Home > iPad, iPhone > iPhone OS 4: See? Multitasking.

iPhone OS 4: See? Multitasking.

April 9th, 2010

A lot of people have pointed to the lack of multitasking on the iPad as a major reason they don’t like it. Frankly, now that multitasking has been announced, I don’t think most of those people will suddenly like the iPad. That complaint, along with “no Flash” and others, strike me all too often as justifications for a dislike based either on a knee-jerk aversion for Apple products, a lack of interest in the iPad for no discernible reason, or simply a desire for checklist-fulfilling feature sets without a real need for the features. While I think multitasking will be a very useful and cool feature, I really never saw it as a deal-breaker. It’s one of those things that you hear about and say, “yeah, that’s really important” without fully thinking through how things would work without it. Take Flash; how often would you really need it? On the iPhone, for instance, I never notice it’s even missing. If you’re hard-core into Flash gaming or depend heavily on Flash-based web sites, then OK. But I think the multitasking and Flash arguments are used mostly by people who really don’t need them.

That said… Multitasking! Apple’s implementation looks pretty danged good. Jobs said that Apple wouldn’t be the first with the feature, but they will be the best. Not having seen any other solutions, I can’t judge the accuracy of that, but having seen a demo video of the feature in action, I have to say it looks like Apple nailed it. It works pretty much invisibly–you open and close apps as normal. But instead of closing, they just go to the background; and app you opened previously can be called back by double-clicking the Home button, at which time the screen is shifted upward and an app switcher rolls in with a rubber-texture background. If there are more apps than can be displayed, you can scroll left or right.

Web-1-1270759793 Web-5
Wallpapers, by the way, are a missing feature Apple should have instituted long ago.

Memory and CPU issues are dealt with by not having 100% “true” multitasking–not all apps will be going full-power in the background. Many features will be allowed to continue unabated–audio streams, VoIP, Push and local notifications–and tasks in progress, like downloads or saves, will be allowed to complete. Otherwise, the app’s state will simply be stored in memory and will not run in any sense while it is in the “background.” Apps in multitasking mode can be “shut down” by calling up the app switcher and holding down on the app, which will acquire a “minus” badge and can then be closed.

Another cool feature, and one that many will clearly use, is the “folder” feature. Alas, it is not a file management tool which allows for cross-app document sharing (although photos and videos will now have that ability), but rather a way to consolidate icons which are otherwise crowding your screens. Drop one app’s icon into another, and both will combine into a “folder” icon, which acquires its own app-switcher-like rubber-backgrounded strip which will display all the apps within. If you have half a dozen unit-conversion apps, or several photo-related apps, or seven of your favorite games, but are tired of swiping through several screens to access some of them, just create folder icons which consolidate them. The folders are automatically named, but you can edit the name.


One more often-asked-for feature is a unified InBox in Mail. Got it. Nice. Now, Apple, how about giving is the frickin’ ability to frickin’ batch-mark frickin’ emails as frickin’ “read”? That feature was not mentioned, is likely not included, but is so maddeningly needed, so obviously needed, and so clearly easy to implement, it is frustrating as hell that Apple continues to ignore it. But for some reason, Apple always has to leave its various implementations of its Mail app woefully incomplete in some way or another. I hope I’m wrong and the batch-mark-as-read feature is there, but I don’t expect it to be.

Other features begin to dwindle in relevance. A Game Center. Whee. iBooks for iPhone. Whee. More Enterprise features. Great, but not for the average user. And then iAds. I guess I’ll have to see what this looks like, but I fear that it will only increase the frequency and number of ads you encounter, which as far as I am concerned, is not a great thing; hopefully, most developers will make the ads unobtrusive as possible (Jobs mentioned being interrupted every three minutes as somehow reasonable), or else offer alternate paid versions of the apps.

So as far as I am concerned, Multitasking and Folders are the big two developments. Wallpapers and iBooks for iPhone are nice additions. And Multitasking won’t play on my iPhone 3G, giving me impetus to upgrade–though I am still going to wait it out until SoftBank (or whomever) comes up with a deal where I can get the new iPhone for cheap or free with a new contract.

Categories: iPad, iPhone Tags: by
  1. Troy
    April 9th, 2010 at 10:18 | #1

    The multitasking is excellent for my kanji reference app. Now you can copy/paste more easily between it and what you’re reading.

    Apple really boofed me though with the new developer licensing for the 4.0 SDK. It seems pretty clear they don’t want apps written in C#, which is what I’m doing within Unity for my iPad game.

  2. Luis
    April 9th, 2010 at 11:21 | #2

    Troy: is there new copy/paste functionality, or is it just easier because you can switch between apps more easily?

    Also, do you know anything about document sharing? I have seen apps that claim to allow you to import docs from the network and then make them available for other apps like iWork, but I don’t know if that’s a special thing or if the system makes it so any app can open any other app’s documents…

  3. Tim Kane
    April 9th, 2010 at 13:09 | #3

    My limited,archaic knowledge of operating systems reminds me that the most important aspect of multitasking is that it makes platforms more stable: if an application locks up, the whole machine doesn’t lock up with it, just the thread is locked up. But that is also a factor of good memory management.

    I do think that flash is a big thing, especially for the Ipad, though it may be over come by other ways.

    While I was home I discovered the movie library at Hulu. When I was very young, my family went to the drive in movies and we saw “Hawaii” and the “Hawaiians” back to back, together at one time. Years later I went to Hawaii for a big vacation, and while there began reading Michener’s epic “Hawaii”. Suddenly my families trip to the drive in came bubbling back up while I read the book, only I thought it had been just one movie. I rented “Hawaii” from Blockbuster but it did not have, as I remembered, Charlton Heston or some one like him. But some how I found out that I could stream the whole “The Hawaiians” movie through Hulu. I went their, found it, watched it, and I was stunned by the size of the library collection and the fact that is was all free, provided you were in the U.S, and you had Adobe’s Flash installed on you computer.

    That collection, and other’s like it, and its availability any where for free, from a cloud, would seem to be a great value to me. Not having flash on the ipad seems to me, to be a consequential, though maybe only temporary, missing nugget.

    If you commute by train every day, for an hour or more, that kind of thing might be valuable.

  4. stevetv
    April 9th, 2010 at 13:34 | #4

    At least it’s a step forward, a big one. What’s weird is Windows mobile 7 won’t multitask. Actually, it appears overall they’re taking on the Iphone’s deficiencies.

  5. Troy
    April 9th, 2010 at 15:56 | #5

    stevetv: It’s not that big a deal. The iPhone is not a windowing environment so actually quitting apps is better than leaving them running in the background for the great majority of cases.

    timk: The system multitasks fine so the technical issue is just having more than one app process’s footprint taking up RAM at the same time. The original iPhone was 128MB, not much space. Current products are 256MB and will support multitasking.

    The real advance here is that Apple has identified a handful of tasks that apps can offload to the system. I’m not entirely sure how this works, but I guess the system will wake apps up when data they’re interested in has arrived. This makes sense for GPS apps, they can sleep for a long time until the location changes. Apparently apps can suspend more easily too. That will be cool.

    Luis: no new copy paste, but my kanji dictionary will be more useful if you can bring it up faster and copy text from a webpage.

    Here’s what the file transfer functionality looks like:


    You can drag & drop files for apps (that say they want this feature in their info.plist) from the list of documents for each app.

    There’s also a system handoff feature that allows apps to export a document and let the user pick another app to open it. There also might be a way to share through mobileme, dunno.

  6. Troy
    April 10th, 2010 at 07:14 | #6

    heh, apparently the “multitasking” will actually be small pieces of app code responding to specific events, so the whole app footprint won’t be in memory, just the part that needs to process the event.

    This is very similar to my idea that all apps on a system should always be running their message loops on the desktop. Apps block for input or system events, so this isn’t expensive, other than the RAM footprint, but advanced app architecture would allow apps to load & unload segments as needed.

    This is what Apple is doing apparently!

  7. Luis
    April 10th, 2010 at 08:01 | #7

    Actually, that’s what it sounded like–they were giving a list of events–push notifications, GPS tracking, task finishing, etc.–as ones that could “multitask,” not the whole programs going full-bore. By “multitasking,” what they mean is “you can switch between programs without losing data or states and a few limited tasks will continue running.” Which, I think, is enough for most people on a device like this. There will be, after all, only one window open at a time; people won’t be running a movie on one half of the screen and painting pictures on the other half.

    Come on, there’s only 256 MB of RAM. What can you expect?

  8. Troy
    April 10th, 2010 at 12:29 | #8

    Reading the docs now I see it’s not what I was saying above.

    It’s pretty clean tho. Solves the multitasking need good enough.

    Pretty weird having the home button being the suspend button!

    It’s really a home button now!

Comments are closed.