Having spent the last several evenings messing around with an iPad at home — mainly on the couch while watching TV — we’re mostly happy with our new toy. But while the gorgeous screen and touch controls are big advantages over our old couch pal — a 3-year-old MacBook — there’s one thing we really miss.
Specifically, we miss the ability to quickly switch between a few different apps — web browser, mail, IM, Twitter — without losing our place or our connection.
You simply can’t do that with the iPad. It’s very much a one-thing-at-a-time experience, much more like the iPhone than the Mac. Opening and closing apps is easy enough, and faster than our old iPhone, but it’s still nothing like running four basic apps at a time on a computer. Internet connections need to be re-established, web pages often need to be reloaded (especially if using multiple tabs in Safari), and the whole process leaves a lot to be desired.
Apple is working to make app-switching better and background processing more functional in iPhone OS 4, which will roll out for iPhones this summer and iPads this fall. But that’s still several months away.
In the meantime, developers could snap up some quick sales by whipping together some Swiss Army knife apps that do a bunch of things in one package.
For instance, we’d love one app that does both IM and Twitter, and has a window you can open to browse the web in the app at the same time. (Adium or Meebo, we’re looking at you. Especially now that Twitter Inc. just bought our favourite iPhone Twitter app, Tweetie.)
This would let us read the web while being able to quickly flip to IMs or Twitter to see what’s going on. Maybe the developer could even throw in a solitaire game to keep us occupied.
And different combinations could be good for different things. The possibilities are endless. We might even pay extra for new and more “knives” in the set.
For context, Swiss Army knife apps have existed on the iPhone for a long time, and some have even gotten popular. (“All-In-One Gamebox” is currently the no. 10 best-selling iPhone app.) But there, the idea was that you could get an app that does a bunch of things — flashlight, to-do list, games, etc. — for one low price.
In this case, the price isn’t the issue as much as the fact that there’s a lot of screen space available, all of a sudden, but you can still only run one app at a time.
Perhaps this isn’t a concern that everyone has — there’s no way Steve Jobs is losing sleep over this — but we’re not alone. Entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon tweeted a similar call yesterday: “I would love an iPad app that has IM, Twitter and email (gmail) all in one screen,” he tweeted.
Update: Lucky us, it appears some of these apps are already available. There’s “Desktop,” “Multitasking Browser,” “Multitasking for iPad,” “SplitBrowser,” “Duo Browser,” etc. We’ll give a few a try, but the keys will be 1) the right features, and 2) a slick, clean user interface.
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