iOS 7 Preview: Smarter Multitasking


Apple introduced multitasking in 2010 with the release of iOS 4. However, Apple was quite concerned about the impact it could have on battery life, so it allowed only select kinds of apps to do multitasking such as apps that play audible content, keep users informed of their location at all times, Newsstand apps and apps that receive regular updates from external accessories.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t anywhere close to the true multitasking we were looking for and resulted in developers looking for workarounds such as geofencing hack used by apps to automatically download content when you enter or leave locations such as your home or workplace. Tweaks such as Backgrounder have been popular with jailbreakers as they enable true multitasking in iOS.
Thankfully Apple has addressed the limitation in iOS 7 with smarter multitasking, which brings multitasking support to all apps. Here’s what Apple has to say about it:
Multitasking has always been a smart way to switch between apps. Now it’s even smarter. Because iOS 7 learns when you like to use your apps and can update your content before you launch them. So if you tend to check your favorite social app at 9:00 a.m. every day, your feed will be ready and waiting for you. That’s multitasking in iOS 7. It knows what you want to do before you do.
Developers will be able to add support for the feature by using new multitasking APIs in iOS 7 according to Apple’s developer portal:
Keep the content of your app up-to-date by adopting the new multitasking APIs in iOS 7. The new services allow your app to update information and download content in the background without draining the battery unnecessarily. The updates can happen at opportunistic times and are intelligently scheduled according to usage, so your app can update content in the background just when your users need it.
Here’s how multitasking will work in iOS 7:
  • When you double press the Home button to access the multitasking tray/app switcher, you will be greeted with an all-new card-based interface quite similar to the tab switching interface in mobile Safari. It displays the preview of the app you are running along with the logo of the app. It’s a good decision to go with a combination of preview and the logo as just the preview would have made it difficult to identify the app. It’s also really nice how the animation slides to display the card of last used app in the app switcher.
ios_multitasking-1
  • To kill an app running in the background all you need to do is swipe up on the card. It’s a lot easier than the cumbersome method of tapping and holding on the app icon till it goes into wiggle mode and tap on the x button to kill an app. You can close up to 3 apps at a time. It’s interesting to see Apple using gestures to close apps. While it’s the easiest method, it may not be the most obvious one for a user. We wonder if it’s Apple’s subtle way of telling users, you don’t need to bother about killing apps, which has been one of the hotly debated topics.
  • Rest of the changes in iOS 7 are under the hood. Apple achieves smarter multitasking in a number of ways to ensure you have the latest content when you launch an app, but by also ensuring it does not have a major impact on battery life:
    • Apple says that iOS will intelligently schedule updates during power efficient times such as when your device is on and connected to Wi-Fi to ensure that it does not impact battery life. Apps can be woken up or launched periodically to download the latest content in the background either after a time interval (locally) or using silent notifications from the server. iOS will also notice your pattern of usage for app such as such the Facebook app, which you use constantly throughout the day and provide it with frequent background cycles so it can stay up to date.
    • Opportunistic updates take advantage of occasions such as when a user unlocks the device to allow apps to use background cycles as the system is powered up.
    • It also adapts to network conditions so if there is good coverage then it is a good time to fetch the latest updates.
    • The coalesces updates across multiple applications, so when the radios are powered up, multiple apps can take advantage of it for their background updates.
    • Apps that use push notifications can use notifications as triggers to download the latest content in the background, so when you tap on the notification to launch an app it will already update.
    • Apps can also update their multitasking preview screen in the background to reflect the latest content.
  • The smarter multitasking will be available on all iOS 7 compatible devices and won’t be restricted to just the newer devices.
So what does it all mean?
It means that you don’t have to launch an app and tap on the refresh button or use pull to refresh to download the latest content. The latest content will be waiting for you when you launch the app in iOS 7, which should significantly improve the user experience.
We will get a much better idea how it will work and what impact it has on battery life when iOS 7 is released, as developers will be able to release their apps with
support for iOS 7′s new APIs and take advantage of iOS 7′s smart multitasking feature.
We’re excited about this feature as it should significantly improve the user experience, especially while using apps such as news related apps, RSS clients, instant messaging apps etc, which we use more frequently.
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