The Verge has reported on Cydia app Quasar, a system that I can’t help feeling utterly misses the point. The $9.99 app for jailbroken iPads
brings window-style app management to the iPad, allowing you to view multiple apps at the same time by resizing, going in and out of fullscreen, switching orientation, and rearranging them on your desktop at will.
I admire the technical skills of the author, but am dumbfounded at the commenters on the Verge piece and elsewhere clamouring for such functionality to be built into iOS. First, the Quasar system is pretty ugly, with chunky ‘Close’, ‘Full Screen’ and ‘Rotate’ buttons. With the assumption Apple would deal with aesthetics, there are still hardware considerations: some iPads have enough trouble running a single very advanced app, and would keel over if you had several running on-screen at once. But even if that problem was eradicated via a new A999 chip that somehow didn’t melt the device and your fingers, there’s the question of focus.
One of the greatest things about the iPad is that it forces you to concentrate on the task at hand—the device becomes whatever app you are using, with a few exceptions (such as background audio) and notifications (which can easily be disabled). Compare this to a PC or Mac running Windows or OS X. You get the flexibility to run umpteen apps simultaneously, but with that comes clutter and distraction. These days, I’m more productive on the Mac when I kill pretty much every app bar iTunes and a text editor. Now and again, I’ll fire up Safari, and I’ll periodically check email and Twitter. But this is how the iPad works by default.
A lot of people consider iOS to be some kind of retrograde step—a return to the bad old days of computing before we could run a whole bunch of apps at the same time. Me, I’m increasingly thinking the more ‘modern’ take of desktop computing was a mis-step. People aren’t programmed to cope well with multitasking; studies have shown that when we are distracted from a task it can then take tens of minutes to get fully back into the task at hand. To that end, any system that can help me concentrate and work better is a boon, not a hindrance, and so even if Apple went mental and allowed Quasar into the proper App Store, I’d still give it a miss.