My iPhone #2; Multitasking … or not.

On the excellent if a little Apple-cheery blog Roughly Drafted, a recent post knocked the hype of the Palm Pre multitasking while illuminating how well the iPhone OS works. The points made are very valid, and as a former Motorola Q user on Verizon’s network I can attest to how annoying the EVDO voice/data management is.


In the midst of the post, a small card is palmed, as if Ricky Jay flitted through the room:

Instead, the iPhone only multitasked things that made sense: users could surf the web while taking on the phone, or listen to music while playing games, but third party developers couldn’t install their own background processes to sap performance and battery life or introduce unanticipated security issues.

Emphasis mine.

Listen to music in the background? Listen to ancient, lo-tech music residing on your iPhone in the background maybe. (No doubt hopefully purchased from iTunes.) But if you are a 21st century, streaming media kind of a guy or gal, get lost. MLB At Bat? Nope. Slacker? Nope. Stitcher? Nope. Pandora? WunderRadio? OOTunes? Shoutcast? Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Oh sure, if you are really clever you can stream some stuff to the QuickTime player, if the link is on the web somewhere. But then you can’t use Safari. Blech. I really never want to see the QuickTime player if at all possible; I’d much rather use a specific app. The video highlights replay is the one part of the MLB At Bat app that breaks the paradigm of the application.

For the most part I agree with Apple — unrestricted third-party background apps would likely make iPhone users cry in pain. In the two years I had my Q (Windows Mobile Smartphone 5.0) I installed a dizzying array of apps that did (or attempted to do) random background things. Nearly none of them actually did anything well, because the platform was just so limited. WM5 was/is an execrable excuse for an operating system.

But it did let me multitask. More to the point, it let me listen to audio streams in the background while I browsed the web. It didn’t work all the time, because the amount of memory the Q has is laughable, but it tried. I appreciated the trying.

So what I really want Apple to do is to open up the iPod App on iPhone for third-party apps to use. With an API it would offer quite a lot to a third-party application:

  1. Cover Flow would be a nice paradigm for lots of the above apps (next/prev station or podcast for example).
  2. Pause/Play/Forward/Back controls, plus a screen image (album artwork) and some title text when the home key is double-clicked while the iPhone is locked.
  3. The iPod App would provide a nice way to deal with a backgrounded media app; users are already use to it.
  4. Using the iPod App corrals the multitasking problem; one app at a time is all the current interface would allow.

By adding an accessible API to the iPod App, Apple could enable third-party apps to naturally multitask without the pie fight that Windows Mobile deals with.

Most of the multitasking examples people give are better done with Push, really; though sometimes I wish for Push to let me at a mini-app to respond to the push notification without exiting my current app. But for background streaming of media, Apple falls short.

By de-scoping the problem, and only allowing for a single multitasked media app, Apple would fit true multitasking neatly in the iPhone user interface. And I would stop missing my Motorola Q, even a little bit.

It is a bit depressing that nearly ever day while using my iPhone, It makes me miss my first generation Q.

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2 Comments on “My iPhone #2; Multitasking … or not.”

  1. mjh Says:

    I think you hit on a point that the OP missed. Which is that apple’s imagination and creativity, while far exceeding most of the other mobile device companies out there, can’t be as great as the imagination and creativity of it’s 21 million iPhone users.

    That’s why, of course, the App Store exists. Because apple can’t think of all the ideas and creative ways that the iPhone will be useful, they created and released an SDK so that others, who have creative ideas, can have an outlet. Apple gets revenues through increased iPhone sales and developers get revenues through app sales. Apple doesn’t have to think of every scenario.

    But ironically, when it comes to multitasking, apple takes the opposite approach. They’ll tell you when to multitask and when not to. They assume that they know when it’s useful and when it isn’t, and as a result, their users get frustrated when when they come up with a use for multitasking that apple hadn’t thought of.

    In the long run, I think that apple will have to enable OS provided multitasking. When battery & CPU performance are no longer a bottleneck, why wouldn’t they?


  2. designbygravity Says:

    And, in the wake of the latest shenanigans with Google Voice, you can see Apple getting more draconian with regard to what apps it will let in. That situation won’t stand for ever.

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