A Few Different Takes On iOS Multitasking

Multitasking On iOS Is Tricky

I no longer believe iOS needs to display two apps on screen on screen to have powerful multitasking. Apple could create a completely new way to multi-task on small screens without recycling ideas meant for larger screens. I am not saying that split screen multitasking isn’t possible on an iPad or iPhone 6+ merely that there may be a better way. iOS 8 brought us extensions which allow us to access features of apps in other apps. A welcome advancement but the experience needs to be programmed by developers so we still haven’t seen that many innovative productivity advances. I will admit that the multi-tasking problem isn’t an easy one to solve without split screen multitasking. Smaller screens, hardware limitations, and general user confusion with a more complicated experience are all things Apple has to overcome. So how can Apple introduce multitasking without degrading the user experience? I have a few ideas.

Why Not Just Have Two Apps On The Screen At Once?

iPads are already big enough to show 2 apps at once and the iPhone 6+ could also handle multiple apps in landscape mode. I go back and forth on whether multiple apps on the screen at once would be the best solution. In some cases it would be great but I honestly think the 1 app per screen philosophy is a powerful one for focus. I don’t doubt that it would work but I wonder if it is truly the best way. Take a common task like copying several different lines of text from an article to your notes. I think the better solution would be a clipboard that remembered multiple snippets. You copy as you go and when you are done switch to your note taking app and paste everything. That would be better than copying, changing focus to the notes app, pasting, changing focus to the article, and repeating multiple times. However something like taking notes from a video would be impossible without 2 apps on screen at once. It’s a tough decision to make. Apple isn’t the type of company to have multiple solutions to the same problem.

Linking 2 iOS Devices

Apple makes owning two of their devices better with apps like Continuity and Handoff but what if we took this idea to the extreme? What if you could link your iPhone and iPad together to work seamlessly together? I thought a list of examples what the best way to showcase this idea so here they are:

  • Your iPhone acts like a quick app/document switcher. When you’re working on multiple files and a simple tap on your iPhone takes you from one to the other on your iPad. No menus needed.

  • You’re painting in Paper by 53 and all the brushes/colour mixer are on your iPhone so you have the full iPad screen to work.

  • You’re using multiple apps at the same time. Instead of switching you have one on your iPad and another on your iPhone, flicking files/documents/text back and forth.

  • You are reading something and copying information to a text document. Instead of switching apps back and forth a shared clipboard allows you to copy on your iPad and paste in your iPhone.

  • Your iPhone analyzes what you write on your iPad to show related picture and files and links.
  • You’re browsing Twitter on your iPhone while your significant other uses your iPad to FaceTime her parents. You come across a funny picture and “flick” it to your iPad and it pops up on the screen she’s looking at.

You could even do this with two iPads or an iOS device and a Mac. Even a 15” Macbook can be small if you are using Photoshop and a third of the screen is covered in brush pallets and other tools. What if the tools were all on your iPad sitting beside you? You would have all 15” to work while still having easy access to your tools.

The possibilities are endless.

Floating File Icons

Working on multiple things at once has improved with iOS 8 but there still is friction. Opening a document/file in a different app doesn’t create a duplicate anymore but you still have to go find the document or file when you switch apps. I think I can best explain this with an example. If I am posting to my site from the mobile Squarespace app and want to create the title graphic I have to switch to Notegraphy I create the graphic, save it to my camera roll, and switch back. I then have to press a button to add a picture, scroll through all of my pictures, and find the one I need. I can’t just send the picture from one app to the other. What if that file moved with me when I switched back to the Squarespace app? So here is my idea: You switch to Notegraphy, make the graphic, and when you switch back there is a little icon (like a Facebook chat head) on top of the Squarespace app UI. You can then drag the picture into your post or flick it away if you don’t need it.

A Recent File Picker Gesture

This could be improved greatly but here is the basic idea.

Rather than having a single floating file when you switch apps why not have a file history accessible from swiping in from the right side of the screen. It would show a small column of the things you mosts recently did. You could then pull out files or photos into the current app. Getting around the system of menus you currently have to go through.

This could also act as a clipboard with a memory. So you clip text as you read something and then just drag the snippets into a text document when you’re done.

Final Notes

In the last week I have had 2 separate relatives say to me “I like my iPad but it isn’t a real computer.” My answer to both is that while they can do almost everything a “real” computer can you probably wouldn’t want to. iOS has become an OS that you can accomplish almost anything but you need to ask yourself if its worth the effort if you already have a Mac or PC. Apple needs to make these complicated tasks, like multitasking, simple to truly usher in the Post-PC age.


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