Microsoft shows off multitasking WP7, looks a lot like webOS [déjà vu]
You know how sometimes a user interface element is so good it just becomes a standard? Like the mouse cursor from the original Macintosh, or the grid of icons from Palm OS, or the steering wheel (over the tiller). It looks like the multitasking cards metaphor from webOS is trending that way. First the BlackBerry Playbook blatantly appropriated the UI elements of cards (including swiping up to card view and tossing away over the top), though they seem to have missed some marks when it comes to effective multitasking.
Now it’s Microsoft’s turn, with an impending update to their Windows Phone 7 mobile OS receiving the webOS multitasking treatment. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Vice President Joe Belfiore got on stage at Mobile World Congress today in Barcelona to demo the update, and it’s not what we expected from Microsoft today. Yes, we expected multitasking in Windows Phone 7, but not quite like this. As you may recall, Microsoft requires all Windows Phone 7 devices to have three buttons: back, Start, and search. The back button behaves generally like the same button on Android devices, but with the update to Windows Phone 7 you’ll now be able to press and hold the back button to open a view of your running apps.
As you’ve likely gathered from the tone of this post, it looks an awful lot like webOS. You get a live view of your running apps, presented as a horizontally scrolling series of cards. Sounds familiar, eh? Microsoft did at least choose to innovate in their choice to manage background music playback; you hit the volume buttons to have a mini-controller drop down from the top of the screen.
To editorialize a bit, we’re actually kind of disappointed. Microsoft turned the smartphone user interface on its ear with Windows Phone 7, and it works. Being the nerds that we are, we’re fans of Microsoft’s “Metro” user interface, and this choice of multitasking metaphor just doesn’t fit. Then again, perhaps Palm hit metaphorical steering wheel with webOS, and it only makes sense (unless your name is Apple and you like tillers).
UPDATE: We've gotten clarification that Microsoft actually isn't doing live multitasking. They're going the Apple iOS route and doing it with a mix of APIs that will allow fast saving and relaunching of apps, plus backgrounding for specific tasks. Windows Phone 7 will go a bit further than iOS, however in that their background tasks will allow more than just music playback: apps will also be allowed to periodically udpate in the background (such as you may want a Twitter or news app to do).