30 Days With Windows Phone 7: Day 21
The smartphone is a sort of Swiss Army knife that often needs to be capable of performing multiple functions simultaneously. For today's 30 Days With Windows Phone 7 post I will take a closer look at how Microsoft is handling multitasking in "Mango".
Multitasking is one of those features that should have been included in Windows Phone 7 at launch. Microsoft followed in Apple's footsteps, though--implementing some basic multitasking for core Windows Phone 7 functionality, but leaving most apps out of the party. With "Mango" Microsoft is opening the APIs to let developers take advantage of the multitasking capabilities as well.
Not True Multitasking
I'll just state right off the bat that the multitasking in "Mango" is not really true multitasking. For most apps, it is more like app switching with apps that retain their state--like a sort of hibernation or temporary suspended animation. That is different than the multitasking I'm used to on my Windows 7 PC where programs continue to execute even when in the background.
The pseudo-multitasking in "Mango" is very similar to the way Apple has addressed the issue of multitasking in iOS. Some apps, like music playing apps, can continue to run in the background. But, most apps will actually be idle in the background, but ready to resume right where I left it when I switch back to it. Apps in the background can still update Live Tiles on the Start Screen, or receive push notifications.
Holding down the back button opens up access to the multitasking apps. They appear as thumbnails--I can swipe back and forth to see what's running and tap the app I want to open. Mango limits you to a maximum of five multitasking apps and automatically drops the oldest when you add a sixth. It is better than not having multitasking at all, but could pose problems if you really need to keep an app open in multitasking.
It's hard to really test multitasking right now, because there are few--if any--apps available designed to take advantage of it. It seems, though, that apps designed to take advantage of multitasking retain their state even after they drop off the multitasking top 5 list.
Some apps behave a little wacky when it comes to multitasking. For example, YouTube is a single app, but it ends up using two or more of your multitasking slots because the YouTube app opens three different multitasking tabs at once: YouTube itself, an Internet Explorer back end, and then Music+Videos to play the clip.
The Right Approach
It seems like there is always someone demanding true multitasking, or pointing out when a mobile OS like iOS or Windows Phone 7 is lacking it. Personally, I say "who cares?"
The smartphone only has a 4-inch display on average. It's not like I can open multiple apps and set them side by side--with Word Mobile on the left of the display and the IE9 browser on the right. No. Due to the inherent limitations of the screen real estate, multitasking on a smartphone amounts to switching between apps.
The approach taken by Microsoft allows "Mango" to achieve the result while conserving battery life and reducing the impact on processing and memory resources. As long as the app remembers its state and picks up where I left off, I don't really care how it multitasks in the background when I'm not using it.