Protecting the Cash Cow: Why the iPad Does Not Have Multitasking Ability

Why Apple does not allow multitasking on the iPadThe internet is abuzz with what the iPad is missing, but for each statement there is a very specific and reasoned answer.  I’ve been happy to see Daring Fireball give background on the reason Flash is not and should never be built into Apple’s Touch platform.  With that properly explained, let’s look at why the iPad does not allow multi-tasking of applications.

Apple enthusiasts are often quick to point out that the iPhone would run out of batteries too quickly or the processor would not be strong enough to support snappy use of multiple applications.  This proves true in testing a jailbroken iPhone.  But the iPad Apple tablet does not get the same defense.  The carefully touted A4 chip should have no problem running a sophisticated 3rd party application and the native mail client at the same time.

This is big trouble as more complex games for the device are introduced.  For example Grand Theft Auto, The China Town Wars, is a complex 3D game recently released for the iPhone and iPod Touch. GTA: CTW has the potential to lose mission progress by dropping you back to your apartment every time the game is left unexpectedly.  While this clearly negatively affects the gamer experience, imagine how frequent push notifications begging gamers to leave for just a moment will affect more persistent, longer-session games like World of Warcraft.

The A4 is pretty tough chip and conceivably should have the ability to safely run multiple iPhone and iPod Touch applications, if not the more weighty future iPad-specfic titles.  So why isn’t multitasking being allowed?

Apple does not want people to use streaming music services like Pandora and Last.fm until it is ready with its own cloud-based, Genius-powered streaming music recommendation engine a seamless listening experience through the iPod application and iTunes.

Currently, the only ways to play back audio while running another application (crippled multitasking) are:

  • Using the iPod application
  • Downloading an mp3 or other audio attachment from an email and hitting play. (Plays back from within the mail application)
  • Downloading an mp3 or other audio from the web. (Safari plays it back)

Similarly, the only way to playback streaming audio is using the Last.fm application, the Pandora application or a few other apps that use a recommendation engine to create lists of songs you do not own and stream them to you.  If Apple were to allow you to playback Pandora today on the iPad and work with the iLife suite to author documents they will be training you not to use iTunes!

“But they can’t get away with that!” That’s right, they can’t.  That’s why Apple will introduce its cloud-based iTunes offering either before or in tandem with the release of the next generation iPhone this coming around June. Using the brains acquired in the purchase of Lala, Apple will be introducing a mixed-mode local and cloudbased listening experience where any iTunes music collection can be played back in part on the locally stored disk or streamed from the cloud using an iPad.

Apple will use Genius to identify and stream audio to iPad users in its own competitive play against Pandora and Last.fm.  Once a strong streaming, Genius-powered solution is available to iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad users future devices will be able to multi-task all applications, including the most threatening, streaming audio services.

Jobs made it a point to illustrate Apple has 125 million credit cards on file through iTunes.  Every streaming audio selection that is in turn bought by the user can be facilitated using that payment information.  Not the case with Pandora or Last.fm!  Denying these applications the ability to gain traction gives the iTunes ecosystem time to evolve to include their services.  This will make the future allowance of multitasking apps delivering this music less impactful in pulling users away from greatest cash cow in software’s history: iTunes.

Killer Application for Apple Tablet is Board Games

There’s a lot more speculation about the tablet since a New York Times blog entry that included a quote that people will be “surprised how you interact with the new tablet.”  A lot of the conjecture is based on applications for patents that Apple has filed in the past few years.  I have an angle that offers interesting interaction with the Apple Tablet, iSlate, iGuide or Apple Slate with a killer application is decidedly low-tech.

The idea is that the iSlate will communicate and be driven in part by nearby iPhones and iPod Touch devices over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.  Authorized iPhone and iPod Touch devices nearby the iSlate will act as sophisticated remote controls.  This use case takes advantage of the user’s likely existing Apple hardware in the Touch platform and focuses on the fact that the iSlate will likely have a large, bright screen with a reasonable viewing angle. Let’s examine a potential killer application of this idea.

The tablet screen will be able to lie flat on a table between two or more people.  Through iTunes, the owner of the tablet will purchase an application that runs full screen on the tablet.  The publisher of the tablet application will also make available free applications that run on the iPhone and iPod Touch and communicate directly with the app running on the tablet.

Using the Apple Tablet as a Centerpiece to Electronic Board Games

A great example would be the classic board game, Scrabble.  In Scrabble, you have a board that requires physical placement of letters on a major center area.  It also requires players to keep the letters in their tray secret from other players.  In a Scrabble for the iSlate scenario, players need only to have an iPhone or iPod Touch to virtually hold their letters.

The iPod Touch or iPhone could vibrate or make a noise when it is a player’s turn and it would be used to send the results of the player’s decisions to the Apple tablet at the center of the table.

One important aspect of this is size, the traditional Scrabble board is a fair bit larger than the expected 10.1″ Pixel Qi powered display.  I believe that this type of thing could be overcome by the tablet giving intelligent focus to the most relevant portions of the board.  Additionally, the iPod Touch and iPhone could be used to manipulate the current viewing area on the tablet, or that area could be manipulated directly using standard multi-touch.

Many other board games would work in this scenario, including Monopoly, where you are handling all kinds of cash, property cards and frequent score calculations. The value you get out of the pairing of a Tablet and the iPhone is that there is a new bridge between physical social interaction and the convenience of an electronic presentation.

Using the Apple Tablet to Share Presentations in Small Groups

There are many other killer applications where the iPhone and iPod Touch serve as input devices to the iSlate or Apple tablet.  One I would use in my meetings for my iPhone application design company, Neutrinos, LLC is a business application is in small group presentations.  The tablet is set up to run a presentation application full screen.

The tablet is handed to one or more clients seated near each other.  The presenter uses an iPod Touch or iPhone to control playback of the presentation.  The presenter’s multi-touch device offers presentation notes, previous and next slide previews and allows them to trigger in-presentation events like animations or even jumping out to a web-view for the clients to explore.  This gives the presenter an opportunity to give a private and engaging presentation in the middle of any cafe, airport or public space.

Using the Apple Tablet for Illustration and as a Supplemental Display Area for Floating Windows

A final use case scenario for using the iPhone and iPod Touch to drive the Tablet is in illustration.  I’ve been working directly with Portland artist Carolyn Main who spends a lot of time with her Wacom tablet.  While the Wacom offers a great deal of pressure point precision that the Apple Touch Platform is unlikely to compete with any time soon, it is reasonable to think that app developers will try to deliver illustration and animation applications that allow creation on the go.

Having an illustration application like Adobe Illustrator running on the tablet, and then being able to use an iPhone or iPod touch for swatch, tool or layer management would leave more of the iSlate’s screen real estate for drawing.

In John Gruber’s recent post about the tablet he writes: “And so in answer to my central question, regarding why buy The Tablet if you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, my best guess is that ultimately, The Tablet is something you’ll buy instead of a MacBook.”  My suggestion is that people buy the tablet because they already have an iPhone or iPod Touch.  Having both a Tablet and a touch makes the Tablet more useful with some great use case scenarios the low-tech realm of board gaming to business.

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The Concept of Self and Use of RFID on the iPhone in Entertainment and Social Space

My friend Elissa turned me on to an article by William Deresiewicz titled The End of Solitude that addresses the culture of celebrity and connectivity as symptoms of an impulse for becoming known.  Much of the article offers an overview of the historical concept of Self and what we get out of it.

Something I liked about the article was that it gave context to a technical social mashup idea I’ve been exploring, which is the increased use of near field communication (NFC) to increase one’s visibility in a meaningful way.  More specifically, people will use RFID tag readers in a mobile device like the iPhone to alert the world of their participation in entertainment experiences.

In The End of Solitude, Deresiewicz suggests the culture of celebrity is connected to the video camera, which I connect to broadcast television.  Regretfully, in the year when we could least afford it, reality TV gave rise to pointless distractions like the Balloon Boy and the White House Party Crashers.  But the article also describes the culture of connectivity as a product of the evolving use of computers and mobile communications in society.  As something of an evangelist for new media and a critique of old media, it is somewhat humbling for me to read Deresiewicz’s grouping of celebrity with connectivity in the contemporary self:

“Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known.  It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity.”

The value of different participatory entertainment activities runs the gamut.  A film at your local movie theater requires you to only buy a ticket before the film is sold out and ensure you show up at the scheduled time.  Getting yourself twenty feet from the stage at The Dead on July 4th at Rothbury Music Festival in Michigan requires a significantly greater level of planning.  But the relative interest in the social grid in any given activity is less important than the simple declaration to the post modern self that you “did it.”  People want to shout from the top of their literal or figurative mountains, “I am about to (or have just)  ____ at _____.”

Given that a lot of people love to share their experiences, many are simply limited by the inconvenience.  I’ve given some detail to my sense that there is a big splash still yet to be made by Apple’s touch platform.  And that the Touch lineup of the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iSlate we will see a revolution in mobile computing.  They will allow us to enjoy the impulses of the modern self which are to take part in connectivity and some element of celebrity.

A topic that hasn’t been explored enough is the effect of including an RFID reader in a breakthrough device like the iPhone.  There is reason to believe that an RFID reader will be incorporated in the near future.   I believe that the inclusion of such hardware will open up opportunities to more quickly identify and disseminate interesting information about the entertainment spaces we’re inhabiting.

To illustrate a point, when I was writing the above paragraph I searched twitter for “Sherlock Holmes” which premiered this past weekend.  The third tweet from the top was from a student I’ve never heard of or met named Nicholas King.  From his Twitter bio, we know Nicholas is a student at Eastern Michigan and studies business.  Quite simply, Nicholas tweeted:

RFID Technology iPhone iSlate Twitter Self Post-Modern Concept

A quick search reveals that Trillium is a cinemas in Grand Blanc, Michigan and Nick was keeping his followers up to date with a text message from his phone.  While a text message accomplishes the goal of updating his thirty or so followers, it falls down for a few reasons:

  1. Part of being fully connected is also having your information quickly sorted and grouped with similar data.  Twitter provides a reverse method for grouping information through its search.twitter.com functionality.  Users are capable of directly grouping their tweets with hashtags.  Both of those methods suffer the potential for data entry error.  I wouldn’t have known about Nick’s experience achievement if he had spelled it “Shelock Holmes.”
  2. Manually updating your followers with the activity you’re participating in requires extended effort.  If you’re walking in the door of an RJD2 show you might have a drink in one hand and a gaggle of pals pulling you forward with the other. It isn’t always possible or at least socially acceptable to whip out your phone and type out an update.

The concept is this.  Sherlock Holmes is being distributed to theaters by Warner Bros Pictures.  In addition to sending out reels of film, Warner Bros would also send a small stand up display that is to be placed near the entrance to the theatre showing the movie.  If Nick carried an iPhone with an RFID reader, he would need only to wave his phone at the entrance and it would automatically pick up his preferences for sharing his location and the movie title he’s seeing via Twitter or Facebook.  More interesting things would be to automatically enter you in a contest for people who attended an Sherlock Holmes on opening weekend.

Another illustration to the benefits of adding an RFID reader to the iPhone in the realm of participatory entertainment is in live music or very large public entertainment events.  For instance, scanning the RFID tag in your section at a football game will identify the mobile capability to an application that could cue everyone to hold up their phones at a given time, display a particular set of images on the screen and turn the entire stadium into a megatron.  At a music festival like Rothbury, it might allow people to collect virtual zoo keys which turn an already amazing Sherwood Forest into something that is digitally enchanted.

The total extent to what could be done with connected devices incorporating RFID tags in combination with the impulse to reinforce personal visibility is impossible to see right now.  What is clear is that culture, technology and the increasing value of participatory entertainment rapidly is converging with all-in-one devices like the iPhone and iSlate.

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Update 12/30/09:  A few additional things: 1. There is a strong sense that RFID will be most valuable for payment and wireless financial transactions.  The basis of my interest in RFID has been from seeing the NFC-enabled registers at places like McDonalds and Regal Cinemas.   When I first started seeing them, I would ask how often they took payment using the NFC at POS and I’d get blank stares from the employees.  MasterCard’s PayPass and American Express’s ExpressPay have been around for a while but have mostly only survived market tests as far as I can tell.

To look at how NFC/RFID payments and entertainment overlap, I love what it could do to damage the secondary ticket market.  I’ve long felt that secondary ticketing and scalping does more harm than good on the average would-be live entertainment participant.  Locking tickets to phones is a great way to help track and possibly reduce scalping while still allowing some flexibility in transferability.

There are some articles about how an RFID, NFC enabled phone are useful outside of entertainment which are worth linking to.  Here’s one that simply gooses the idea.  Here’s a second article that talks explicitly in terms of marketing opportunities.