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.

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