As Apple moves closer to ubiquitous full screen applications across both iOS and Mac OS X I am reminded that many of activities I perform on my computer require multiple applications to be visible at the same time. Whether it is researching a topic while blogging, or authoring HTML while previewing my progress in a web browser, I often use my computer for two or more tasks at once. Don’t get me wrong, full screen applications have their advantages. They are easier for novice users to understand due to their similarity with performing real-world tasks, and simpler to control due to their lack of window management. But I am not a novice user, and I grew up moving, resizing, and layering windows. What can multitasking on the iPad and Mac OS X Lion offer me if I can only see a single application at once? There has to be a compromise between the ease of performing a single task and the power of presenting multiple sources of information all at once. Fast application switching no matter how quick you can double-press the Home Button or launch Lion’s snazzy new Mission Control is not the answer.
A prohibitively costly way of managing multiple full screen applications is with multiple displays. Using this technique each application gets its own screen and the ease that comes from not having to manage layered windows is preserved. I was originally opposed to multiple display because of the clutter and the distance from the displays I have to sit to see everything. Because of my poor vision I sit rather close to a single display, and with two I found myself turning my head to see everything. This limitation was removed when I discovered I could mount the displays in a portrait orientation next to each other and see everything comfortably without having to turn my head. The additional clutter that comes from having multiple display is still a concern, and makes this technique inappropriate for portable devices.
Dividing a single display into multiple full screen spaces is a cost effective alternative to multiple displays, and as close as you can get to having dual displays on a portable device. I use Cinch to divide my single display into halves with the flick of the mouse, and find this technique works best on wide screen displays with lots of horizontal space. SizeUp and Divvy are two alternative applications that can divide your workspace into previously established dimensions with a keyboard combination. I am a huge fan of dividing my workspace into two, and even use it on my multiple monitor setup to give myself four divided screen workspaces. In fact I am using Cinch right now to divide my iMac’s display in two. On the left I am writing this note in BBEdit, and on the right I have a multi-tab Firefox window for doing my research and checking on Twitter. I know this solution might not be appropriate for truly portable devices like a mobile phone, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an iPad that you can comfortably blog from?
Lukas Mathis had it right last week when he said:
The fact that the iPad only lets me see one app at a time often does not help me focus. Instead, it forces me to switch between apps constantly, thus preventing me from focusing on my task. Every time I have to deal with the iPad’s task switching, I’m interrupted.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could divide the iPad’s display in two for activities like blogging? Instead of just concentrating on a single task you could concentrate on a single task that requires two different sets of information to be visible at all times. Single applications like photo editing, and HTML authoring could also take advantage of the added screen real estate by providing a live preview of the adjustments being made. If the future of desktop computing is iOS, then iOS needs to have a way or dealing with the multitasking demands of desktop computing. In a future where screen real estate is less of a concern maybe Windows 1.0 had it right. Tiled windows keep users focused and are easier to use then the laying of subsequent tasks.