iPhone OS 4.0 – Windows Mobile 7: Multitasking or Not?

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Multitasking [mŭl’tē-tās’kĭng]
n.  The concurrent operation by one central processing unit of two or more processes.

It seems like multitasking is a never ending  feature of discussion when it comes to the iPhone and it’s smartphone peers. Everyone seems to be fussing about the iPhone not supporting multitasking and as a result, it seems like the OS 4.0 would introduce some ‘new ways to multitask‘, whatever that means.

Then there’s the rumour that Windows Mobile 7 might see the demise of multitasking and some Vogsphere-inspired feature that pauses applications instead. If only I get paid a penny every time someone LOLs or gasps in horror over that rumour. LOL! (Darn, no instant penny!)

So, is this multitasking thing such an important feature at all? Are the boys at Redmond finally getting it? And what in the world are the boys and girls in Cupertino smoking?

I’ll be dead honest with the fact that I do wish that the iPhone could multitask. But it’s not because I use to multitask on my Windows Mobile 6.5 device. It’s simply because the iPhone has so much potential that if it could run more that one applications at a time, you’d be much more efficient and productive using it. But after using the iPhone close to 6 months, I could safely say that multitasking isn’t really quite that necessary.

Sure it’s nice to have your IM client always running so your chat session is always connected. But imagine the amount of power that it would suck out of your phone if the client keeps running in the background. As it is, push notification has turned out to be quite useful and resource-saving method to have ‘offline’ apps to stay pseudo-active in the background. It’s definitely a compromise, but it’s one that I can live with.

But what about Microsoft and their pausing applications? Sounds like hibernation to me where all the application’s memory is kept intact while the process gets zero CPU time. And with push-notifications also supported, this sounds like a much better approach that the iPhone which just kills the process whenever your hit the home button. However, there might be a catch here. WinMo 7 would need to have some God-like memory management, otherwise, it’s Windows ME all over again. They should also make sure the hardware would at least support what they want to achieve here by enforcing a minimum RAM size as well as freaking-fast memory chips to support their method of memory management. I foresee some serious memory swapping required to achieve this.

And as for the iPhone OS 4.0 rumoured to support new ways to achieve multitasking, I’m lost trying to figure out what it might be. (Un)fortunately, that’s never going to stop me from speculating what it might be either. 🙂 But what I’d like to see in iPhone OS 4.0 SDK are some ways that would allow some form of inter-application communications via:

  1. A commonly accessible file repository where applications can share information across to the other applications. This is a sorely missed in the iPhone. I’d love to be able to download my email attachments and use it on other applications!
  2. A inter-process communication protocol perhaps? It would also be nice if applications could be closely integrated, not just to the default applications. Imagine editing a photo on Photogene, then immediately post it to Facebook using the Facebook app. This would reduce all the duplicate functions in most applications that tries to do everything. Why reinvent wooden wheels when run-flat tyres are already available?
  3. Ok. I’d admit that I would like to see multi-tasking too. It’s nice to be able to have applications like IM+ continue to run in the background to keep the sessions alive when I need to occasionally browse the web to do some research for the conversation I’m in. So as a fail-safe mechanism, why not just limit applications to only be able to stay running in the background for a limited amount of time? That should be good enough to keep your batteries from draining out too fast.

So, that sums up my thoughts on this. Multi-tasking is nice to have and is currently one of the main staying points of Windows Mobile smartphones (but the Andriods sure is starting to eat into the WinMo’s market share). I really do wonder why they are considering removing multi-tasking from WinMo 7. Can’t they just revamp the kernel from ground up like they did for Vista/Windows 7 and make sure the memory management is improved instead of taking away multi-tasking?

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