Nexus One Day 1: Multi Tasking and Notifications

Today I found out that my colleagues see mee as a Apple fanboy. One asked "so, would you get a Nexus One instead of the iPhone?" When I said that so far I still prefer the iPhone, another said: "he's not the one to ask, he loves everything Apple." And that may be the case, but it's a love/hate relationship. I love Apple products because they're so well thought out, stable, good looking and generally simply beautiful. I hate Apple because it's abusing its increasingly dominant market position and thinks it has to tell me what I shouldn't be able to do with my phone. So, well, I may not be the one to ask for phone buying advice, but I'll give you some thoughts anyway.

Today was my first day of full-time (as far as phones go anyway) use of the Nexus One, and it wasn't half bad. There are a few things I noticed, but for today I'll focus on multi tasking and notifications which are important, distinguishing features of Android.

__Multi Tasking__ In my view, on a phone multitasking has two main purposes:

_1. Quick task switching._ I'm talking about _me_ being able to switch tasks quickly. In a browser I got some text, I want to copy it, switch to my mail application, paste it and switch back. If applications can run concurrently, clearly, this is easy to do -- one would think. But Android, by default, doesn't do it very well. On vanilla Android the way you'd do this is you'd copy the text, push the home button, find the e-mail application, tap it, paste the text in the e-mail, push the home button again, find the browser application again and tap it. Very similar to the iPhone, except that on Android the state of the application is not reset every time you switch. There are Android applications that fix this, providing the familiar Alt-Tab-type feature we know from desktop OSes, but why do I need a third party application for this?

__Update:__ Tim Bray tells me in the comments that you can quickly switch between apps by holding the home key, which works great. Nevermind what I said.

_2. Do stuff in the background_. E-mail and twitter applications can ping a server once every few minutes to see if there's anything new. A music application can keep playing its music. Great. But the risk is battery drainage. According to my (third party) task switcher, I usually have between 4-11 application running at the same time. A twitter app, Gmail, Google Listen (great podcasting application). They all use the network from time to time and well, today I hardly got through the day on a single charge. I'll have to see for the next few days if that's a pattern, or if it's just this first day that's tough on the phone -- but the iPhone's battery seems to lasts longer; about a day or two, depending on how intensively I use it.

__Notifications__ Android's notification system is a clear winner. Rather than in-your-face pop-ups like on the iPhone, they appear quietly along the top of the screen as they happen, and when you drag down the status bar you can see a list of the latest ones and tap one to go to the application that produced it. The otherwise rather useless trackball pulses a light when there are new notifications. Perfect.

My only slight criticism is that notifications often arrive late. When I receive a new reply on twitter, or a new e-mail, it may take 5-10 minutes for the Nexus One to notify me. The reason for this has nothing to do with Android's notification system. It has to do with the fact that the notifications are produced locally -- to save battery, applications only check for updates every 10-20 minutes -- but still it's a bit of a shame. When somebody tells me they'll send an e-mail, on the iPhone I get a push notification within seconds. It's not _all that_ important, but I still appreciate it. Of course, this is possible because iPhone notifications are pushed from the Apple server which receives it from various parties that can check for new mail ever second if they like, they don't have power issues.

Alright, let's see what tomorrow will be like.