iOS 6: Is it time for Apple to revamp the multitasking fast app switcher?

A look at the history of mobile multitasking and how Apple could implement better fast app switching in iOS 6

At Macworld 2007 Steve Jobs showed off mobile Safari's Page switching interface, but despite the operating system as a whole crying out for similar treatment, to this day Pages haven't expanded beyond Safari. At the iOS 4 event in the spring of 2010, the iPhone added limited 3rd party multitasking and a fast app switcher interface, but rather than Pages or even an Exposé-esque grid interface, it locked to the Dock.

And as far as showing currently open apps, making those apps as visually distinguishable as possible, and making them as fast as possible to switch between, that's where iOS has remained. Even on the iPad's far larger screen.

Is it time for something more?

Options for and iOS 6 fast app switching

The most obvious options for iOS 6 fast app switching are:

  1. Keep the current fast app switching interface
  2. Change to the now-common Pages/Cards-style interface
  3. Change to am Exposé/grid-style interface
  4. Change to something else that's better

Keeping the current fast app switcher

Keeping the fast app switcher does nothing to move the platform or mobile interface forward. For good or for ill, it keeps Apple and iOS exactly where they are today, even as the rest of the industry is providing more informationally and experientially rich app-switching interfaces.

Apple might well prefer this option. It's familiar to existing users, which is a feature, and it's more or less hidden away unless you go looking for it. That keeps things simple for casual users, but accessible for power users.

Changing to a Pages/Cards-style interface

Changing to a Pages/Cards interface loses some of the immediate recognizability of icons, but gains the additional information density of thumbnails. It brings Apple and iOS up to par with most of the rest of the mobile platforms, but does nothing to leapfrog them.

Apple could claim they're merely extending Safari Pages, and use that claim to try and sidestep charges they're copying webOS and others (especially if they don't do Stacks, though Apple really didn't seem to care about charges they copied Android for Notification Center).

Since it would work like Safari Pages, it would be consistent on the iPhone (though not iPad). However, Apple eschewed that before in favor of keeping consistent with the Dock. wWuld they go back to it now? Where would the current media control widgets go if they did?

Changing to an Exposé/grid-style interface

Changing to an Exposé/grid interface is similar to changing to a Pages/Cards interface, though it would initially fit more thumbnails onto a single screen than a horizontally scrolling list does. (However, it would still require scrolling to see subsequent screens of additional thumbnails.) The more thumbnails per screen, the easier it is to switch between them but the harder it is to get any useful, glance-able information from them. Red X icons for closing apps could be persistent, like in Pages, or could require the thumbnails to be putty in "jiggly" mode first, which could also enable re-arrangement.

Apple would get pretty much the same benefits, and face the same drawbacks, of Cards/Pages. They chose not to go this way for app switching before iOS 4 even hit beta, however, and in iPad Safari, they abandoned the grid view for tabs. So, again, would they revisit it now?

Aping Exposé's successor on OS X, Mission Control, is more problematic. Relatively few iOS apps have multiple windows, like Safari, making the stacks less necessary. Keeping the regular, app launcher Dock around also doesn't seem to be an optimal for a switcher interface (and going to the fast app switcher would be redundant).

Changing to something better

Changing to something better than Pages or Exposé is a huge interface challenge. Those metaphors have become standards because they work, and they make sense. Concept videos and prototype devices like the First Else, and interfaces for movies like Iron Man are one thing. Nailing real world usage for hundreds of millions of users is quite another.

Apple does, however, have some of the best mobile interface designers on the planet, and a track record of coming up with great design solutions. It would have to really be better than the current fast app switcher, provide more information, recognizability, and accessibility, and work great with one hand (especially if they go to a larger, 4-inch, 16:9 screen as current rumors suggest). Could Apple do it? Should they?

Desktop precedents

Over the years, desktop operating systems have evolved various ways of handling multitasking, app switching interfaces. OS X on the Mac alone has gone through various incarnations of the NeXT-derived Dock (including lights beneath open apps, and Stacks for folders), Exposé and Mission Control, and the Windows-derived CMD + Tab.

Mobile operating systems are both more recent and far more resource constrained than the desktop -- less power, less processor, less screen real-estate. So, mobile has evolved different methods of showing, identifying, and switching apps.

While these things all existed well before the iPhone, highly visual, design-centric interfaces were far less common. I'm sure someone will tell me Symbian had the best multi-object mobile interface imaginable back in 1812. Or Maemo/Meego. Or some Windows Mobile launcher. For the purposes of this post, however, we're going to start in 2007 and work our way forward through current, popular operating systems.

iOS Safari Pages

The original iPhone had excellent multitasking -- it could fade music out to take a call, keep the call going while loading web sites or email, and fade music back in without missing a beat. However, only certain specific apps could run in the background, and due to their nature, and since there were no App Store apps back then, no fast app switching interface was needed.

Even in 2007 however, Safari did have to deal with multiple objects -- websites.

Desktop Safari has tabs, but Apple chose not to use them on the much, much smaller 320x480 iPhone screen. The Music (previously iPod) app has CoverFlow in landscape mode, like Desktop iTunes. Apple also chose not to use that interface for mobile Safari.

Instead they went with Pages.

A horizontal list of visually identifiable thumbnails with text labels on top, Pages are easy to switch between through scrolling and tapping. (It's possible this type of interface was used on a mobile device prior to the iPhone, but I'm not familiar with one if so.)

Tapping the Pages button in Safari invokes the Pages interface. While the order of Pages can't be re-arranged, tapping the red X icon at the top left of a Page closes the Page.

When Apple introduced the App Store with iOS 2 (then iPhone OS 2) in 2008, they didn't allow any 3rd party background tasks, and so still didn't need any lists, visualization, or fast switching. (And wouldn't until iOS 4 in 2010.)

webOS Cards (and Stacks)

Just because Apple hadn't yet pulled the trigger on multitasking doesn't mean mobile multi-object interfaces stood still, or that the Pages metaphor remained limited to the web rather than the OS.

The original Palm Pre and its webOS operating system debuted at CES 2009 and was shown off by former Apple executive, Jon Rubenstein. It was the most impressive mobile product introduction since the iPhone in 2007, in part because Palm seemed to specifically target things the iPhone wouldn't, or couldn't yet do. One of those was 3rd party multitasking, and the way they handled it was by making Apple's Safari Pages metaphor system-wide.

Called Cards, the early implementations showed one app or window (e.g. a website or email) in very similar fashion to Safari Pages. Instead of tapping a button, however, a less discoverable but more elegant swipe gesture "shrank" the current window into a Card and switched to the horizontally scrollable thumbnail view. You could also, very naturally, touch and flick a Card away to close an app or window.

In the original version, you could even shrink the cards down smaller to see more open apps and windows at one time. (Greater immediate information density.)

It worked wonderfully.

Palm later expanded the Cards visualization beyond what Apple did with Safari Pages by introducing Stacks in webOS 2.0.

Stacks allow you to group Cards together into sets of similar apps by type, task, or any other way you like. Stacks slightly reduces visibility (because apps or windows can be harder to see if they're tucked underneath other apps or windows), but increase speed because the distance between apps you commonly use together can be made much smaller.

In short, it works even more wonderfully. (Especially scaled up on the TouchPad running webOS 3.x)

iOS fast app switcher

Apple enabled limited background tasks for App Store apps in 2010. They added APIs for streaming audio, location, and voice-over-IP (VoIP) so Pandora, TomTom, and Skype, among others, could stay active even when you switched out of them and into other apps. They didn't add a persistent internet connectivity API, sadly, but did give a few minutes grace period for internet apps to finish activities, like uploading pictures, before they suspended. Mostly, instead of apps relaunching from scratch every time they opened, Apple let them set state on exist, and return to state on resume, so perceptively they never seemed to close.

To manage all this, Apple didn't go with the Pages or Cards interface. They went for something decidedly different.

The iPad version of Safari, which debuted in the spring of 2010, didn't use a horizontally scrolling set of thumbnails at all. Instead, thanks to the larger screen, iPad Safari showed website thumbnails all at once in a grid view. The grid didn't last long, however, and when iOS 5 was released in the fall of 2011, it was replaced by a tab interface, similar to desktop Safari.

Pages stayed in Safari on the iPhone, however, but still wouldn't expand OS-wide. Apple did, apparently, experiment with something like the original iPad grid, or the OS X Exposé interface, in iOS 4 but ultimately decided against it.

Instead, to show open apps, to make them more visually identifiable, and to enable faster switching between them, Apple went back to the Dock. Or rather, went behind it.

With a double click of the Home button, the active screen fades and lifts up, revealing a background Dock, and showing open apps as a horizontally scrollable set of app icons in reverse chronological order. Tap an app and, with a carousel-like flourish, the current app swings around to the back and the selected one swing to the front.

This configuration shows more apps and makes each app more immediately identifiable than Safari Pages. Four apps is more than the one central Page, and the two Page edges on either side. Also, icons are typically faster to differentiate than thumbnails. Their information density is lower, however, so while you can tell which app it is, there's nothing to show what state the app is in. (In iOS, with the exception of Calendar, all the icons are static as well, further lowering information density.)

If the tasks you are doing are chronologically proximate, the switching is fast (e.g going back and forth between the same two apps). Otherwise you need to swipe horizontally through a potentially long list of apps to get to the one you want, which in some cases can be slower than using the regular Home screen app launcher.

When in fast app switcher mode, roughly 80% of the iPhone screen (and more of the iPad screen) is not used. Similar to the Alt/CMD + Tab desktop interface, this puts the focus on the task of app switching, but comes at the expense of waste screen space that could be put to better use (for example, like it is in Mission Control on OS X).

Apps in the fast app switcher can't be re-arranged, but by tapping and holding, they will go into "jiggly" mode and can be closed by tapping the X icon at the top left.

Yes, sometimes you  do need to kill all the apps in your multitasking dock

With iOS 4.3, Apple also experimented with gesture-based fast app switching on the iPad, and made it official in iOS 5.

With gesture-only interfaces, while switching can be fast (though also constrained to reverse chronological order), it offers no visualization what-so-ever. You can only tell which apps are open by swiping through them all. (Which is likely why Apple also added gestures to bring up the existing fast app switcher and Home screen app launcher interfaces as well.)

And so app switching remains today, more CMD + Tab than Exposé or Mission Control, more identifiable than informational, more a utility than an experience.

Android incarnations

Google's Android mobile operating system embraced 3rd party background processes and task switching early on in its development. Between Android versions, and original device manufacturer (ODM) interface layers like HTC's Sense, Motorola's Blur, and Samsung's TouchWiz, there have been quite a few different implementations.

The current version, the one used in Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich, was spearheaded by Matias Duarte, formerly lead designer of webOS at Palm. So, it's no coincidence Android has taken a webOS-like approach to app switching -- albeit at a 90 degree angle. (You scroll vertically instead of horizontally.)

Because Android has ODM interfaces, and 3rd party launchers, and a custom ROM community, if you don't like Google or anyone else's version of task switching, you can choose another device, or sometimes another implementation for your existing device.

BlackBerry PlayBook OS cards

BlackBerry's PlayBook OS borrowed heavily from Palm's OS-wide Card implementation of Apple's Safari-bound Pages interface as well. It was first seen in late 2010 and released in Spring 2011.

The 7-inch screen, larger than a phone but smaller than a 9.7-inch tablet, combined with the real-time nature of the QNX underpinnings, makes for similarly wonderful visualization. Because of that, it has all the advantages of webOS' card metaphor.

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango cards

Microsoft's original smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile, had robust multitasking but an antiquated user interface. Windows Phone launched in late 2010 with the elegant, "digitally authentic" Metro interface, but initially lacked 3rd-party multitasking. That changed with Windows Phone 7.5 Mango in the summer of 2011, which re-introducted a much more limited multitasking to Microsoft's mobile phone platform.

However, while many elements of Metro were fresh and different from other mobile operating systems, Microsoft chose to go with a highly constrained version of the now very familiar, almost commonplace Pages/Cards, horizontally scrolling thumbnail metaphor for fast app switching.

BlackBerry 10 grid

BlackBerry 10, expected to ship in the fall of 2012, doesn't keep the card metaphor of the PlayBook but switches to a grid view for app thumbnails. You get to see 4 at first, and can swipe down to 4 more. You can also swipe immediately into the app launcher, or notifications and messages, thanks to the gesture-centric user experience.

It's a very slick implementation, with the goal of optimizing one-handed ease of use on larger touchscreen phones.

Additional resources

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iOS 6: Is it time for Apple to revamp the multitasking fast app switcher?

61 Comments

They definitely should revamp it, and adopt a cards interface, in my opinion. I've used several jailbreak tweaks to accomplish this on the iPhone and it just works beautifully. Of course, they're not perfect because they're not fully integrated into iOS, but Apple could obviously make it flawless. webOS got it right from day 1, Apple shouldn't be ashamed to rip it off...

I agree, I miss being able to flick away programs to close them like webOS.. I am currently using Aero tweak with my iphone, its pretty sexy looking.. but they need to update that tweak with flick away (instead of hold to close).
webOS had it right in so many ways.. atleast the right idea.. lack of optimization in the OS (slow, laggy, etc.) and weak outdated hardware.. and lack of funds.. killed webOS when it has a chance to be #1/#2 before android blew up..

I don't think a smartphone user should have to be task managing at all. While it may be nice for a power user, for the majority of consumers the OS should be able to intelligently decide what needs to be kept in memory and what needs to be purged.
I also find the WebOS task switcher to be slow to use (I have a Touchpad). Quite often I only switch between apps once or twice and then move on to something else, so to me there's no point in spending time rearranging the cards.
With my iPhone I tend to group apps I'm likely to use together on the same homescreen page. Then task switching is just like launching an app and this way they're also in fixed positions instead of jumping about in a task switcher. Tap home button, tap app, task switched.

I agree with MrC completely. You're not supposed to be spending a lot of time switching between apps. For any given task, there would probably be a max of 3-4 apps that you would seitch between and even then, most of your time is soent in the app, not the task switcher. I think Apple has it right. You just need access to the most recently used apps and that's it. Screenshots, transitions, just get in the way of getting to the app you want, not to mention sacrificing memory and battery life.

great article Rene. I love the Expose format and think 4 tile would be a nice number, not too big, not too small. Another option could be full screen multitasking bar, showing 4 rows of apps, or expanding the bar to 2 or 3 rows with a larger screen. Not sure how feasible it is, you are the expert, what do you think?

Yes please Apple.
The cards metaphor is clearly a better option than the current incarnation. A simple double press of the home button could display the 4-up version you have nocked up above (think this is fine for retina screen resolutions). Perhaps with a 'kitchen sink' dashboard containing volume, brightness, airplay, play controls etc accessed with a left swipe (aided by a system config icon next to the ••• pagination), maintaining the same 'to the left' metaphor as used currently). If airplay is enabled/connected I'd also like to see a further left swipe to jump into a 'remote' style interface for controlling an Apple TV (again might be increasingly useful if a Apple TV set is truly on the horizon) as I use this app nearly every day with the current Apple TV box.
On the iPad these controls could fit permanently accessible in the exposé view given the additional real-estate?
Question remains around how the transition to get here should occur? All these functions probably belong on the 'underneath/behind/system' grey-linen texture. Maybe the current screen could transition off-top revealing a whole new view underneath, but the vertical height of the screen is a long way to travel (by the sounds of it might be getting further?). Left/right doesn't make sense as we're paginating in that direction so too much room for swipe touch-error. Other option is 'zoom-in' so the current screen enlarges and fades to reveal the underneath layer, but this removes the possibility of leaving a hint of the last state at the periphery (which Apple like to use) indicating where you came from and allowing quick-tap back. Unsure? Some testing would need to be done here...
Roll-on iOS 6.

Love your what if articles, Rene. That said, they could go the Pages/Cards route, add app icons as they do in Exposé, and keep the dock. Might be a bit much on the screen, but I don't think so. I think it would work. Maybe even take the Mission Control look one step further, and display the four apps in your iPhone dock persistently, with a swipe to the right to bring up iPod controls. And the search bar at the top. Take the Lion/Mountain Lion look. Could work even on the 3.5" screen.

What I want first and foremost is Remove Background with one swipe. It already exists in the jailbreak community, they just have to allow it in the app store or make it standard with iOS 6. I literally swipe from the clock left and all the background apps are removed. So convenient!
Regarding the app switcher, I'm fine with how it is now. It would be nice if they could make it on the iPhone how it is on the iPad where you can use i think three fingers sliding up to show multitasking feature in addition to double click the home button. That would be nice. But kill all apps in the background at once is more important.

Stop stop STOP IT!!! You and Jason are WRONG! Rene already recently recanted his erroneous notion that you really don't have to clear the RAM. It is necessary is certain instances. Try to run Infinity Blade with less than 60MB of RAM and see what happens!

You're misquoting me. I said Apple Geniuses will tell casual, non-pro users to "kill all apps" that because it's easier than troubleshooting which app or apps are actually causing them problems.
My "notion" as never erroneous and it hasn't changed, and it's 100% correct.
While you may occasionally have to force quit apps that go rogue, you never have to routinely kill all of them -- though you may choose to because you're OCD or just too lazy to trouble shoot.
None of that is inconsistent.

You are literally making your phone slower by doing this, which is why Apple will not implement it.
The red X is essentially equivalent to force close on a Mac, or Alt + F4 on a PC. That means it loses all of its loaded information stored in RAM. So that means everything you open an app it now has to load its state from the flash memory, reestablish Internet connections, reload graphics assets from disk. Now most apps do this in less than a second or two, but if they were still in RAM it would be instantaneous. And whether RAM is filled or not has no effect on battery life.
So that is why Apple will not implement the "close all" button, unless they do an overhaul to the way multitasking works on the iPhone.

Can't Apple just buy webOS from HP? And integrate everything that was good about it in IOS?
I think they don't do it because of pride, webOS was developed partly by former Apple employees and some tough words must have been said back then.
But still.

I think this and Synergy are all that is left to port over that hasn't been that is worth it. Loved my Palm Prē plus, even with the anemic hardware. All together, a better OS than android.

Definitely need to bring the WebOS cards and synergy to IOS. This is my first iphone, the 4S, but If WebOS was still around I'd be using it. Combine it with their home brew community and you had a great phone. Only issue was hardware.
Didn't HP open source WebOS? I can't remember exactly what they did, but apple needs to just swallow their pride and use this.

I think they did open source at least parts. I was one REALLY pushing for Apple to buy palm. Would have been the berries!

Pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeee, I would love to have web os card style multitasking. I haven't liked the fast app switcher since day one. Web os cards is the best way to implement multitasking.

Please no webOS style multitasking. Please watch the windows phone video the author has embedded. The guy makes the right point. The consumer shouldn't have to worry about managing whats running and whats not. That is precisely how it works in iOS. When you add any sort of 'new' multitasking idea you are bringing with it unnecessary complexity. Once you do that you have to worry about closing and opening apps. Honestly what difference does it make if something is running or not? let the system handle that and you can focus on task at hand. What you want is being able to do specific tasks in the background like continuing to play videos in the background (you can already do that but it can be improved) and on the iPad, running two apps on a screen (app and IM or Productivity app and browser. A la Aero Snap in windows 7). These are the two things that matter most. Seeing whats running and whats not is just geeky. It makes no improvements to the way you multitask. Frankly iOS and after seeing that video I understood Windows Phone do multitasking the right way. You never have to worry about whats running and whats not. Although windows phone shows 'cards' I still hate the idea of having static images of apps shows as if I am multitasking.

Well, I went from webOS to WindowsPhone, and I'm very disappointed in the multitasking (tombstoning) of WP7.5. Everything was so fast on webOS - no waiting for a web page to load, just move over to messaging and send a text while the page loads (or any other task you would like to do rather than wait.) Sit and wait for Facebook to load? Heck no. Read the news. With WP (and I assume with iPhone), if you don't stay on that "card" the page stops loading. So, sit there and wait for it, losing time and productivity. I'm also continually frustrated by going back to a task I was working on only to find out that WP has closed that app and I have to start over. Multiple texting/messaging conversations are difficult to manage on WP. They were fantastic on webOS - a stack of cards with one card per conversation. Couldn't be easier. In fact, I dislike WP so much that I'm considering a move to iOS, which I swore I'd never do. (The only thing WP has going for it is email. The mobile Outlook is mind-blowingly good. I'd rather triage email on my phone than the laptop sitting right in front of me.) After seeing the cards jailbreak app, I figured I'd start looking into iOS. I've tried Android (on my CM9 TouchPad), and it seems disorganized.
So why not give users a choice? (Yes, I know that's not the Apple way.) Implement cards, and allow users to set a max limit for open apps, or no limit at all. Everyone's happy.

You dont have to wait for apps to load when you switch between them. It takes less than a second for apps to become usable when I switch between them. That is when I use gestures on my ipad if I use fast app switcher its instant. About apps closing, it may be a bug I haven't used WP7 but I have used my iPad as my primary computer for more than a year and I have never had that issue.
The whole cards thing is last decade because it involves manually closing apps. ideally you should be able to switch between apps and they should be instantly usable that is important. A user shouldn't have to worry about how many apps are open and how much memory is available and how that is going to reduce battery life. Right now in my case at least it seems to work that way (at least on iOS). I dont know what you are doing or it might be the case that since I haven't used webOS I dont know what I am missing out on.

That's not what he meant. Today, if you're loading a webpage and you're on 3G and it's going to take a while, you have to sit there looking at it because if you "exit" the app and move to another one, the app is suspended and doesn't continue loading. Instead, you could jump to another app (read your email, catch up with your RSS feed, send a text...) while the web page loads in the background and then when you return to the web browser it's just there waiting for you. This is just an example, but I often find apps waiting for things to happen (especially when loading stuff over a "slow" 3G connection) and I can't use that time to be more productive by jumping to another app because then the app I was waiting for freezes and there's no point...

ios allows an app to finish what it's doing when you leave it. So when you leave safari while a page is loading, you'll come back to it when the page is loaded. let's try to talk about os's we've actually used here,

As Johna said iOS does let the app finish its task. But I see your point. For example you could let youtube buffer videos in the background. But all this doesn't need a fancy interface (read cards). I say again you need more background tasks. This way you as a user don't have to manage memory or worry about battery and performance.

iOS, Android, WP, do not do "true" multitasking. You only get that from PlayBook, BB10, and webOS. And on PB and BB10, you're limited to a handful of programs at once. On webOS, you could open 30 apps at once if you want .. it'll slow down, but it'll run them all. Simultaneously.

Good point. Palm actually proves the use case why the rest don't. Lead the industry in battery life... If battery life was scored like golf...

"it'll slow down, but it'll run them all. Simultaneously."
That is precisely my point. Is it worth having "cards" at the expense of performance and battery life? Cards is a fancy gimmick nothing more. On iOS I never have to worry about how many apps are running (or not running). Instead of having all apps running just so you can call it multitasking at the expense of battery and performance is not worth it.
Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
As I said what you need is the ability to do more tasks simultaneously (specifically on the iPad with two apps side by side)

Multitasking is still the weakest part of iOS, on a 4" screen you don't have much possibilities but on a 9.7" it's unthinkable to still have only a fast app switcher under the dock. If apple doesn't change that on iPad because it would be different from iPhone experience then forget about it, it will look like their mobile OS never was supposed to be on a tablet device. People were surprised that their iPad doesn't run OSX, I'm surprised it runs the same OS that my phone does because I thought Apple understood what OS works best for every device.

On the iPad you can use multitouch gestures to swipe between recently used apps. Doesn't get any simpler or quicker than that.

Great article. Yes it's time to change this. Realistically I would like to have the home button taken out completely and use a swipe up from the bottom to get into the new multitasking function. Or I would just add the functions of the home button into the notifications swipe down menu.
Apple should focus on the new screen size to bring in to gesture based functionality and at the same time adding some important, need to get to fast, functions to the already existing notification swipe down menu such as wifi toggle, Bluetooth etc.

The problem that Apple was trying to solve is that on a mobile platform where you can't always stare down and "read" the title of an app or windowed app to see what to pick, most people "know" what app they want based on their icon. The current app switches is based around the pricipal of quickly identifying what app a user wants without having to remember what the app's screen looked like when they last used it or if they can't remember that, looking down to see the app's title in order to pick it. By moving to the card based layout, they'd introduce this new "extra" time or step a user would need to take to select the app they need in a quick manner.

Look at the way the CardSwitcher jailbreak tweak does it: http://d.pr/i/XuRE
You have the app card and the icon and app title. Much better than just a bunch of app icons that you already have in your homescreen.

I find the problem with what Apple is the way they handle this requires the phone to have a home button. And is the reason that some people wear out their button. I like the way the iPad does it - swipe up and there they are. The other problem is that it keeps EVERYTHING in the dock. I have most of those apps on my home screen (I am JB with the 5 apps per row and the dock) so I don't need those sitting down there. If you open the calculator is saves it in the dock. Don't need that. After a while, if you don't go in and close them out, you could have ALL your apps in there. I like the way it works on my MacBook. A little "light" under the apps that are open. Quick and easy. Seems like they could do that on the screen. Or make a "side" screen that has them. Swipe to the side, and there would be a page of apps open. But PLEASE, PLEASE what ever they do, give us a way to DELETE THEM ALL. It is very much a pain in the rump to have to do them one-by-one when they should not be there in the first place.

The current app switcher is basically useless to me. First because the iPhone 4 home button is already problematic, and getting a double click is hard, second because it is much easier to find something on the home screen and touch it, than scroll through endless icons on the multitasking bar to switch.
The only real use I have for it is killing misbehaving apps.

The first step to revamping iOS multitasking may be to make it more obvious for users, and that could mean iOS 6 is a baby step before a total refresh in iOS 7. There are many many iPhone users who don't know or don't use the double-tap home button to reveal the multitasking bar. If the gesture was simplified to a "swipe up" motion, it would become a quicker and easier to find action.
I think the addition of the quick camera swipe up button on the lock screen added in iOS 5, then simplified in iOS 5.1, is a hint about the direction of things to come in iOS 6. On the lock screen in 5.1, if you just tap on the camera button, the screen does a tiny "hop," which is a very subtle way to train users to use the feature. Similarly, a swipe up could be easily communicated at time of setup, and could be intuitive and useful just like the camera swipe up action.

I love the iPone but really, app switching from the dock is pointless and redundant because if you tap an open app from home screen it takes you to where you left off in that app anyway. Why even go to the dock?(except to close apps) Everyone, or the majority, that have used Web OS, don't only imagine why it might be better. They "feel" the loss of an elegant user interface for multi-tasking and app switching.

Couldn't agree more with tang404. I think about web OS every time I'm switching apps on iPhone. I FEEL the difference and I want web OS style UI for multitasking.

I'm going to add my support to list of those supporting using webOS type cards. I use card switcher and I love it. Even if Apple wants to use the same pause behavior they use now, cards are the way to go. I'd also love to see synergy and just type used in iOS too. It's okay Apple to poach good ideas and Appleize them.

started w palm pre minus, went to htc evo, and finally arrived at 4s. i personally like the way ios has the fast app switching to change apps, i dont find myself really needing multi-taking other then having a webpage load when i'm looking at something else. but if they have to change i like webos implementation best.
and if they are giong to really add something they should do the inductive charging that the touchstone provided the pre. its just the coolest charging way ever. plus they can build in some functionality into the base for other stuff like speakers for music or something.
good day all!

Yes' touchstone was the way to go. Cards, Synergy, touchstone. Still the top three reasons I wish Apple had bought palm.

Yet another great article Rene. I'm in favor of no change at all to the app switcher.
Re: Keeping the current fast app switcher: "Apple might well prefer this option. It's familiar to existing users, which is a feature, and it's more or less hidden away unless you go looking for it."
Apple rarely changes things just for the sake of change. (Skeumorphic torn paper edge on the Calendar app being one example.) Apple won't change the app switcher interface unless / until it becomes a major pain point. So far it doesn't seem to be.
Then again, it may be time to add a specific on-screen multi-touch gesture to bring up the app switcher. As long as it wouldn't be triggered accidentally while performing existing gestures. Maybe a "go back to the previous app" gesture for toggling back and forth between the two most recently used apps? That would obviate the whole app switcher GUI just to toggle back and forth.

The only gripe I have with the cards metaphore is that it can be difficult to distinguish two long stock-looking lists of items from one another. Especially if scaled down.

What do we learn here? That everything in the mobile space was already done by early Windows Mobile and Garnet OS. iOS and WebOS simply tweaked it with flourishes and adapted them better to touchscreen mobile devices. Android not so much, but the tweakers have some great ideas. Mostly from WM era as well.
WebOS was the last mobile OS with any innovation. iOS's first did but consequently hasn't. Android has ultimately on its own never so far.

Web OS is open source, so it would be cool for Apple to Implement the cards and other aspects of WebOS that were good. Problem is, as soon as they do, then Android will follow, but the cool thing about it is that, since it's open source, neither Apple, nor Google OEM's will be able to sue each other over it and they can all get back to innovating and give the lawyers a much needed vacation.

The thing I miss from Android are the back button and menu buttons. iOS's home button means you have to leave an app to go backward,forward, or you have to double tap the home button to get to app switching to switch to another app. Then you must do that again. Having back and menu button functions would be great, but with only a home button, that isn't ever going to happen in iOS without licensing something that the Google OEM's can't sue over, and I see that as the open source WebOS. THAT is where the last real innovation in mobile was.

Please no tabed browsing on the iPhone. It is to small for my fingers to hit those little tabs on the dolphin browser. It would not make me happy. I like the page method for the iPhone. They could make app switching easyer. I did have a palm pre and a droid before the iPhone, and always loved using the palm more just because the multitasking was amazing.

Steal webos cards. as a former webos user it's a decent way to do multitasking. STacks? never used it. Never wanted to use it. I find it only for those that are anal about such things. i had no time for that.
other then that i loathed webos.

@Rene
It is important to refrain from thinking as a power user.
For average users, the current implementation provides two important benefits: (1) the icon is exactly the same as what the user pressed to start the app, providing a reliable obvious navigation tool, and (2) the current app or home screen doesn't go away, providing a visual anchor for a user that prevents him from panicking because the app disappeared and provides an obvious clue to functionality.
I think that the dock-paradigm is here to stay.
However, the closest I think Apple might come to modifying this would be a coverflow-type scheme where instead of scrolling the content up, it condenses via animation into a shrunk-to-fit image of the current app. To the right and left would be the other app pages partially obscured (or blank if there isn't saved state information). At the bottom would be the icon, centered on the current app, and to the right or left of the "cover" of the app to the right or left of the current app. This would satisfy benefits 1 and 2, though providing a lesser degree of obviousness. Unfortunately, it would lose the mute/sound/play controls to the left of the dock. That could be fixed if the left coverflow app were always a settings app.
All these schemes ultimately fail to be "Steve" enough, because if there isn't saved state information of a page that is shown through a coverflow, expose, web cards, etc. method, it must be blank. Non-power users will not understand this. Obviousness goes out the window.
The current method works well. Adding gestures to the iPhone is the best we should expect, but don't hold your breath!

i will say this. my mother has had an ipad for like two years and still had no clue you could "multitask" or how to do it.

Just make the current fast-switching mode full screen and accessible by a notification centre style swipe from the bottom of the display.

Before improving iOS multitasking, I recommend you improve this page by disabling the cursed WPTouch, which is one of the top 10 worst things ever to happen to the Web.

Doesn't matter, the user experience is better than Androids true multitasking and you don't have to manage anything

The view is quite LIMITED if you miss MeeGo/Harmattan when talking Multi-tasking. It will show you a powerful and effective solution without any physical button in a Swipe fashion.