Multitasking on a Surface may be a Snap but is it Predictable?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Lukas Mathis considers the ability to swipe between two apps on Windows 8 to be clever, but also expresses concern:

This is pretty clever, but probably often results in showing an app the user did not expect. 
Until I set aside time to understand the behaviour, my expectations were being satisfied 50% of the time -  when I'd access an app through another. For example, when I'd tap on a link to Mail to open it in Internet Explorer, I expected a left-swipe to be interpreted as a back to last app gesture. And it did. The confusion arose when the subsequent deferred left-swipe was interpreted similarly when I didn't specifically want it to i.e. I was not working between two apps. For example, I was returned as expected to Mail, sent my mail, and wanted to swipe to another non-particular app but to my surprise was taken back to IE. Practically speaking, this doesn't make a difference as I wouldn't be looking to swipe to a particular app, but must admit being surprised every time this happened. Judging by feedback I've received from other Windows 8 users, I was not the only one, supporting Lukas' reservations. 

In the behaviour's defence, I consider this as logic assisting the user that doesn't necessarily need their knowledge. When you are working between two apps, it works how you want it to. In this context you're too immersed in your workflow that as far as you're concerned the device is running just these two apps, and nothing else, and so your expectations are met.

I think webOS and the Blackberry PlayBook solved this better, by spatially arranging running apps horizontally. This way, it’s always clear which app you switch to when you edge-swipe, because apps never «move»; the same apps are always located to the left and right of any given running app.

I've never used the Blackberry PlayBook, but I did buy my girlfriend a Palm Pre a couple of years ago for mostly selfish reasons (I knew the mirror back would make her warm to the device quickly). I had always been fascinated by webOS and wanted to play with one. The cards system didn't disappoint. It was only a week ago that I tweeted:

Having said that, I don't know how the PlayBook does it, but I wouldn't compare the edge-swipe on Windows 8 to webOS's cards. In order to switch apps on a Pre, you need to leave the app first and then swipe through the list of cards. That is, you can't switch between apps without passing through the home screen. 

That said, I do consider
Windows 8's app-switcher to be its version of webOS cards. I never use it primarily because the gesture to invoke it is ridiculously unintuitive. If you get pass this, you'll notice apps on the list do get rearranged, unlike webOS cards. I originally thought they move up the list by one after every swipe, but after some rudimentary testing this doesn't appear to be the case all the time. I need to look into this more. But it's fair to concede, even at this point, that it's a bit of a mess and cannot compare with the predictability, fluidity and playfulness of webOS cards. I will say I'm not entirely dismissive of the concept of apps moving up the list, as they do on Windows 8's app-switcher, so long as the logic dictating the order is consistent. At the moment, it doesn't appear so but will leave that for another day to verify. 

Update: Lukas Mathis has clarified that the PlayBook, unlike webOS, does in fact support the Windows 8 like edge-swipe gesture to switch between apps.