So Apple (s aapl) announced their push facility for iPhone OS 3.0 today. I think that’s great. Unfortunately, it’s only half a solution, and the other half is pretty important, too. At least it is to me. Let me explain.
If you want an app to let you know of something going one while you’re not looking — so you can do other things and stay informed — then push is great. In fact, I agree with Apple that keeping the whole app running in the background is overkill for this. In that regard, their push solution seems a great addition, keeping us from running numerous apps (and burning CPU cycles and battery life) for no other reason than we don’t want to lose touch. I’m with Apple on this solution all the way.
But sometimes it’s not about notification. Sometimes it’s just about switching.
Every single day I use NetNewsWire on my iPhone to read RSS feeds. I do this an hour or more each day. During that time I also stay in touch with friends and work via email and chat. Since I use Apple’s Mail and SMS apps, I already get background notification (further proof I know how necessary that functionality is). However, when I go to mail or chat to read/respond, I have to quit NNW. And when I go back to that app it must relaunch, and then I have to navigate back to where I was. This is frustrating enough that sometimes I delay responding until I hit a more convenient point in the text.
Why does it have to be this way? My point is that I don’t always want an app in the background for notification purposes. Sometimes I want it in the background because I’ll be switching right back to it. I’m only leaving for a few minutes; I’ll be right back. Why do I have to quit the freakin’ thing?
Push does nothing to address this usability issue. This is where allowing it to stay open in the background is a great solution.
To be sure, an app might be written to try to remember where it was, but even then I still have to relaunch it and let it figure that out. Why can’t I just switch to an app and back to another?
Way back when Switcher hit the Mac (and DOS before that), it wasn’t about background notifications. It was about not having to feel restricted to one app at a time, and not having to wait for an app to startup. I think those are still valid reasons for switching today. I wish the iPhone would allow it.
Make no mistake, the push facility is huge, and will be a great improvement. It addresses a critical portion of backgrounding in a better and more efficient manner. It also levels the playing field in giving third-party functionality that Apple’s apps already had. But it’s not the whole story, and it appears I’ll still be stuck with my switching problem even with a sleek new 3.0 iPhone.