Friday, March 26, 2010

Mobile platform multi-tasking revisited

Everyone is clamoring for multi-tasking on their mobile smartphones. android has it, windows mobile has it but the iPhone and the new dangle windows phone 7 don't. This isn't that hard of a ponlem to solve you would think, but it really is. Reason - constrained resources on the phone and no good user interaction model for users to kill rogue applications.

The biggest issue with multi-tasking on phones though is reduced battery life. Right now, my iPhone barely gives me 5 hours of usage; I shudder to think what my battery life will reduce to once multi-tasking becomes du jour. Single-tasking is plain not good enough because switching to another app means all context is lost in the current app. There are times when I am listening to an episode of fresh air in my browser and the phone rings - bam, need to start the episode from scratch! So we are at an impasse, unless...

Yes, there is a third solution; an idea which is more of a hybrid approach - application hibernation. Switching to another app puts the current app into a form of suspended animation, kinda like the pause button for media playback. The application's state is saved to persistent storage and room is made for the new application. It would be trivial to provide a list of "suspended"/paused applications, with a cool ui that allows a user to literally press Play on the application they want to turn "On". It's going to be really interesting to see what strategy the 3 leading mobile platforms will adopt.  

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