

— I agree with the argument that app switching is probably a more elegant and effective overall solution, with just a little loosening of the controls on 3rd party apps running in the background.  Apart from the Phone app, music apps, and alerts, who really needs all your apps used within a ‘session’ to be kept alive in the background? If the OS could remember the state of each app (as is heavily rumored we’ll see in OS 4.0) and we get some elegant app-switching methods – a la those already available if you’re jailbroken or even the lovely, old school Dock utility from Nate True, that’s a nicer solution than full multitasking I think. Less hit on processor, RAM, battery; better performance for the currently running app, and easy, quick app switching – I could easily live with that.

— Jailbreak apps like QuickDo and Kirikae, which can be invoked from anywhere in the OS and let you instantly launch favorite apps with just a tap or two, and InfiniDock, which provides and endless and scrollable dock, show the potential for doing something clever and effective with app switching.  If Apple brings us something equal to, or better than, those sort of apps for app switching, allows certain 3rd party apps a background ability, and allows the OS to remember apps ‘ state, I think we ‘d be getting towards a very nice solution.  One that would still offer ‘protection ‘ for mainstream users but would also go a good ways towards making power users happier.

What do you all think?  Do you want full, across-the-board multitasking for all 3rd party apps, or would a more app switching focused solution work for you?

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