Multi-tasking on a phone is a very different thing than multi-tasking on a desktop environment. There are some things that are similar and work well. Then there are also quite a few things that need a lot of work or just are currently not possible for a variety of reasons.
Let’s start with the good. You can do things like listen to music while you work. You can take a phone call while you work. You can run several apps at the same time, cutting and pasting between them or having them launch one another. You can download things in the background – like email for instance. Your system can be monitoring dozens of chat clients running with virtually no processing power and still push you a message as it arrives, and on and on.
The bad news is that you can’t do things like you might on a traditional computer – even when running on a full sized monitor through an HDMI dongle. For instance you can’t watch a movie and write an email. Quite often I used to watch a presentation in one window that lasted an hour and work in another, looking over only when I needed to see what the presentation was saying – that’s just not possible on the phone. You can’t have two apps open at the same time for transcribing purposes or for productivity reasons.
The issue comes down to a combination of problems. Its a mix of screen real-estate, the lack of a mouse and app handles to switch between apps to give focus to the active window, and the memory requirements.
What that means is that if you need to do that you end up doing context switching far far too often between apps. On the iPhone (as an example) this means taking the hands off the keyboard and double clicking the home button to switch contexts between windows. That’s a very slow and annoying context switching operation. Unlike the alt-tabs keyboard shortcuts of the world which context switch and are very fast, you’re really stuck doing a slow operation.
So there is a long ways to go to consider it an equivalent operating environment. But it is coming along. Not that many years ago, the iPhone couldn’t even run two apps concurrently. So we’ve come far enough that it’s a useful business tool. I still think Continuum is going to ultimately be the path forward for mobile operating systems though as a result – the phone should be context aware of switching into desktop mode. Memory issues may prevent it, but the screen real-estate and access to a mouse and keyboard are foregone conclusions in the business world. So it’s just a matter of giving the phone a little more memory, making context switching seamless and allowing Bluetooth mouse access. We’re so close I can taste it!