Android’s Still Got Serious Multitasking Defficiencies – Google, Please Do Something About It

After saying so many good things about Android, Dual-SIM etc. in the previous posts let me get a bit critical for a moment here because there is something that is really bothering me and standing in the way of innovation: Multitasking capabilities on mobile devices are getting worse rather than better.

I know many of you out there think that Symbian is outdated etc. but when you look at it from an application execution point of view quite the contrary is the case. Let's take my Nokia N8 for example: It's multitasking perfectly and has no problem running my web browser, the podcast client, the file manager, my navigation system (Nokia maps), the email client, the gallery, the camera app, the ebook reading application and my messaging client all in memory at the same time. No they are not suspended, they are all running. The podcast player and email client work in the background while my navigation system in the foreground directs me to some place. Switching between the applications is seamless, they are all in memory, they are not suspended, they run all the time. I switch to the browser, it's instantly there, I switch back to the navigation system, it's immediately there, it was never gone. Do all that and then fire up the Youtube app and watch a video. Stop in the middle because somethning else comes up, go to the browser it's still there, go to the navigation system and its still there, go back to the Youtube video and it still waits for you at the position where it has been paused. It's perfect and by the way, it's all done in 256 MB of RAM!!!!

And now turn to Android. Here I have this super high priced tablet that almost has a gigabyte of RAM and I can't even switch between the web browser and my ebook reading app without the other closing. And that is really annoying because I like switching between the two apps to look something up while I am reading and then quickly return to the reader app. But each time I do this there is a delay because when I switch from the browser to the ebook reader, the ebook has to be reloaded again which takes a second or two  because the app was force-quit. When I switch from the reader to the browser again I have to wait a second or two because the web page that was previously shown has to be reloaded and re-rendered. Same with the Youtube app. You pause the video to go to another app for a second and then go back and the video starts from the beginning again. That's really annoying. And that with almost a gigabyte of RAM!?

Back to the N8 and there is zero lag time switching between the ebook reader and the web browser, with a dozen other applications also still running in the background and doing so without draining the battery by the way, which is often said to be the reason why apps are not allowed to fully run in the background on Android and other mobile operating systems. A second or two of delay, that's not too much now is it!? Actually it is, it's a serious usability defect!

Don't get me wrong I am not preaching the return of Symbian and the demise of Android and Co. What I am saying here is that it's time to beef up the multitasking experience on mobile devices because I am sure I am not the only one frequently hopping between applications and wanting to see that happen instantly rather than having to wait till an app is resurrected and has its data reloaded.

I can see tablets taking a bigger market share and replacing notebooks for a lot of things but for that to happen, at least for me, multitasking needs to be significantly improved before I would even remotely consider leaving my netbook at home because there's also the tablet. So please, Google, do something about it, there's living proof that things can be a lot better.

7 thoughts on “Android’s Still Got Serious Multitasking Defficiencies – Google, Please Do Something About It”

  1. Hear hear!

    Neither do I like what happens in my Galaxy S, if I
    1) Set a countdown timer in a platform clock app and start it (~start cooking something)
    2) Start a web browser (~while waiting)
    3) Go back to the clock app only to see that app was killed i.e. countdown timer setting lost and timer not running(!) (~dish overcooked and ruined)

    This displays a complete disregard to what the user does with the device.

  2. Are you comparing the experience on Android pre-ICS or on Ice Cream Sandwich? AOSP has beefed up the OS in ICS to allow what you request: switching between multiple applications running in active memory. I had similar issues with Gingerbread devices, but now quickly jump between many open applications by using the what used to be the menu button.

  3. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for that. Indeed my Android devices are running Gingerbread and Honeycomb. When I have a chance Ill have a look at if/how ICS has improved things.


  4. What company put out the rom? Because I have seen tons of apps (stock quotes, facebook, twitter client, kitchen sink) preload on my HTC that will remain in memory, leaving active apps that I actually want to use with precious little space left. I imagine purified “hacked” roms to run much more smoothly.

    Android feels like Windows all over again with all the bloatware. Except that you can’t remove the bloatware without rooting the device.

  5. Android is a poor substitute for a proper computer operating system. It brings back memories of Windows 95 with its reboots and inefficient system resource utilization. Multi-tasking is a reqiured feature for many users. I use it all the time on my N900. My next device is the Nokia 808 with Belle.

  6. Regarding the first post: the problem comes from the countdown app. The system will ALWAYS call onPause before killing an activity, so the dev has to store the countdown start date before the onPause and resume it at the begining. You can’t blame android for a bad app developer

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