Lukas Mathis wrote recently on his blog Ignore the Code about multitasking and what that means for humans versus computers. He made one point that resonated with me:
“The fact that the iPad only lets me see one app at a time often does not help me focus. Instead, it forces me to switch between apps constantly, thus preventing me from focusing on my task. Every time I have to deal with the iPad’s task switching, I’m interrupted.”
I noticed this when I was using the iPad at the last two conferences I attended. It was great for focusing my attention on the speaker and content, because I had to leave the note-taking app and open the Twitter app if I wanted to check on the back channel chatter. However, it was frustrating for that same reason, as it also meant that if I wanted to toss out a pithy quote from the presentation, it meant taking a chance on missing something important while I switched programs.
When I’ve had a laptop or netbook with me for note-taking, switching between programs was a simple keystroke that took a fraction of a second and barely any of my mental focus, and more often than not I could have Twitter and my note-taking program open side-by-side. While I was using only one resource at a time, by being able to switch between them quickly, I could “multi-task” efficiently.
Thankfully, I don’t often have need to do this on a mobile device like the iPad or my Android phone, so right now this isn’t a problem for me. However, if these types of interfaces become the new standard for computing, someone will need to find a way to allow for multiple screens running multiple programs that can be moved between with the flick of a finger. Otherwise, we will have even more problems focusing on the task at hand.