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Justin Blanton: ‘To Pre or Not to Pre?’

Justin Blanton, in a thoughtful essay on the Palm Pre and the current state of the mobile computing industry:

For me, the big thing about the Pre is the ability to run multiple apps simultaneously; you know, like pretty much every other smartphone in the world except the iPhone. (Despite Apple’s insistence that simultaneous apps would tax the battery too much, etc., I really wish they’d let me make that determination.) The card metaphor that brings the Pre’s multitasking functionality to fruition is fantastic (think cmd-tab switching on the Mac), and I especially like that each web page gets its own card (this one-page→one-“window” thing would never work for me on the desktop, but it’s perfect for a mobile phone). Cards just feel so natural and “right”. Scroll through the “deck” to switch between open apps and flick a card up to close an app. Nice.

I keep repeating myself on this point, but the iPhone has supported multitasking from day one. All of the default “dock apps” — Phone, Mail, Safari, iPod — continue running in the background, in some fashion, memory permitting. This is why Mail and Safari seem to “launch” so quickly, and why email can be downloaded periodically without explicitly launching Mail. And how else could you continue listening to music while using another app? What the iPhone doesn’t allow is background processing for third-party apps.

But the big difference with the Pre is not background processing in and of itself, but rather what Blanton talks about in the passage above: that the entire user interface is built around the concept of cards rather than apps. So while the iPhone’s Mail app already stays running while in the background, what you cannot do on the iPhone but can on the Pre is have multiple email messages “open” at the same time. I haven’t used the Pre enough to judge whether the card metaphor is better or worse overall, but it’s undeniably different and interesting.

Thursday, 18 June 2009