For tablets that want to compete with Apple’s iPad, proving superior at productivity is seen as a holy grail, and true multitasking is the key. If users can jump between apps with ease, the logic goes, the tablet might attract users who think the iPad is only good for consumption.
That’s why I’m suddenly interested in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1, an Android-based tablet that launches later this month. Although Samsung first revealed the Galaxy Note 10.1 back in February, at the time it looked like a rehash of the company’s earlier 10-inch tablets, but with a stylus thrown in. Since then, Samsung has souped up the tablet’s specs to include a quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM. More importantly, Samsung’s added some software features to help the new Note stand out.
As you can see in Samsung’s demo video, the Note 10.1 will let users run certain apps side-by-side on the screen, including the web browser, a note-taking app, an e-mail app, a video player and a document editor. As with Samsung’s earlier tablets, the Note 10.1 will also come with “mini-apps” such as a calculator and calendar, which can float on top of whatever else you’re doing.
Watching that video, I’m reminded of the aborted Microsoft project known as Courier, a stylus-driven, dual-touch screen device that was meant to be a digital sketchbook. Though Courier never escaped the prototype stage, it generated buzz in the tech world a couple years ago as a productive antidote to Apple’s consumption-minded iPad.
The iPad has proven to be a powerful content creation device in some ways, but its laser-focus on the single task can be limiting. Even basic Internet research gets frustrating on the iPad because you must jump back and forth from the browser to whatever app you’re using to take notes. Doing so requires you to double tap the home button, tap on the app you want to open and wait for the app-switching animation to play out, ad nauseum. Some third-party iPad apps such as Tapose and Blogsy try to solve this problem by mashing several functions into a single program, but none are as versatile as what Samsung has come up with.
Other platforms have tried to tackle multitasking in their own ways. Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8, for instance, will let users snap a second app into a narrow sidebar on the left edge of the screen, so you can keep an eye on Twitter, e-mail or other programs while focusing mainly on a single app. RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook and HP’s TouchPad–both commercial failures–allowed users to quickly swipe from one app to the next with a simple gesture. Samsung’s approach seems even faster for bouncing between tasks, with the downside that it’s limited to a handful of built-in apps.
I haven’t actually used the Galaxy Note 10.1, so for now I can’t say how its approach to multitasking works in practice. But I am interested to find out.