The iPad Needs The Classic Mac’s Switcher

James Kendrick has a very good point here — Why is it so hard to build a good tablet? Trying to do too much — but doesn’t close the circle.

Whether you like Apple and the iPad or not, there is no denying that a primary reason this tablet has been welcomed by consumers is the simplicity of the device. The iPad isn’t designed to run lots of apps at the same time, with a handful of exceptions it only runs one at a time. This makes it possible for Apple to control the load on the device at any given time, and make sure that nothing runs amok in the background. This is in large part why the iPad operates as smooth as butter, and onscreen activity is as fluid as can be. Apple’s tight control may be losing functionality due to the lack of extra activity in the background, but it is guaranteeing that the performance of the iPad is as good as can be. This is more important to consumers than the loss of multitasking as found on other platforms.

What did he miss?

What he’s just described is the experience of Palm OS users up to System 5.

There was no multitasking, only one app at a time could be open, and stability was really rock solid and speed was even better than an iPad (oh yes it was! My Palm III was absolute joy to use!). It had all the flow and fluidity of today’s iPad.

Which is the point Kendrick has missed: The iPad is a gigantic PDA!

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Except, me being the contrary sort, I think there is.

One of the best things I could do with my Palm III was install something called HackMaster. This allowed me to install Hacks. In essence, some of these were like classic Mac OS Desk Accessories.

And they were wonderful!

I could assign stylus strokes to summon them.

I had one to pop up a combo clock and battery meter.

Another to call up the Date Book in its own little window.

And another to open Memo Pad in a little window.

The net effect of this was greatly increased productivity and a lot more use than I was getting out of it before HackMaster.

For example, I was often in SmartDOC, looking at a DOC file, but needed to reference something in Memo Pad. Instead of — iPad-like — exiting SmartDOC, opening Memo Pad, then re-opening SmartDOC, a stroke of the stylus would overlay Memo Pad in a wee window and I could call up the Memo I needed to see. I could also copy and paste between SmartDOC and Memo Pad.

I don’t expect this kind of capability anytime soon — or at all — with the iPad. But I was thinking back to its Mac-like roots and there’s one thing I think could be added that would be an improvement over the current “multitasking” scheme of double-pressing the Home button.

That is making it act more like the classic Mac OS’s Switcher.

Surprisingly, the Barnes & Noble NookColor and Nook Touch have a sort of feature like this! And I’d put it into the iPad’s iOS the same way.

Basically, to switch between programs, you’d swipe horizontally across the top of the screen, either left or right, depending on the already-open app you wanted to go to.

And that’s it.

No having to press Home and then touch an icon.

Just Swipe!

Apple could even keep the current press-Home-touch-icon scheme. Just add the top swipe as a feature for advanced users. (And if it can’t be added with one-finger swipe, then make it two-finger swipe.)

Some people reading this won’t have any idea of what I’m talking about. You weren’t there when the Mac was young and black-and-white with a single-tasking OS that ran off a floppy disk.

I dragged Bud over to my house to show him how I could rapidly switch between MacPaint, MacWrite and MacDraw. He was impressed, but to my surprise he complained that the switching, which was almost instantaneous, was actually too fast.

“I think it might be confusing to switch from one application to another without any feedback,” he told me. “What if someone switches accidentally? Maybe you could use animation to make a smoother transition.”

That sounded like a great idea to me. We decided that one application should scroll off the screen horizontally while another was scrolling on, which gave the users a simple, concrete mental model of the applications wrapped around a sort of Lazy Susan, which they could rotate to move the desired application to the visible area. I quickly wrote some fast scrolling routines, and was blown away by how cool it looked to see the applications zip across the screen.

Mac veterans will understand. Maybe they’ll also agree.


Filed under iOS

8 responses to “The iPad Needs The Classic Mac’s Switcher

  1. iOS 4.3 and later already have that; Multitasking Gestures. Stroke four fingers sideways across the screen and you slide through the running applications. Swipe four fingers upwards, and you get the multitasking tray. Pinch five fingers inwards and you get back to the homescreen. I haven’t used the home button in months. I believe iOS 5 enables it for plebs, but connect 4.3 to a Mac running Xcode and you get the option to enable them.

  2. Martin S

    Ite allready here on the iPad. In 4.3 it is in as a developer feature ( that can be activated by developers. It will be official in iOS 5. Four fingers to the left/right cycles through your programs.

  3. Gary Menszyk

    You have seen the multitasking gesture for iPad in iOS5?

    “Using four or five fingers, swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar, pinch to return to the Home screen, and swipe left or right to switch between apps.”


  4. Duane

    Just use the 4 finger swipe for the same result.

    • mikecane

      Is that an iOS 5.0 feature?

      EDIT: Ah, several people have chimed in with nearly the same reply. Thanks to all.

  5. Most people are single taskers – Just watch a seasoned Windows user, they’re used to one big window taking over the screen. When they close it, they’re on to another single focus screen. Switchers tend to do this on the Mac also. They just don’t seem to understand that the program doesn’t actually quit when they close the window.

  6. Darwin

    Multitasking gestures is great and should be the standard. Right now you have to activate it using Xcode for some reason.
    As someone who used PDA’s from the beginning the idea that the iPad is a giant PDA is of course silly.

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