Apple iPad, Day 6: iOS Multitasking

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Desktop operating systems have been multitasking in one way or another for decades. In order for the iPad to fill the shoes of a notebook PC and act as the primary computing platform, it needs to be able to multitask as well. Apple's implementation of multitasking in iOS is not full, or true multitasking, though, so it begs the question of whether it is truly up for the task.

First, let's examine how Apple delivers multitasking in iOS. Originally, iOS did not do multitasking. If you switched from one app to another, you would also simultaneously be shutting down the app you were previously using--and lose whatever you may have been in the middle of.

Multitasking on the iPad is better than nothing, but nothing like using Windows 7.
As of iOS 4, the Apple mobile OS does do multitasking...sort of. It is a unique Apple solution to the demand for multitasking that more or less accomplishes the goal, but it is not really multitasking. With iOS, apps that are in the background are not actively running--they're frozen in a state of suspended animation. There are some exceptions (GPS / location services, audio playback) that will continue to actively function when in the background, but most apps simply sit idle, but save the present state so that when you come back you can pick up where you left off.

As I use the iPad to write, I am finding the multitasking to be a bit clunky and cumbersome, but not really because of the suspended animation aspect. It seems to work just fine for the actual purpose of switching from say an email with a vendor press release, to a website with information on the topic I am working on, and back to the iWork Pages app so I can tap the article out--all while listening to music with the iPod or Pandora app.

The issues I have with it are more a function of the iOS interface itself, rather than with how Apple implemented its pseudo-multitasking, and with the small display. For example, on a multitasking level I can switch between the Safari browser and the Pages app just fine. The problem is with how. To view the apps currently 'open' in multitasking, you double-click the iPad's home button. Frequently, I don't double-click fast enough and instead end up back on the Home screen, and I am concerned about the wear and tear on the physical button over time.

I like being able to see all of my open tools at once--a' la the Windows 7 Task Bar--and just click back and forth directly. I also like being able to have my browser open in a window on the left, with my word processor open in a window on the right so I can work more efficiently by researching and writing at the same time. But, the iPad doesn't offer any way to put two open apps on the screen simultaneously, and the small display would make working with two windows impractical anyway.

Some of these issues will be resolved with iOS 5. Apple is adding new multi-touch gestures for navigating multitasking. You can save the wear and tear on the physical home button by using new four or five gestures to reveal the task bar, return to the Home screen, or switch between open apps. There are adapters available now to connect an iPad to a display, but with iOS 5 AirPlay Mirroring will enable me to wirelessly beam my work through an Apple TV device to a larger display. However, there still isn't a way to put the Safari browser and Pages apps side by side on the screen at the same time.

The bottom line is that multitasking on the iPad is adequate for me to get the job done, but it is much more cumbersome and inefficient than the multitasking I normally do in Windows 7. Some of the issues I have will be fixed with iOS 5, but the iPad still won't be able to deliver a true multitasking experience to let me work more efficiently.

Read the last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux

Day 5: Does the iPad Need Adobe Flash?

Day 7: Social Networking on the iPad

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