Could multitasking on tablets be better?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 26, 2011

One of the less-hyped features of mobile platforms nowadays is multitasking, mainly because they all do it (or will, in Windows Phone 7's case) in one form or another. Whether it be gesture activated, long or double pressing the home button or having a dedicated on-screen task switcher button, multitasking plays an important role in the way we use our mobile devices. Multitasking on smartphones has reached its limit for now as there is only so much that can be done with a small display. Handling multiple tasks at the same time on a tablet, on the other hand, could be much better.

My favorite implementation is Samsung's new TouchWiz UX, which will soon land on a Galaxy Tab near you. Activated by a gesture in the System Bar in Honeycomb, the UX Mini Apps can be launched on top of a running application. You can take notes while in the browser or add a calendar entry while tweeting. The possibilities with Mini Apps are endless, but with it being proprietary software from Samsung, this method is limited to Galaxy Tabs. Some third-party developers may be able to mimic this in time, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

QNX and webOS are both very well optimized for the tablet form factor and both were built around multitasking. For all intents and purposes, their cards technique works very well. With so much real estate to work with on larger tablet displays, though, why not divide it up and offer true multitasking?

You may recall the Kyocera-made Echo on Sprint's network. Thanks to the dual-displays, the Echo allows users to run and display two applications simultaneously. Want to browse the web and tweet at the same time? Or watch a YouTube video while texting your friend? Not a problem … if you have an Echo. Unfortunately, the Echo isn't exactly the best Android handset around. It ships with a spare battery in the box – which says enough in itself – and build quality and materials that are far from topnotch.

In addition to the Echo not being the best of phones, the multi-display design isn't really catching on in smartphones just yet. It may in the future, only after battery technology improves a bit. But for now, having a second display is more trouble than it's worth. The dual-screen display has also been exercised in the tablet camp, but it, too, is ahead of its time.

Luckily, some developers have begun to think outside the box. Toshiba has attempted to bring the versatility of a second display to the more popular single-screen form factor. In a video over on DigInfo's YouTube channel, an upcoming Toshiba handset, bound for KDDI, was shown off. While most of the two minute video was rather yawn-inducing, thirty seconds of it were pretty interesting. Toshiba has brought the ability to run two applications side by side at the same time.

Toshiba's rendition is a bit ludicrous, especially on a 4-inch display. But imagine similar software on the larger display of a tablet. What we've all been waiting for is what  Onskreen has set out to accomplish with Cornerstone. Announced back in March, Cornerstone is an on-screen solution for true multitasking on Android tablets, with the ability to run up to three applications (for now) simultaneously with user defined, resizable windows. Currently, the software has passed the beta phase, but Onskreen is working with unknown OEMs who want to officially support Cornerstone. Onskreen plans to release a public beta for the software but has no definitive ETA.

Here's to hoping I can run Mini Apps over Cornerstone when it releases, because you can never have too much multitasking, right? What say you, tablet mongers? Do you wish your tablet had better multitasking? Or is one app at a time all you can handle?

Image via Onskreen YouTube

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