Mobile Multitasking

David Wood recently wrote an interesting post on why he thinks multitasking on mobile devices is not only nice to have but rather despite still not all smartphones support it today. However, Symbian based devices have supported this for many years and it's one of the reasons why I'm a Nokia N- and Eseries fan boy. But let's put it to the test, which programs am I running simultaneously on my mobile (see picture on the left):

  • Profimail to receive e-mail.
  • The phone configuration utility. Always running so I can get quickly to some often used functions such as 2G/3G network selection, call forwarding, etc.
  • Nokia maps. Especially important when traveling
  • Opera Mini
  • The clock and alarm application
  • A counter application that shows my data usage
  • The SMS program
  • The screenshot program

Screenshot0010And sometimes there's also the music player, the podcast client, the calender, the address book and more running in the background in addition to the list above. Not necessarily because they all need to run but because there is no need to quit them as they don't consume resources while they sit in the background and by letting them run I can get to them really fast and pick up from where I left them.

Returning to the last state is a really important feature for me, especially with the maps application and Opera Mini. In Opera Mini it's a joy to instantly return to it after doing something else and to be able to quickly go back several pages without a new reload. And as far as the maps application is concerned it's great to see where I was last and to have a new GPS fix within a couple of seconds.

Sure, to some degree this can be 'simulated' by saving the state of the application before it is quit. However, returning to the application and restoring the state costs time. But why simulate it when you can have the real thing?

9 thoughts on “Mobile Multitasking”

  1. is it *true* multi-tasking? I could do the same screen shot on my Blackberry and switch between the applications and get the same behaviour you describe. (maps location, history in browser, etc)

    On my iPhone, I can do the same thing and I know it is not multi-tasking (maybe saving the state?)

    and as per Dave’s post, the iPhone does not skip or stop playing music while taking a picture or playing games or using maps or …

    As well with push notifications, I have (effectively) yahoo, facebook, sms, and other applications “constantly” running and giving me updates and allowing me to switch between applications and see what is going on.

    Anyways interesting post. just wondering if the systems are true multi-tasking or whether through their OSs (Symbian, RIM, Apple) we get an effective same behaviour?

    for the reason that you list you are a Nokia N/E series fanboy, I am a Blackberry and Apple fanboy 🙂

  2. Symbian does *true* multitasking. If any of those background applications has something to do it will do it. Of course in most cases the threads that make up the processes are sleeping, but they could be doing something.

  3. Sorry to disagree Ed. I own an Iphone, and I just love the GUI, but even though there are some processes running on second plane, multitasking refers to the ability of the device to process different task/applications running in background (RAM) instantly.
    Just to make a comparison; when you’re using your desktop PC, Imagine that you need to open every application every time you need it, this means, neither alt+tab (windows) nor maximize. Every application needs to be loaded in RAM first by the OS and then you can have access to it. This process takes precious time. When you’re sitting in front of your PC, this may not be that important, but when you’re on the move response time is critical.
    My experience with the Iphone have been somehow good, but the response time is really bad. It always takes seconds to open even the SMS application. For me this is annoying.
    I have tried most smartphones OS since the beginning and the one with the best multitasking behavior by far is Symbian.

  4. What about Android? I have this true multitasking, I can restore the state of the many open applications instantly, including the browser, maps, SMS, etc.
    I have to admit that it is only available on the latest devices, my HTC Magic did multitasking but because of a lack of available RAM, the applications were actually closed whenever the system needed resources.
    With my Nexus One, it’s true multitasking, as on a computer. Android is just lacking a “good” alt-tab like system to switch between running applications.

    For me, Android multitasking is at least as good as the Symbian multitasking I had on my E- and N-Series

  5. Multitasking on Symbian is very good.

    I recently moved over to Maemo 5 (N900). It’s also very good, although it feels that when you have too much running it can take a while for, say, a browser window to come to life.

  6. Hi Gabriel,

    hm, that sounds like it pages out some tasks to the flash when running low on RAM. Not ideal but better than nothing 🙂

    Kind regards,

  7. I like a 3rd party podcast app for the iPhone and some radio apps. Not being able to listen to them while I work in other apps is really a bummer.
    And I really, really hate the Apple way of push notifications. What’s wrong with a local alarm feature for my tasks and my IM app running background? I remember my Palm and PPC devices doing that since 2002.

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