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A closer look: iOS 7 Multitasking, AirDrop and the Share widget

updated 07:54 am EDT, Mon June 17, 2013

Apple makes the iPhone more like a computer than ever before

If you've read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, you will know that iOS is built off the same UNIX kernel as Mac OS X. This means that, like Mac OS X, Apple could have given the iPhone more fully featured multitasking than we have previously seen. In Mac OS X, multitasking and fast app switching in the form of Expose and Mission Control have been very popular. This has been emulated in the Android mobile OS and applied successfully. However, for reasons of battery conservation and perhaps even simplicity, Apple has avoided implementing full multitasking and fast app switching on the iPhone -- until now and the advent of iOS 7.

Full-featured multitasking is something that many iPhone fans have been craving for some time and Apple's implementation of it here is excellent, even in its current beta form. It is immediately apparent, however, that Apple has opted to take a design approach that seems to combine its multitasking implementation from iOS 6, with a very similar approach taken by Microsoft with Windows Phone 8 and even the defunct Palm/HP WebOS. As usual, though, when others inspire Apple, it repackages their approach giving its implementation a unique flavor of its own. For example, multitasking in iOS 7 also intelligently schedules updates during power-efficient opportunities such as when your phone is connected to a power source, or a Wi-Fi network. It conserves power, while also pre-fetching data from frequently used apps so they are ready when you typically launch them.

As in iOS 6, multitasking in iOS 7 is invoked with a double tap of the Home button. Where that previously revealed a multitasking app tray with simple icons, it now switches into a new and much more sophisticated multitasking view layered over the iPhone's wallpaper. A screen grab from each app appears in a left to right scrolling view, exactly as it does in Windows Phone 8. The key differences are that Windows Phone 8 shows a black or white background only, while iOS 7 also (very usefully) shows the app's icon below each screen grab. Further, like Cards in WebOS, users can also close any of these apps with an upward swipe, dismissing it if so desired. Tapping on it naturally takes you directly into that app. Frustratingly for Windows Phone 8 users, they cannot currently dismiss an open app, but can scroll through and select the app that they want to switch to.

Does it matter that Apple's implementation of multitasking in iOS 7 is derivative? In the end, that is up to you. It could have taken any number of other approaches to the way it presents the screen grabs, but I find that the layout that Apple has chosen is clean and highly functional -- even if it bears more than a passing resemblance to the way multitasking has been implemented on other devices. Count me as a fan of the way it works. It is certainly much better than the way multitasking worked in iOS 6, where dismissing an app required you to hold down an app in the multitasking tray, wait for it to start jiggling and then fiddle around trying to make sure your finger correctly hits the minus symbol. However, I would still like to see Apple also give users the option quickly kill all apps running in the background without having to dismiss each individually.

Another significant improvement that Apple has made in iOS 7 is the way users can share files with others. Apple is taking its Bluetooth implementation to new levels in iOS 7 with AirDrop, which uses both Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi to share files. (You can read more about Apple's iOS 7 Bluetooth integration in this blogpost by Suke Jawanda, Bluetooth SIG CMO.) This is different to the way that Apple implements AirDrop on the Mac, which works over a Wi-Fi connection-only. For the time being, Apple's iOS 7 version of AirDrop is incompatible with OS X Mountain Lion, even though they share the same name. The use of Bluetooth 4.0 adds a layer of security to the file sharing process users can select whether their device is visible to their contacts, anyone, or no one. Additionally, files sent over AirDrop are encrypted.

While AirDrop is an iPhone to iPhone proposition, Apple has also enhanced the layout and functionality of its general Share widget. This is most apparent when sharing photos in the Photos app. In the past, iOS users have been limited to sharing one photo at a time directly from the Share widget. You could share photos directly through e-mail, as a message, to Photo Stream, Twitter and Facebook in batches from the gallery edit mode, but it was not as easy as it is now. You could also send images to print wirelessly, copy it to the clipboard or set it as wallpaper. In iOS 7, users can now share multiple photos at once by selecting each image from the camera roll that they want to share much more simply. This is currently limited to five at a time over e-mail, however users can now also share multiple photos directly to iCloud and Flickr with options dwindling as you add additional photos. The option to set a photo as wallpaper has been replaced by the ability to select certain photos and instantly create a slideshow that can be played locally or streamed over AirPlay.

The more closely we have delved into iOS 7, the more we appreciate the fact that Apple has gone well beyond window dressing with its next-generation release. An updated look was important for the 6-year-old operating system, but it has become the central talking point. It might take some time for the masses to realize, however, that Apple also has done a whole lot to make iOS much more functional (and more computer-like in the process) than it has ever been. You'll get more done using iOS 7, more quickly than before and that is a very good thing.

By Sanjiv Sathiah



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. bleee

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 03-28-02

    Has anyone actually gotten air drop to work with an iPhone 5 and a Mac that supports air drop?

  1. Eldernorm

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 09-26-07

    Very good (and well written ) article. Much to the chagrin of fanboys and anti-fanboys of both sides, features have to work well at Apple to be included. Where Android many times focuses on fancy names and specs for its apps, Apple looks at fuctionality and ease of use. After all, its their name on the label.

    So things take time, hardware, and compatibility before Apple tends to let them loose. Of course there is the possibility of an opps or errant part of an app (the melted highways in maps) but even Google had those in its latest release. Errors can exist anywhere. Its the direction the company takes that shows its real intention.

    Just a thought

  1. pairof9s

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 01-03-08

    I have no problem with Apple "stealing" ideas and features from Android and Win Phone 8. Gosh knows, what has it truly cost Google, Samsung and Microsoft to steal Apple's ideas? If the judicial system is going to be so archaic and slow in enforcing patent rights, then a company just as well pursue the most popular features of any phone for their own.

    Good for the goose, good for gander

  1. aaanorton

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 09-24-00

    Sharing multiple photos at once has been a feature os iOS for a while now. It's been around for years.
    And Sanjiv, in regards to your previous review, transparency alone is not a skeuomorphic trait.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    A bit off topic but the more I see of the settings screen that you flip up from the bottom of the screen, the more problems I have with it's design. It's probably one of the uglier places in iOS 7 in general, but it's also cluttered.

    I'd like to see some user control over what appears there. For instance, I have never used, nor ever want to use a "flashlight" and it just seems silly to me that it's there as some kind of important option and I can't get rid of it. I also don't travel, so the "airplane mode" button is similarly useless. I don't even know what the crescent moon stands for ... Muslim mode?

    I could go on, but I find most of the stuff here irrelevant and useless for me. Everyone is different, why not let us pick and choose what stuff goes here?

  1. Inkling

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Quote: "However, I would still like to see Apple also give users the option [of] quickly kill all apps running in the background without having to dismiss each individually."

    Or simply kill the older-running apps beyond a particular, user set number or a particular time period.

  1. srmoll

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 09-01-04

    I cannot see the value in having a user option to kill off all background apps at once. If the purpose is to free up more memory so that the foremost application runs better, then I would prefer that this be automatic and I hope it already is. With iOS 6 the list of apps in the App Switcher menu are not all background tasks for example. In fact it is not possible to tell which are and which aren't. It is probably safe to say that an app which isn't within the first page of icons is not running in the background anymore, if it ever was. If the reason to kill off all background apps at once, is as a cure for a phone running in a errant fashion, surely a phone restart would be better.

    As for multiple selection of photos: As already mentioned this is already a feature in iOS 6, but perhaps not as easy and obvious to find as it should be. It is found by by tapping [Edit] from the album browse screen. You can then tap multiple photos to put a tick by them, and tap [Share], where you are given the option such as Mail, Message, Photo Stream, Twitter, Facebook, Assign to contact, Print, Copy or Use as Wallpaper. The more photos you select the fewer options you'll have. A second photo will remove the option to use Twitter, Assign to Contact and Use as Wallpaper. The third selection will remove the option to send the photos by Message. The sixth one will remove Mail. Selecting a video will enables and removes different options too. A single selected video will reveal an option to upload to Youtube for example. So nothing much has really been added here for iOS 7.

  1. SierraDragon

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 03-22-04

    @semoll who said "I cannot see the value in having a user option to kill off all background apps at once."

    In the course of a period of time one may use dozens of apps and with hundreds of thousands of available apps some may leak or inappropriately suck the battery. The ability to quickly clear all apps prior to an extended time without charging capability is very useful.

  1. azrich

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-19-10

    The crescent symbol is for do-no-disturb in OS6, and I would assume here as well.

    How about a rAPP-sure mode where you save one app and the rest are killed?

  1. Sanjiv Sathiah

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-05-13

    @srmoll. Thanks very much for pointing this out. I've updated the article accordingly. @aaanorton, I was inferring that the frosted glass effect is arguably an unnecessary touch. It could be transparent without adding that design element. Thanks for reading the article. Sanjiv

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by SierraDragonView Post

    @semoll who said "I cannot see the value in having a user option to kill off all background apps at once."

    In the course of a period of time one may use dozens of apps and with hundreds of thousands of available apps some may leak or inappropriately suck the battery. The ability to quickly clear all apps prior to an extended time without charging capability is very useful.



    Due to the way multitasking has been implemented so far, the only app where this has ever proven to be an issue has been the Facebook app.

    Otherwise, "quitting" apps has been pretty much entirely placebo.

  1. wrenchy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 11-03-09

    Real multi-tasking!
    Functional widgets!
    OMG, it's a revolution!
    It's Magical!
    It's almost a functional mobile OS.
    Congratulations Apple, welcome to 2008.

  1. chas_m

    MacNN Staff

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Inkling: iOS already DOES suspend or close apps that have been unused if the RAM is needed for something else.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by wrenchyView Post

    Real multi-tasking!
    Functional widgets!
    OMG, it's a revolution!
    It's Magical!
    It's almost a functional mobile OS.
    Congratulations Apple, welcome to 2008.



    It's not full multi-tasking. It's still conditional.

    Apple doesn't intend to make the same mistakes others already made in 2008.

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