Android 3.0 Multitasking is More iPad than Playbook

By  |  Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm

At last, Google has posted platform highlights for Android 3.0, the version of its OS designed with tablets in mind.

The short version: Android 3.0 has software-based navigation instead of physical buttons, tabbed web browsing, big-screen Google apps and developer tools for creating modular, panel based apps that work on tablets or phones.

But most of these features are old news if you saw Google’s teaser video and Motorola’s Xoom announcement at CES. The real revelation in this documentation is how Android 3.0 handles multitasking. In Google’s words, with my emphasis:

As users launch applications to handle various tasks, they can use the Recent Apps list in the System Bar to see the tasks underway and quickly jump from one application context to another. To help users rapidly identify the task associated with each app, the list shows a snapshot of its actual state when the user last viewed it.

This makes me think Android tablets’ approach to multitasking will more closely resemble the iPad than RIM’s Blackberry Playbook.

One of the Playbook’s most noteworthy characteristics, aside from its swipe-based user interface, is how it handles multitasking. Unlike Apple’s iOS devices, the Playbook doesn’t freeze apps in time when you navigate away. If you want to load a movie, a video game and a website at the same time, you can actually watch all these things happen side-by-side from the Playbook’s main menu.

On the iPad, you can only guess what’s happening behind the scenes. Some apps tap a specific set of multitasking tools that Apple has allowed, such as background downloads of video or photos. Other apps don’t. The only way to find out for sure is to check on each app individually.

Android 3.0 straddles both approaches, leaning a bit towards the iPad. The platform allows apps to run in the background, but that activity will be hidden from the user. Calling up the recent apps list in Android’s system bar will only show the previous states of all open apps, not what they’re currently doing.

In theory, I like RIM’s approach the best because it most resembles the kind of multitasking you can do on a Windows PC or Mac. You might argue that tablets needn’t act like laptops, and for the most part I agree, but glancing at e-mail or Twitter while watching a video is something I’d like to do on a tablet, and so far the Playbook is the only device promising that capability.

Whether it can handle this kind of multitasking without hemorrhaging battery life, we’ll have to see.


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Dianne Says:

    This isn't a revelation, this is how Android has worked since 1.0.

  2. Warbuff Says:

    Exactly. here is a good read. knowledge for future articles

  3. JaredNewman Says:

    Thanks for the read.

    @Dianne – Fair point, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think that Google would tweak multitasking as part of this fairly significant shake-up for Android. In fact, the process for tablets is somewhat different than it has been: Instead of seeing app icons for all running processes, you'll see a screengrab of whatever state the app was in when you left it, regardless of what it's been doing in the meantime.

  4. @job_514 Says:

    It seems that the underlying process is still fundamentally the same, the only thing that is changing is the visualization for the user. In that way, it is most like webOS's card style image capture of the running process. I don't see the similarities to the IPad in anyway in that regard.

  5. Brandon Backlin Says:

    This form of multitasking just makes sense for portables. With full-screen only apps, the only thing you can do in the background is download and process data; such as listening to Pandora Radio or downloading a file while in another app. If the apps are "windowed", or two or more apps are allowed to share screen space, then Playbook-style multitasking makes more sense.

  6. Vasudev Ram Says:

    Interesting post. I’d like to know what this limitation is due to. For example, in the Nokia N900, which runs Maemo 5 which is a Linux variant, is true multitasking possible? If so, is the limited multitasking on other devices due to the OS (but then Android also is a Linux variant) or due to the windowing system of the device, or some other reason?

    – Vasudev

  7. trance0 Says:

    It is for one reason only, i.e. the screen on mobile phones is too small to effectively display more than one app at a time, so the OS was designed to show only one app full screen instead of several in very small windows. I don`t think it would be particularly hard to implement an upgrade (or 3rd party app) that would show more than one running app on screen at a time, but I do believe that the screen on mobile phones is really to small for this to be of practical use. Tablets on the other hand have a lot larger screens, so here I think it would be useful to tweak the OS so that several apps can be displayed at the same time.

  8. trance0 Says:

    Another thing: Think about watching a video and chatting in another program at the same time on a 4 or 3.5 inch display where half of the screen is already taken up by virtual keyboard and the other half by the messaging program(messages you are exchanging with chat buddies, user interface parts etc.), what is left to display the video clip in another video player program then? It is really not practical to show several apps at a time on such small screens in most cases.