Do We Multitask Or Not?

iPhoneThe lines are blurring, the waters muddying. Where’s the dividing line between devices and what we can do on them?

One of the biggest complaints about the iPad and the iPhone before it (as they run on the same operating system) is that you can’t have more than one program open at once and switch between them (multitasking). To change applications, you have to quit one program and start up the other.

But you don’t hear such complaints applied to the Blackberry, HTC or other smartphones. When we’re looking up contacts, making a call, checking a calendar or playing a game, we expect to remain in that application and only leave it when we’re finished and need to go somewhere else. At the other end of the scale, on a computer we expect to have multiple tools open doing different things all at once.

So why the grumbles about the iPhone’s lack of multitasking? We haven’t needed it so far in the smartphone era.

The complaints are actually a skewed compliment to Apple and completely vindicate their approach. The users who want multitasking on their iPhone consider it more of a little computer than just a mobile, especially with so many cool things to do that are so easy to access and use.

The iPad has made the argument even murkier. Complaints about the lack of multitasking have been even more vocal. Along with the millions of apps the iPad is suddenly the size and shape of something we’d could consider a computer rather than a phone, and our innate sense is that you can multitask on a computer.

It’s something Apple undoubtedly spent the latter half of 2009 philosophising. I’d venture their conclusion was that they wanted a consumer app device, not a computer the user could rearrange and make their own at a system level. It would target many millions ore purchasers, and Apple’s almost supernatural marketing did the rest.

So I’d venture another assumption — that Apple aren’t interested in multitasking. It needs a level of programming and operating sophistication they know most people can’t do and aren’t interested in. That’s why you can what you like about the new (post -iPod) wave of Apple products, but they’re certainly idiot proof.