Windows Phone 7: How Fast App Switching Could Work

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Microsoft is working on a “massive” update for Windows Phone 7 slated for early next year. We know for a fact, thanks to a comment made by Joe Belfiore at the WP7 launch, that copy and paste will be included in the update. But how about multitasking? We should mention that Windows Phone 7 does have the capability to multitask. Not only do core apps run in the background (like music, email, etc), but third parties can utilize the “tombstone” feature of the Windows Phone 7 SDK that allows an app to essentially pause so that when the user returns to the app, it appears to be in the same state.

Trouble is, many developers have yet to take advantage of tombstoning, and so many Windows Phone 7 apps take several seconds to load, even if you’ve used the app just moments ago. And even if they did use tombstoning, it wouldn’t solve the problem of no fast app switching in Windows Phone 7. If you want to jump around from email to Twitter to the web, you’re constantly having to jump back to the Start screen, which can really slow you down. In some cases the Back button will help you to switch between apps, but it only goes back so far. How could Microsoft implement fast app switching in Windows Phone 7 without breaking the UI style? Let’s talk about how other platforms multitask first, and then we’ll provide some ideas.

WebOS

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This is probably the most dramatic example of fast app switching. If a user wants to jump between an app, he can zoom out to the Card View by hitting the main button, and from there, he can swipe between his open apps. If a user wants to close an app, he swipes the card off the screen. It’s very unlikely that Windows Phone 7 would adopt a card view like this, as it would require an entire retooling of the operating system to display live app previews; plus, there’s no space in the Windows Phone 7 operating system for the “stage” of cards to take place.

Android and iPhone

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Android and iPhone operate very similarly for fast-app switching. Both will display a list of recently opened programs through a certain hardware button combination. On the iPhone, it’s a double tap of the Home button. On Android, a tap and hold of the Home button will bring up the app switcher. It’s a bit more convenient on the iPhone because the application icons are at the bottom of the screen in close proximity to your thumb. On Android, the apps float in the center of the screen and often require you to stretch your thumb to switch between an app (or you can use the D-Pad).

Now, on the iPhone, you can manually close apps (should one freeze or take up too many resources) by tapping and holding on any of the apps in the fast app switcher, then hitting the minus button. On Android, you’ll have to manually enter the task manager to kill a task.

Windows Phone 7

So, how could fast app switching work in Windows Phone 7? It would have to be consistent with the entire interface and easily accessible from any screen.

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Our best guess is that Microsoft will inheret a model similar to the iPhone for fast app switching. A double tap of the Start button will slide up a portion of the screen from the bottom that reveals recently used applications. Like the iPhone, if you have a long history of app usage, you’ll be able to swipe right to see more apps.

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Now, let’s say you want to force close an app. Tapping on the three dots will reveal little close buttons below each program icon.

Other Possibilities

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Of course, there are many other possibilities, many of which we might never think of since we’re not software engineers. Another option is that some action (perhaps again, a double tap of the Start button) will simply display the full programs list so that you can launch ANY app, with a special added section just for recently used programs.

How do you think fast app switching could work in Windows Phone 7?

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.