Phones! Now With Multitasking! Why Mobile Is About To Have Its Web Revolution.

While at CES last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with four extraordinary publishers – all FM authors. The topic was “2013 Trends” and I got to hear Anand Shimpi (of AnandTech), Brad McCarthy (of The Next Web), Elaine Fiolet (of UberGizmo) and Leander Kahney (from the Cult of Mac) expound on what they’d seen in Vegas.

It was a great conversation (and yes, I wish we got it on video, but alas, we did not, it was a private event for FM clients) – but one thing that Anand said really struck me. Mobile devices, he pointed out, were a few cycles behind their PC counterparts in computing power, but were rapidly catching up. A couple more generations from now, many of the “compute constrained” services that so far have been absent from mobile will start to emerge.

And that gives me hope in so many ways.

If you read me closely (and have a decent memory, which I do not), you will recall that I am no fan of the early mobile ecosystem. “AppLand,” as I’ve pejoratively called it, does not act like the web. You can’t easily link those little chiclets called apps together, you can’t share data between them, you can’t, as a consumer, enjoy the serendipity and wonder of what the open web brought the world in its first few iterations.

But I think that will change. As devices increase in power and capability, entrepreneurs and developers will push to where value lays unearthed, and they’ll most likely follow a well worn path.

One example? Multitasking.

I’ve been in this business a long time, long enough to remember when the idea of having more than one application running at the same time on a PC was a Very Big Deal. Apple finally rolled out that capability with its System 7 in 1991. Yes, you read that right – 1991! That was when you could run applications in separate windows on a Macintosh, making it easy to cut and paste between, say, Microsoft Excel and Word, or Adobe Illustrator and the Quark publishing package.

Given it was more than 20 years ago that you could, as a consumer, easily cut and paste between applications on a PC, it’s pretty funny to see how Samsung is currently marketing its Galaxy Note II “phablet” (or “Flablet”, as Leander called it on the panel). The heart of the commercial is this: You can run TWO apps AT THE SAME TIME! WOW! And you can cut and paste between them!

All I can say is this: If it’s 1991 in mobile land, that means just one thing: 1993 is right around the corner. The World Wide Web is about to hit mobile apps. It’s about time.

12 thoughts on “Phones! Now With Multitasking! Why Mobile Is About To Have Its Web Revolution.”

  1. From Wikipedia: OS/2, first released to developers in 1987, always supported preemptive multitasking and multithreading of native applications and a single “DOS box”. Version 2.0 and OS/2 Warp, IBM’s rewrite of OS/2 targeted at 386 systems, also permitted several different Windows sessions to be multitasked preemptively.

    1. Yes, OS/2 was a great OS, it never got traction though. And Unix did it too. Not exactly a consumer facing winner though.

  2. See also The X Window System from 1984, and the much more elegant but commercially unsuccessful DeW (which became Sun’s SunDeW and then NeWS) from 1985. They’re window (UI) management systems based on preemptive multitasking, which the underlying OS provided since its inception in 1969.

    And which the Android OS has provided since its inception as well.

  3. Ha… I was working on a slide titled “Mobile’s Netscape Moment” when I got this feed. i don’t think inter-app communication is going to move the needle for mobile utility. There’s already basic text and image sharing on iOS and the intents system on Android… but wasn’t the web something much, much bigger? Through a single interface, we could dynamically access information and application content in small bites without having to install a bunch of apps… and there really wouldn’t even be apps for what the web provided anyway.

    In a mobile context, we don’t have time/space to search, browse and follow hyperlinks around. We want our devices to tell us what we need to know, get our input, and then move on. No matter how good inter-app communications are, there aren’t enough hours in the day for humans to coordinate all of the apps and mobile websites necessary for us to make good decisions. Think about $16 trillion in a global retail economy and how many of those transactions were based on the “best” decision? I reckon very few – I make crappy decisions every single day because I can’t possibly justify hours of poking around my phone to figure it all out.

    That’s why I think mobile’s 1993 is going to look a lot more like Google Now than Mosaic.

    1. I wouldn’t count web like models out, Michael. Perhaps not just like we understand the web today, but in essence, I think the value of an open, interlinked ecosystem is just too large to NOT develop in some way.

      1. Put me in the bucket that believes web apps will ultimately dominate native… just put a half-dozen native control frameworks directly into the mobile browser, add associated HTML tags and game over. Not sure why it hasn’t been done already… well, I know why Apple hasn’t done it!

        But I guess what I’m pointing to is a future online experience that is a bit closer to program trading than casual browsing. Tell the computer what you want (explicitly or through inference), not how to do it. Yes, the things we call web technologies (html, js, http, etc.) are hugely important… but maybe more value is to be derived by their use in the cloud. Their use on devices becomes relatively trivial because it can be. [apologies for going off-topic… I’m sort of one-track right now… yes, better copy/paste would be better on my iPhone!]

  4. Believe me or not. I still personally use a feature phone. My mom, dad and everyone else use an iphone or some android smartphone. When im at home i use their phone to access some apps. But i always wonder and ask myself one question repeatedly – “Why do i need to download an app?” I hope this changes soon.

  5. My Symbian based Nokia 6600 from 2003/2004 had multitasking, as did the other Symbian S60 devices I used since then. Why is it too much to ask for the modern phone OS’s to do this?

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