Android 3.0 Multitasking: More iPad Than PlayBook
At last, Google has posted platform highlights for Android 3.0, the version of its OS designed with tablets in mind.
The short version: Android 3.0 has software-based navigation instead of physical buttons, tabbed web browsing, big-screen Google apps and developer tools for creating modular, panel based apps that work on tablets or phones.
But most of these features are old news if you saw Google's teaser video and Motorola's Xoom announcement at CES. The real revelation in this documentation is how Android 3.0 handles multitasking. In Google's words, with my emphasis:
As users launch applications to handle various tasks, they can use the Recent Apps list in the System Bar to see the tasks underway and quickly jump from one application context to another. To help users rapidly identify the task associated with each app, the list shows a snapshot of its actual state when the user last viewed its.
This makes me think Android tablets' approach to multitasking will more closely resemble the iPad than RIM's Blackberry Playbook.
One of the Playbook's most noteworthy characteristics, aside from its swipe-based user interface, is how it handles multitasking. Unlike Apple's iOS devices, the Playbook doesn't freeze apps in time when you navigate away. If you want to load a movie, a video game and a website at the same time, you can actually watch all these things happen side-by-side from the Playbook's main menu.
On the iPad, you can only guess what's happening behind the scenes. Some apps tap a specific set of multitasking tools that Apple has allowed, such as background downloads of video or photos. Other apps don't. The only way to find out for sure is to check on each app individually.
Android 3.0 straddles both approaches, leaning a bit towards the iPad. The platform allows apps to run in the background, but that activity will be hidden from the user. Calling up the recent apps list in Android's system bar will only show the previous states of all open apps, not what they're currently doing.
In theory, I like RIM's approach the best because it most resembles the kind of multitasking you can do on a Windows PC or Mac. You might argue that tablets needn't act like laptops, and for the most part I agree, but glancing at e-mail or Twitter while watching a video is something I'd like to do on a tablet, and so far the Playbook is the only device promising that capability.
Whether it can handle this kind of multitasking without hemorrhaging battery life, we'll have to see.