Thursday, November 25, 2010

Multi-tasking In 4.0: Clever

Apple claims that iOS 4's multitasking is "[m]ultitasking done the right way." And to be quite frank, I couldn't agree more; Apple's implementation is multitasking done the right way - for mobile devices at least. Essentially, Apple's implementation gives the programmer sufficient access to allow programmers to implement multitasking functionality throughout his or her program - without draining as much battery as a traditional multitasking system.

The multitasking now built in to iOS offers 7 services: background audio, Voice over IP (VoIP), background location, push notifications, local notifications, fast app switching, and task completion. Those 7 services pretty much solve all previous multitasking problems. With each service addition, the roadblock that prevented thousands of applications from providing the ultimate user experience is being suspended higher and higher.

  1. The background audio now allows applications like Pandora to play music, while the user works with different applications. (Notice the plural; because, now the user can do more than one thing.)
  2. Voice over IP now allows phone calls over the internet. Applications like Skype can now utilize this so that users can make phone calls outside of the Phone app, while multitasking.
  3. The background location service means that an iOS device's location can be found without using a lot of GPS data. It is cleverly implemented as well. The phone gives the application an updated location, when the device switches between networks. As a result, the phone does not drain as much battery as a flat-out, frequently-updating GPS system does. (This follows the same philosophy of push notifications: use a signal that has to be used regardless, the phone network connection, to help perform other services.)
  4. Push notifications were already offered, but now the services have expanded to offer the following service: local notifications.
  5. Local notifications allow applications to generate their own alerts. The usefulness in this is best found in timers and task completion alerts. When a timer is finished or items have finished uploading, the application can alert the user.
  6. Task completion was also added. The task completion service allows an iOS application to complete whatever process it was doing even after the user has left that app. Then, when the task is complete, the phone won't continue to allocate resources that won't be used to the application. Such a feature will be useful for applications like the flickr app that previously required the application to be in the foreground for picture uploads to be completed.
  7. Lastly, fast app switching is more of a UI interface adjustment; however, it is just as crucial. The fast app switching interface is basically the bar on the bottom of the screen that springs up when the home button is double-clicked. Swipe to the left and you have audio controls and orientation lock; swipe to the right and you have access to your previously opened applications. This is useful, because now a user can copy information from Safari, switch to the Mail app - without having to click the home button, search for the application, and repeat - and paste.
All of these services are necessary and extremely useful. They all perform the tasks that are crucial to the usability of many applications without draining as much battery or slowing down the device as traditional multitasking does. The phone retains the functionality of a multitasking device without draining resources.

What may seem like limitations to others, is really just the same efficient innovation that Apple has supplied for years. It is Apple's redefinition of multitasking. (Sometimes in technology, it is better to redefine or make a new service that does the job of an old one than to tweak an old one.) This is their take on multitasking. They got the job done, and, in a way that no other company could have. Apple has done multitasking the right way.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

iOS 4.2 Release


On Monday, November 22, 2010, Apple released the 401-megabyte iOS 4.2 update. This update contains security updates, simple tweaks, and more wireless integration (AirPrint and AirPlay.) All of the updates are effectively making the iOS devices less mobile; they are slowly bridging the gap between computers and mobile devices - and may even usurp small computers' dominance in word processing and the like.

In regard to security updates, the iOS has followed a general theme: removal of arbitrary code execution vulnerabilities. (Such vulnerabilities are found in parts of the iOS system that are crucial to the operation of the most basic components.) Essentially, Apple fixed the faulty code [of the programs that receive input and produce output] to block attackers from taking over a phone whose user is simply viewing a picture. Apple accomplished this by correcting vulnerabilities in CoreGraphics, FreeType and WebKit. Since all of the aforementioned pieces of software are components of the web browser (although they are not limited to that use) the user will now be more protected on the web, when dealing with images (CoreGraphics) and plain old - javascript or non-javascript inclusive - HTML pages (WebKit and FreeType.)
(Click here for a description of WebKit, FreeType, and CoreGraphics)

Apple added some nice features that revolve around wireless interaction of devices, giving the user more control. Put simply, the the addition of AirPlay and AirPrint makes the user's iOS device more interactive with other devices. The AirPlay technology allows users to stream music throughout their entire house, assuming they have other devices such as an iMac or an AppleTV. For example, you can stream music directly from your iPod/iPhone/iPad to an AppleTV or other AirPlay-enabled devices. The Printing technology is pretty self-explanatory. Essentially, now you can print files from Mail, Safari, and Photos. (NOTE: Only some printers are automatically AirPrint-enabled; click for instructions on how to enable AirPrint for almost any printer connected to your Mac. You can type the URL into Google translate if you don't speak German.)

As for some simple tweaks, Apple changed around some icons (Voice Memos), allowed for different fonts in "Notes," and added a search-in-web-page function to Safari, amongst other things. The productivity just keeps on increasing at a rate, at which the adoption rate is not overwhelming.

The iPad update also received some long-awaited updates: Folders and Multi-tasking. Now apps can be grouped together into folders that can contain 12 applications each. The folder's are automatically named based on the category of the applications within it; however, the name can always be modified. The iPad has also received multi-tasking, allowing multiple applications to run at the same time. (Since the multitasking is implemented differently to cope with limited resources, please read my article in order to better understanding it's implementation.) The gap is bridging as productivity increases and limitations decrease.

Added to all iOS devices were keyboard and dictionary enhancements, as well as keyboards, languages, and more-advanced dictionaries. Better input equates to higher productivity for all devices.

In sum, the iOS 4.2 update furthers the transformation of the previous iOS devices into a device with capabilities closer to those of a desktop. The security updates protects your data (suitable for business world); AirPlay and Printing improves interaction among devices (suitable for students who have to complete assignments); the keyboard tweaks improve input on the devices (more efficient input for all); the iPad updates eradicate many of the iPad users biggest qualms; and, the Safari update makes finding and working with data easier (everyone). It is very possible that sometime in the near future, more people will be integrating their iOS devices into their lives and homes as they use it to write reports, take notes, research, and receive entertainment.

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