Task switching / Recently used apps
I just got the iPhone 3GS for myself and my wife on release day. I'm a long-time Palm OS user (most recently with the Treo 700p). There's a lot of hubbub among the pre fanatics who seem obsessed with the multitasking advantage that the pre has over the iPhone. I find this ironic since a year or so ago, there were many Treo users who were apologists for the Treo's lack of multitasking, as this limitation was often brought up by WinMo users. My tune hasn't changed: Multitasking is great, and preferrable, but it has costs associated with it (in terms of performance degradation).
What's more, there are few scenarios where not having results in being unable to do something important...rather, most of the time, not having the ability to multitask simply means a loss of efficiency. And many of the scenarios in the first category (e.g., talking on the phone while jotting down a note, or listening to music while using a different app) are often already supported in so-called non-multitasking phones (like the iPhone and Palm OS Treo).
Anyways, as an iPhone user writing on an iPhone forum, I'd like to talk a bit about the inefficiency impacts and whether there are any ways to mitigate them. Unfortunately, this is where I do have a big gripe with Apple. I'm not mad at them for not supporting multitasking of 3rd party apps, but I do get upset that they don't allow apps in their store that are what I referred to on the Palm OS as hack-style apps. These are apps that would allow for replacing the iPhone's home screen, or taking over control of hard button presses. I can appreciate them wanting to protect inexperienced users from installing apps that take over control of these things without them realizing it, but here I'm talking about an app whose sole purpose is to do these things, so an end-user would be downloading the app for that very purpose.
I loved the classic Palm OS, and the Treo in particular, for the great efficiency/usability it offered. I think that Palm threw much of what they were good at out the window with the pre, which is why buying a pre was far from a slam-dunk for me. They lost the always-available keyboard, the D-Pad, the app-specific hard menu button, categories in various places (the app launcher, notepad, etc.). On my Treo, to improve efficiency when needing to "multitask" things, I installed an app called HiLauncher, which was a powerful little hack-style app that allowed you to create a Windows Start-like menu which would pop-up over any app you were using. So, it was like a quick-launcher. I actually didn't use it to its full potential, because I just wanted a simple task-switcher to jump to recently used apps. This program allowed you to design your own "Start" menu and one of the widgets you could pop in there was a recently used app slot, so I created a menu which consisted only of four slots for recently used apps.
With the iPhone, I can deal with the lack of multitasking of 3rd party apps. When switching between apps, it usually does a good job of remembering where I was last. And with Safari, I appreciate that it doesn't have to refresh the page I last downloaded when I return to Safari, and I'm really happy that when I log into my work's web-based Outlook email app, I don't have to re-enter my username/password every time (like I did with the Treo if I left the web app, did something else, then went back to the web app to check for new email).
But having to go through the iPhone's home screen every time I want to switch between recently used apps is definitely frustrating. As I said before, I believe that Apple doesn't allow hack-style apps, like the HiLauncher app I described for the Treo, in their store, but just in case I'm wrong...are there any Apple-approved apps which allow for this sort of thing?
If not, I'll definitely be considering jailbreaking my iPhone once I feel a bit more comfortable with things. I know that with a jailbroken iPhone you can get multitasking support for 3rd party apps, but what apps (if any) are available to improved the efficiency of task-switching? Thanks to Apple's "less buttons is always better" approach to design, we don't have a lot of hard buttons to work with, so I'm thinking that the ideal app would probably allow a single press of the home button to do its normal thing, but a press-and-hold or double-press to launch a pop-up task switcher. Does such an app exist?