Maybe you noticed Apple announced today a bunch of new features will be coming soon to the iPhone OS, more than 100 by their count.
Top of the list for many is multitasking.
The iPhone OS has notoriously been without classic multitasking since its inception nearly three years ago. Actually, no one said boo about it when the OG iPhone came out because there was no app store.
Technically, the iPhone OS does multitask, but only for Apple’s apps, e.g. you can listen to the iPod app while doing other things, stay on a call while doing other things, etc.
However, the OS does not make multitasking available to third party app developers. The lack of multitasking in the iPhone OS has been a selling point for Apple’s competitors and has provided a reason for people to jailbreak their iPhones.
For me, the interesting point about multitasking in the iPhone OS is that it’s a classic struggle between users and product development.
People want to run multiple apps at the same time, or so they keep saying. I’ve seen a lot of use cases thrown around, and they’re all legit. The question is whether multitasking is a must-have for these users because if it is, as a PM, you want to make it happen.
Today, we found out that Apple has sold 50 million iPhones in a little less than three years.
That sounds like a lot. There’s no way to tell how much impact the lack of multitasking has on sales, but the iPhone seems like a pretty strong earner for Apple.
We also found out today that Apple sold 450,000 iPads to date. This is another device without multitasking, by virtue of running the same OS.
Based on those numbers, I don’t think multitasking has much of an impact on sales. Do you?
To me this says, a lot of people liked the iPhone/iPad enough to buy without multitasking. Whether or not they kept the device is another matter that is key for customer satisfaction and the App Store ecosystem.
Customer satisfaction holds a huge amount of weight with gadgets like the iPhone/iPad. As those of you with iPads, e.g. ahem, Floyd (@fteter) will attest, people are interested to play with them. The same was somewhat true for iPhones from what I remember.
People are curious animals, and when it comes to gadgets, they like to touch, feel and gather information to influence a purchasing decision. What better way to do that than by asking someone who already bought one.
If you’re unhappy with your device, you’ll likely take that opportunity to dissuade the person. If you love it to death, you’ll be the best advertising money can’t buy.
I suspect most people have plenty of good things to say before the lack of multitasking hits their lips. I could be wrong, but I’m not. In the case of the iPad, the lack of multitasking was a known gap way in advance. So, if someone bought an iPad, no multitasking did not matter one bit.
So, sales numbers and customer satisfaction tell me that no multitasking didn’t cripple the iPhone or iPad.
What about the App Store ecosystem?
The App Store houses hundreds of thousands of apps and supports billions of downloads.
Would developers have benefitted from multitasking? Maybe. Was it enough to stop them from building apps for the platform? No.
I think developers would complain about the App Store’s weird approval process and numerous other quibbles before getting to lack of multitasking.
All this makes the multitasking sound like a should-have feature, definitely not a must-have.
Apple has been pretty clear about why the iPhone OS did not have multitasking, and anyone familiar with them shouldn’t be surprised.
Multitasking requires system resources, which in turns use battery. The iPhone’s battery life is notoriously short, a legit problem with the device and much more important concern to Apple and users.
So, adding multitasking could only happen if it didn’t further degrade the already short battery life.
This is good product development.
Taking a holistic approach to your product and balancing the requirements of your users with the overall product and its well-being is very difficult. And it makes you look like a jerk sometimes, even if you know for a fact, you’re doing what’s right.
Adding features means adding complexity, and complexity is bad because it makes every aspect of product more difficult, even for the users who so desperately want the features. So, adding stuff should never be taken lightly, although this is rarely the case.
As an aside, maybe PM is more like being a parent than like being a CEO. Case in point is any feature users say they need because some other product has it. Do they really need it?
Anyway, I’m not surprised Apple finally added multitasking, and I’m sure it will be well-done with low impact on battery life.
I’m also glad it will not be available to me on my OG iPhone. That’s right, only the 3 GS will support multi-tasking. I’m totally fine with this because I trust that they made the right call for my device.
Now, I’m keenly interested to find out how much people actually use multitasking. After nearly three years on the iPhone, I doubt I would use multitasking more than once a month. I just don’t need it.
That’s not say it’s not valuable, so I’m hoping to get an idea of how people use it in the future.
Find the comments.
Update: As this post from RWW clarifies, the changes will not introduce true multitasking, just a close approximation. I say this is further evidence that it wasn’t really needed in the first place, i.e. if true multitasking would drain the battery so quickly, why not stick to the original stance until you can do it right?