Why The iPad Doesn’t Have Multi-Tasking

One of the things discussed about the new Apple tablet, other than its lack of Flash, is its apparent lack of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking, of course, being the ability to listen to music or radio while playing Flight Control. I’d like to talk about that, because I’m pretty sure I know why there’s no multi-tasking, and if you’ll let me attempt prescience for a moment, I’m going to let you in on the secret.

Multi-tasking doesn’t work well enough yet. That is also to say that when it does, Apple will feed a system update which adds this feature; to the pad and phone alike. It’ll be just like when you all got copy and paste.

I’m an Android fellow. I cannot accept the closed platform that is the Apple ecosystem. The fact that I’d have to open iTunes to get stuff on to my phone instead of being completely unrestricted1, is something I couldn’t ever imagine settling for. Additionally, I am enjoying multi-tasking on my Android phone today; I’m listening to podcasts via Google Listen while browsing Wikipedia, and it’s a bliss I’m sure iPhone OS users will appreciate soon enough.

Even so, the Android implementation of multi-tasking is an example of why Apple hasn’t done it yet. Gruber was boggled by the need for a task killer on the platform, and frankly — so am I. Which is key to this issue. A single-tasking platform closes every app when a new app is invoked. The robo-logistics are simple: “Home” means “Save & Close”. Because this is simple, it works. Transparently, easily, and without the need to peek inside the system to see what’s running and what shouldn’t be.

Both Android and iPhone OS are pioneering new ways to interact with computers (which incidentally is why I now prefer these OSes on principle, over Windows, Linux and OSX). The new trend is to tuck away the filesystem; to whittle down all the nerdy stuff. To make it feel obsolete and unnecessary. You don’t drop your music into a folder, you drop it onto your phone and then sort it using meta information such as artist, year, album and so on. You also no longer window manage. You don’t open an app, you enter Google Listen. You don’t close an app, you press “Home”. If you were playing a podcast, it keeps playing even as you enter the browser to explore Wikipedia. If you weren’t playing a podcast, the system cleans up any stray processes for you, so the system doesn’t spend memory that isn’t needed. It’s all very elegant, and once you get used to it, closing apps feels very 1990.

Except it’s not as elegant as it sounds. Because apps themselves decide when they’re done using your battery and not all apps are good citizens. Sometimes you’ll click “home” with the intent of not going back to your game of Robo Defence. But Robo Defence isn’t sure what you want, so it’s just paused your game. Which means goodbye battery. Which means you need a task killer, whose sole raison d’etre is giving you a neat list of which apps are running in the background and the ability to forcefully close them.

I’m sure Android will get there. Development is moving at a blinding pace; in fact things may already be better in version 2.1. In the meantime, I’ll be loving my Google Listen background process. Even if it means I need a task killer. Once Android grows up, I’m saying a fond goodbye to my task killer, and I will never look back. But I’m not a normal user. I’m not one to be impressed by Apples “only launch when perfect” ideology, I much prefer Googles “launch early, iterate often” approach. I’m also smart enough to understand why Apple postpones multi-tasking until they get it right. Which is when you’ll get multi-tasking on your iPhones and iPads.

[Update]: Michael points out in the comments, that the iPhone has been able to play podcasts in the background since launch. My bad example. Please appropriate “Google Listen” with “Pandora” and my example will make sense again.

  1. Incidentally, I currently use an Android file explorer app to connect to my NAS and copy things from over the air.  

Games On The iPad: Here's A Thought

Yesterday, Apple revealed a much hyped tablet PC, which apparently runs all current iPhone apps right out of the box. With a pixel doubler, if you want it, even.

Unimpressive as that may sound, this holds the potential to alleviate pixel shaders to great effect. Think 3D iPad games which run in hi-res, full detail on the pad, but scale down gracefully to the iPhone by simply turning down the amount of 3D detail. You know, for when you want to take Christmas Whack-A-Mole with you to the bus. I can see it happening.

No Tab Left Behind

With the new Safari 4 beta, Apple is taking a page from the book of Opera and Google Chrome and moving their browser tabs all the way to the top:

Safari_4_tabs

While not an incredibly original idea, it is a good idea and there are a number of reasons why. First of all, it optimizes the amount of vertical real-estate, which—with the upcoming surge in lo-res Netbooks—will matter more than you think. Secondly, it moves an important multi-tasking feature right up to the literal application top, where discoverability is great. Finally, it helps users understand what exactly tabs are: individual content windows with their own unique address-bar and history.

This is clearly a usability improvement, and I’m sure that now Apple has canonized what is (probably) an Opera invention, it’ll make both Mozilla and Internet Explorer scramble to get with the program. So much the better: thanks Apple.

There’s one aspect Mac users will miss out on, though. On Windows systems, when a browser is maximized, tabs that are topmost will fondle the very edges of the screen, an area of extremely valuable realestate. The little secret that makes this top screen edge price go through the roof is the fact that, to reach it, you have only to push your mouse upwards; soon enough your cursor will bump into the edge. When a browser window places its tabs there, that means you only have to worry about left or right to pick your tabs. Not even a shopping cart is left behind in such a system.

Alas, Apple has permanently reserved this top area of the screen for the ubiquitous file menu, which I’m sure a number of people appreciate. Not those who want to get the full flavor of topmost tabs though, they’ll be left out in the cold. Perhaps Apple should place tabs at the bottom of the screen instead? (Oh wait, that’s where The Dock lurks, spring-loaded to pop out when innocent cursors are nearby).

Running Windows On The Mac: Did It Ever Work? [Update 3: Returning It]

Just last week, I bought myself a brand new unibody Macbook Pro 15, a rather expensive piece of hardware. I bought it, expecting it to run Windows natively via multi-boot; Apple advertises that their Boot Camp feature will do just this:

[Mac OSX] Leopard is the world’s most advanced operating system. So advanced, it even lets you run Windows if there’s a PC application you need to use. [...] Setup is simple and straightforward – just as you’d expect with a Mac.

As it turns out, sure, setup is easy, but that’s pretty much where the trademark simple and straightforward ends. Windows, running on my late 2008 Macbook crashes, freezes and Blue Screen Of Deaths me constantly, as in at every 10 minutes of plain use. To preempt your question, “Why run Windows at all?”: gaming.

There are a number of problems:

  • Windows doesn’t seem to control the cooling fans at all, and so it overheats
  • Windows can’t switch between the two (fast or power friendly) graphics adapters
  • Windows freezes when simply browsing websites

So overall, Windows on the Mac is a consistently unpleasant experience, which brings me to the purpose of this post. I need to decide whether I should return the Mac for a full refund and buy a different laptop for half the price, or alternatively, establish whether it’s likely that Apple will address all of these issues given reasonable time. It would really be a pity to return the unit, as I have already grown quite fond of the hardware. Furthermore, despite prior gripes, I can actually now see myself switching to OSX for day to day work, only to boot Windows for the occasional game of Fallout, whereas I bought this Mac with the expectation to do both while in Windows.

Because I genuinely want to make this thing work, I have a number of questions I would love to hear your opinions on, and preferrably before thursday this week where my 14-day right of return expires:

  • Do you have a late 2008 Unibody 15 Macbook running Windows, and are you having similar troubles?
  • Do you have any other Mac running Windows, and if so, is that unit running perfectly?
  • Have you had problems like these on older Mac hardware, which Apple fixed with firmware and software updates?
  • If you are running Windows on a Mac, is it Vista or XP, and did switching from one to the other fix your troubles?

Please note again that I’m referring to Windows running in Boot Camp, not in emulation or virtualization like Parallels or VirtualBox.

While I have done some a lot of research on the topic and found that quite a few others are having the same troubles, and even articles on Apple supposedly working on a fix for these issues, I would love to hear updated feedback on this. As a point of note: OSX runs just fine, doesn’t crash and cools the machine aptly, which leads me to believe this is mainly a Boot Camp software / driver issue, rather than solely a hardware issue.

So there it is, the current state of my fling with The Mac. Please help me turn this into a love-affair. I’ll end this with a Steve Jobs quote:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

If you’re reading, Steve, right now it doesn’t work.

Update: I’m putting a signed print of your choice on the line for the author of the comment that fixes the problems I’ve been having—not that I think that’s possible without Apple actually getting involved, but it’s worth a shot.

Update 2: After reading an article on The Inquirer, I’m now finding it likely that this Macbook and many others are suffering from bad Nvidia hardware. Please help me decide whether I should return the unit, or request a repair.

Update 3: Returning it. More to follow.

The Quest For A Sturdy Laptop

A coworker and myself are looking for laptops in the “desktop replacement” class. That means fairly fast computers sporting plenty of RAM and dedicated graphics cards. That means prices in the 1500 ranges. These are all Fisherprice plastic concoctions, however, and therein lies the problem. Can it really be true, that only Apple makes truly sturdy laptops? No, I will not just buy a 2500 dollar laptop, even if it is prettier, sturdier and smells better; for that amount I’d rather get a slightly used Toyota.

Is it the metal build quality that jacks up prices? I’ve used the XO (the 100 dollar laptop) and it is plenty sturdy even, so I know it’s possible to build a computer whose keyboard doesn’t break when you type antipathy. Even so, it seems only Sony, Lenovo and Apple has gotten this and at their prices I might as well get the Mac the Toyota. I find it both frustrating and mindboggling that only three laptop makers in a fierce market have discovered that “durable” is a boon, so help me out here: is there a sub 1500 dollar laptop with the above specs and sturdy build quality?

Flash And Quicktime: Not Sitting In A Tree

In a recent piece, News Flash: No Flash, John Gruber writes that he finds it unlikely for Flash to appear on the iPhone any time soon. He’s right, as usual, but he’s got a few details wrong.

The single most popular thing people use Flash for is to watch YouTube videos, which you can already watch a subset of using the native Mobile OS X YouTube app. In short, is the lack of Flash keeping people from buying iPhones and iPod Touches?

Right, but wrong. Video is great, but the coming battle won’t be about video. I dare predict that Apple has a dirty secret in their pocket, a secret that’s ready to explode. A secret that’ll bring them head to head (more so) with Adobe, Microsoft and Mozilla. Possibly even Sony and Nintendo.

Flash and the future of Flash, is not only about video. Sure, video was what really got Flash to the mass-market via YouTube and the likes, but the true future of Flash relies upon a new Adobe technology called AIR1. AIR is something we’ll see quite a lot more of in the coming year. The idea is that HTML is too limiting for web-apps such as Google Docs, Flickr, Twitter and so on. Yes, it works, but could it work better?

Enter Flash. There’s good Flash and there’s bad Flash. For the last decade or so, we’ve mostly seen bad Flash. YouTube was the exception, so much that in mainstream terms, Flash is now about video, when in fact that’s only a tiny subset of what Flash does. Flash does RSS, HTML, app-scripting, fullscreen, video, mp3 and graphics with advanced filters including scalable vector graphics. Theoretically, you could rewrite Gmail in Flash and AIR to make it an offline application with functionality rivaling that of other email apps such as Outlook and Thunderbird. Did I mention Flash does games as well?

Of course this is when you should splash yourself with cold water, smell the coffee and so on. There’s a real good reason why only video has really succeeded for Flash. The bulk of the reason is lack of usability (and accessibility), the cherry on top being that Flash is really CPU intensive. But Adobe is working on that. Real, no-bullshit hardware acceleration could possibly solve many of the CPU problems that plague Flash and AIR is making headway with regards to usability and accessibility.

As such, I believe the next great Internet battle will surround offline applications. Adobe has AIR, Microsoft has Silverlight and Mozilla is positioning both Firefox 3, Mozilla Prism and Mozilla Weave. The purpose of each of these frameworks is to allow people to create widgets, applications, games, music and video that you can take with you offline and even to your cellphone.

Apples website shows no trace of Flash, even though it could be used for their videos, hardware presentations and interactive website elements. Things might even work slightly better than it does now. So why doesn’t Apple just use Flash? Because Apple wants in on it.

Apple makes widgets, applications, games, music and video. Right now you can take your music, video, and most recently, your games with you offline and to your iDevices. As Gruber mentions, the iPhone even has a great amount of really good HTML/CSS/JavaScript powered applications. The iPhone even does YouTube video without the use of Flash. Apple wants you to know that you really don’t need Flash, because their big dirty secret is that they’re going to position Quicktime as an alternative to Flash/AIR and Silverlight.

Think about it. Really get it in there. Quicktime is a widespread plugin. Maybe not as much as Flash, but spread enough. Add to that Apples hardware accelerated Core Animation technology, and you’ve got graphical prowess that matches that of both Flash and Silverlight. Combine that with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and you’ll get video, music, games and applications through Quicktime. All of it, stuff we thought would be on either Adobes or Microsofts turf once the dust settled. With portable games, Apple might even face off with Nintendos and Sonys handhelds2.

Keep thinking about it. Apple has been real quiet about iPhone application SDKs. Very few games have been released. People are supposed to write applications using web-technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Why all the secrecy? Could it be that Apples engineers are hard at work combining Core Animation and Quicktime into a lightweight browser plugin? My prediction: yes. Count on it. In 6-10 months, Apple will unveil the new Quicktime, a browser plugin for Windows and Mac that brings Core Animation to the browser. Build your websites, movie-microsites, games, web-apps and play your videos directly in Coretime! Oh, and there’s one more thing. Once you’re done building: take it with you to your dashboard, your iPods and your iPhones.

  1. Not coincidentally, AIR is RIA a spelled backwards, RIA for Rich Internet Application  
  2. That said, they’ll probably go after Nokias NGage platform first and we all know how that’ll play out. Spoiler alert: Nokia doesn’t stand a chance.