So Far, Multitasking is Annoying

A while back, I debated the utility of multitasking to most smartphone users, apropos of the announcement that the iPhone OS would soon support task switching.

One of the primary selling points of Android phones, most notably the Droid, is its ability to multi-task.

Now, we’re not talking about true multitasking like you seem from an OS, but rather, the closest thing to it that keeps the mobile device usable and doesn’t suck down too much battery.

After using an Android phone for about a week, I have to say its multitasking is an annoyance to me more than anything.

Many of the apps I use, e.g. Twitter, GMail, TouchDown (for my Oracle mail), Google Talk, Android Market, etc. have notifications. So, the notifications bar fills up with updates from these apps.

Plus, even in silent mode, the phone insists on vibrating every so often to remind me of the notifications. So, I have to go in periodically and clear them all. Grr.

The most annoying notification yet is from TouchDown for calendar events. These cannot be cleared from the notifications dialog; you have to open and dismiss them. I found this out after the phone reminded for 12 hours about my flight to SFO.

I’m actually killing the battery on the Droid right now to silence it.

I’ve combed through the settings to tone down the chattiness, but there are so many. I’m sure I missed a couple. Overall I much prefer the innocuous little red numbers in the iPhone OS.

So w00t for multitasking and its ability to annoy and distract me.

It’s a good thing Android has some much awesome. Otherwise, I would have been ditched Android phones by Week 2.




  1. Hmm, I think that's kind of like saying email or IM messages bother you. You need to configure your notifications to an acceptable level. I use the Nexus One and you can turn both ringtones and vibrations off for notifications. Also for every app I use that has notifications, you can turn them on or of as you wish plus configure the frequency of notifications. And all this doesn't take as much time as you seem to be suggesting – or perhaps I just enjoy tinkering with stuff like that.

    i find that for most people coming from the iPhone to android they come in already looking for excuses not to like it and don't give it a proper chance. Give your EVO a chance, you might just learn to enjoy it.

  2. It's interesting to note that the reported problems are not with multitasking per se, but with the way in which particular software and hardware features affect someone on a multitasking platform. (Specifically, the multiple steps required to clear TouchDown calendar events, coupled with the inability of many phones to support configuration to a truly silent mode.)

    More importantly, this illustrates that Feature A (Android's multitasking) plus Feature B (TouchDown's clear calendar events) plus Feature C (the Motorola phone's continuous vibrate mode) can combine to produce unintended results (an agitated Droid user).

    Now a theoretician can claim that this could have been found in testing, but what is the likelihood that Google, Oracle, and Motorola would get together to test this specific use case?

    And more importantly, how can a product manager anticipate these unanticipated consequences while remaining within a product's development budget?

    P.S. Is IE6 available on the Android platform yet?

  3. There is a simple setting to completely turn down all updates. This makes phone to more or less single task mode silencing all the notifications that rely on contacting network server. However, I had no problems with configuring Nexus one to silence most of the notifications. The ones that remain are the ones I need.
    Maybe TouchDown needs more freedom to customize?
    Overall, I do not think this is OS issue, but more phone model and UI skin issue.

  4. IM yes, but not exactly for email, which I can tune out without any need for tweaking preferences.

    I know there are preferences for each app, except TouchDown and/or NotifyLink. I can't find the preferences for either of those.

    I made the phone “silent”, but even then it still vibrates. I spent a lot of time trying to find the right setting for that b/c I don't mind the notifications so much. It's the constant reminders from the phone about them that drives me nuts.

    After tinkering w Android for a few weeks and seeing what's in Froyo, I'm definitely not looking for excuses. I love what Google is doing, and the EVO, which I haven't set up yet, is much better hardware than the Droid, which is what I've been using.

  5. TouchDown isn't an Oracle app. It's the Android app for NotifyLink, another 3rd party app, which we use to push calendar, email, contacts to mobile phones. One of them is to blame. I can't locate a preference to turn off the notifications.

    Plus, the Droid does not have a truly silent mode b/c it still vibrates when in silent mode.

    What you point out is a biproduct of the Android model, i.e. distributed and uncurated (mostly) development on a platform that runs on multiple hardware configurations.

    Sound familiar?

    Even so, Apple's app store model has similar problems with app developers, and I'm very impressed so far with the Android platform, especially the new features in Froyo.

  6. I haven't found that setting, and believe me, I looked. Is it called something non-obvious?

    I don't mind the notifications so much. I just want them to be quiet. Silent mode isn't silent b/c it still vibrates.

    I agree this isn't an OS issue, but the average user, whom Google and the carriers, want to woo, will not be so forgiving.

  7. Not sure about the Droid but on my Nexus One v2.2 (and I think in v2.1 before that) if you go from the Home screen to Settings > Sound, the second setting right under Silent Mode is Vibrate. If you go into that and chose Never or “Only when not in silent mode”.

    I just checked my old Hero and the setting isn't there so it's possibly not on the Droid either. With the Hero I can long press on the power button though to reveal an option to turn off vibrate.

    I can understand how this would be frustrating by the way. I recently uninstalled an app that didn't give me the option to not have the trackball flash with every update.

  8. So you've got Android 2.2 running on your Nexus? Did Google push it already? I'm jealous 🙂 The EVO has a few more settings than the Droid from what I can tell, including one that seems to silence alerts completely. So that's a win for me.

    The EVO is impressive so far. Can't wait to get 2.2 on it.

  9. I have a guess 🙂 Your problem is not phone vibrations as known on nexus one, but phone notification light (In the call settings). I guess it is carelessly implemented in your phone model as vibrations.

  10. The light doesn't bother me. The Droid vibrates in silent mode, which is annoying, although it stopped after I removed TouchDown. So, maybe TouchDown was the culprit.

    The EVO has given me no such problems and is brilliant and beautiful. Now, if only I could get 2.2 on it.

  11. The light doesn't bother me. The Droid vibrates in silent mode, which is annoying, although it stopped after I removed TouchDown. So, maybe TouchDown was the culprit.

    The EVO has given me no such problems and is brilliant and beautiful. Now, if only I could get 2.2 on it.

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