Opinion: Multitasking on the iPad – you're doing it wrong

19 April 2016, 11:00

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Over at TechCrunch there’s an interesting headline: Live video viewing up 86% over last year in MLB’s At Bat app, thanks to the addition of multitasking. Everything you need to know is right there – MLB’s At Bat app has increased live viewing of the sport thanks to multitasking on the iPad, whereby you can watch a video stream in a corner of the screen while doing other things.

It’s a superb example of how multitasking on an iPad (i.e. within iOS) is not a straight copy of the old way of working that’s been around for maybe 40 years.

Traditionally, multitasking on the desktop is a kind of augmentation – a boost for user efficiency. I might position the Mail and word processor windows side-by-side, for example, so I can copy text into a new document. I might have the Contacts app behind one of these in order to look somebody up, and so on, without my workflow suffering.

The key thing here is that multitasking helps me focus on one main task: doing a part of my job. Sure, I might have iTunes playing music in the background, but most apps I have open at any one time are open to let me do one single thing more efficiently.

With the iPad, we’re in an era of lifestyle multitasking. To use the example above of MLB, we can keep an eye on sports while we do just about anything else – chat, answer email, tap in a word processor, or even play a game. I might tap away writing a blog post while keeping sports open. I might use split screen to keep Messages open so I can chat to my wife while writing journalism.

This is a cultural more than a technological difference.

It’s no secret that the plurality of technology has forced us to evolve. Back in the 1980s, if the TV was turned on then it took all our attention. Things have changed. Nowadays we use our iPhones or iPads while watching TV to do loads of other things simultaneously: tweet or check email, or play games.

The multitasking feature of the iPad is right there catering for this. You want to watch Netflix while you chat to friends? Go right ahead. Want to check Tinder while you watch Doctor Who? Use split screen, and mix and match. It’ll keep up with you.

Next time you hear an argument that the multitasking experience on the iPad is wrong, or too weak, bear this in mind. It’s not about helping you do one main task better. It’s about keeping up with your life. And as iOS multitasking evolves, we’ll see more of a push in this direction. Right now at Apple somebody is wracking their brains trying to figure out how an iPad can let the user easily switch between three or perhaps more lifestyle tasks. That’s a really hard puzzle to solve – but if anybody can, Apple can.

The iPad’s multitasking is designed for the here and now, as well as the future, and not for computing as it was 30 or 40 years ago. Bravo Apple.

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