Do You Really Need Multitasking, Part 2

April 20th, 2010 11 Comments

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a guy about Apple’s products and specifically the iPad.

This guy isn’t a geek, but he’s computer savvy and has been for a while. He’s also a bit of an Apple fanboi and recently bought an iPad, which was the jumping off point for our conversation.

This was floating around Twitter all day yesterday, not sure of the original source.

He’s also a BJJ instructor and a teacher, so he’s accustomed to studying and observing behaviors.

I quizzed him about some of the usual suspects that were missing, e.g. Flash, front-facing camera, multi-tasking, etc.

He replied that the iPad meets about 90% of his needs. Based on what I’ve heard, I tend to agree, and if you’re hoping to get the classic 80/20 split, 90/10 is fantastic.

He went on to give a great use case against multitasking.

When you finish using an app, all you do is hit the Home button, no saving, no quitting, nothing. The app takes care of all that for you, no fuss, no mess.

I thought about this for a minute, and it’s a phenomenal insight that most of us would never think of because we don’t even think about the process of quitting apps. It’s second nature.

I was reminded of the tutorial I gave my parents about how to use OpenOffice, specifically the warnings about saving before quitting, the differences between closing and quitting an app, all the meta that goes into dismissing an application.

These are learned behaviors that have existed since the dawn of the GUI, so we rarely think about them.

I’m not saying this one use case is the Holy Grail, but when combined with the technical limitations of using memory on a device with no swap and the degradation in performance multitasking produces, it seems like an even better PM decision to leave out multitasking from the get-go.

I wonder if adding multitasking would even hurt the overall iPhone experience for people who are accustomed to apps closing on their own. How will they react when apps remain open in the background. Sure, we know iPhone OS 4.0 does not do true multitasking, so it might be a non-starter, but still, this is a departure from the original and expected behavior.

In the comments on my post about multitasking, there were several legit use cases that made a lot of sense. However, I wonder if they fall into the everyday variety. Interrupting turn-by-turn directions with a phone call is a good use case, until you consider the strict distracted driving laws many states are enforcing, which in many cases, include in-car navigation systems.

Anyway, food for thought. Find the comments.


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11 Responses to “Do You Really Need Multitasking, Part 2”

  1. btaroli Says:

    I agree that the simplicity of the no-state app close is a powerful one. But as the current discussions of multitasking (and Apple's implementation of it in OS 4) suggests, it's a very limiting one depending upon one's usage. I would point out a very clear distinction, too, between multitasking (which implies a person process) and multiprocessing (which implies OS implementation). Even something as simple as copy/paste between two applications (a person task) can benefit from Apple's multitasking, since it avoids the need for the application to restore it's state and for the person to sit there waiting for it to do that. I've experienced many situations in which this results in needlessly frustrating sequence of steps that would easily be avoided in 4.0.

    I guess the challenge in understanding the need or use cases for this depends greatly upon how one uses their iPhone, et al. I certainly never expect the iPhone (et al) to replace my MBP. But there are certain mobile use cases I still can't reproduce from my days of using Palm OS on a Treo (which was itself no modern OS, but it sure knew how to background tasks and let me seamlessly migrate my workflow amongst them!).

    For me, the test of a good UI and OS experience is whether the combination enhances/supports or hinders my ability to get things done. I can safely report that there are a few excellent cases where 3.x does precisely the latter, and 4.0 will sharply reduce the number of these via multitasking. Of course, not everyone will feel this pressure. I wouldn't even wager a guess at the numbers. But I will wager that more people than realize it now will benefit… suddenly they'll realize that something that was frustrating before now isn't. Even if they don't know /why/ it isn't, they will have benefited.

    I already covered some of my thoughts about the specific navigation case… no need to rehash here. :)

  2. btaroli (Bill Taroli) Says:

    Twitter Comment


    RT @theappslab: Do You Really Need Multitasking, Part 2 [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  3. theappslab (theappslab) Says:

    Twitter Comment


    Do You Really Need Multitasking, Part 2 [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  4. Jake Says:

    *You* need multitasking or multiprocessing. I might need it. Some other geek might need it.

    We are in the minority, probably in the 20, possibly in the 10. 50 million is a lot of iPhones. I know, asking this question here on a “weblog” means I'll get a technical readership with strong use cases.

    Now, I get that just b/c someone is unaware of a use case does not mean that person does not need it. So yeah, maybe more people *need* to read email and have IM open, but my guess is that's a nice to have for them, whereas it's a must have for you.

    I'm just not buying the overall need for it. I do like how you characterized the experience though as “something that was frustrating before now isn't”. This gets at designing for “not us”, which is the best way I can put it.

    Mulling a post on that. Stay tuned.

  5. Jake Says:

    John Gruber has a post detailing how he thinks multitasking will work on iPhone 4.

    http://daringfireball.net/2010/04/reading_betwe

    This phrase jumped out:

    “Users do not have to think about or even be aware of concepts like launching and quitting.”

  6. btaroli Says:

    I quite agree with his assessment. And I think it's generally Apple's design goal. Things should “just work” and shouldn't require a lot of specific knowledge or peculiar incantation on the user's part to make it do it's tricks.

    Take multitasking… it doesn't /require/ you to do the task switcher. It presumes that you will re-open the app later and so saves it's state, or let's it register to attach background threads if it wishes. You get the same behavior whether or not you use the task switcher.

    Similarly, the task switcher continues to maintain a stream of the MRU apps, whether or not they're still in memory. Tapping on app there will have the same effect as if you had tapped it in the springboard. It just gives you a different (possibly faster, more efficient) method of doing the same task.

    So I see it as a win-win, really. Apple gets it's competitive feature with Android. Geeks get their much desired (dare I say needed?) ability to better task integrate. And the unwashed masses get a more responsive, more usable experience… things just continue to work, but better. :)

  7. Jake Says:

    Incantation. I love it. You're on a roll today.

    I wasn't suggesting any winning/losing. Apple took a good approach, possibly influenced by Android, but who cares?

    The end result will be as you say, better for everyone.

  8. Jake Says:

    *You* need multitasking or multiprocessing. I might need it. Some other geek might need it.

    We are in the minority, probably in the 20, possibly in the 10. 50 million is a lot of iPhones. I know, asking this question here on a “weblog” means I'll get a technical readership with strong use cases.

    Now, I get that just b/c someone is unaware of a use case does not mean that person does not need it. So yeah, maybe more people *need* to read email and have IM open, but my guess is that's a nice to have for them, whereas it's a must have for you.

    I'm just not buying the overall need for it. I do like how you characterized the experience though as “something that was frustrating before now isn't”. This gets at designing for “not us”, which is the best way I can put it.

    Mulling a post on that. Stay tuned.

  9. Jake Says:

    John Gruber has a post detailing how he thinks multitasking will work on iPhone 4.

    http://daringfireball.net/2010/04/reading_betwe

    This phrase jumped out:

    “Users do not have to think about or even be aware of concepts like launching and quitting.”

  10. btaroli Says:

    I quite agree with his assessment. And I think it's generally Apple's design goal. Things should “just work” and shouldn't require a lot of specific knowledge or peculiar incantation on the user's part to make it do it's tricks.

    Take multitasking… it doesn't /require/ you to do the task switcher. It presumes that you will re-open the app later and so saves it's state, or let's it register to attach background threads if it wishes. You get the same behavior whether or not you use the task switcher.

    Similarly, the task switcher continues to maintain a stream of the MRU apps, whether or not they're still in memory. Tapping on app there will have the same effect as if you had tapped it in the springboard. It just gives you a different (possibly faster, more efficient) method of doing the same task.

    So I see it as a win-win, really. Apple gets it's competitive feature with Android. Geeks get their much desired (dare I say needed?) ability to better task integrate. And the unwashed masses get a more responsive, more usable experience… things just continue to work, but better. :)

  11. Jake Says:

    Incantation. I love it. You're on a roll today.

    I wasn't suggesting any winning/losing. Apple took a good approach, possibly influenced by Android, but who cares?

    The end result will be as you say, better for everyone.

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