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“With great power comes greater responsibilities” – Spiderman’s grandfather, Uncle Ben

The Droid is a powerful phone with as much RAM as my circa 1998 PC had and processor that could put more than a few men on the moon. Running Android, the hardware and software are a powerful combination that enable multitasking – I can run many applications at the same time. And I do: 2 email clients, navigation + GPS, calendar, Pandora and others.

Multitasking is a prized point of differentiation against the iPhone, as some of the latest Verizon ads indicate. 

Managing my apps

But with great power comes greater responsibilities. The Android OS is still quite young and leaves the management of multitasking to users. With so many applications running, I find my phone sluggish most of the time. 

Applications each consume some RAM and some of my bandwidth. After all, they’re running in the background to alert me of new emails, changes in navigation route or streaming some music.

But I’ve found that very few application developers are good citizens on the phone. Each application assumes unfettered access to system resources, resulting in slow performance even when the phone is “doing nothing.” Testing the interaction effects of many applications vying for the same resources is hard and at this early stage in the market, relatively unimportant for developers.

So the users are left to do the cleaning, like I was when I deleted 25 apps this weekend and restored my device to its lightning fast glory.

Another approach on garbage collection

Apple has taken a different approach: enforce single task usage until the operating system is mature enough to handle multitasking without burdening the user. The iPad is lightning quick all the time for precisely this reason. But this is at the cost of restricting user experience. I can’t read a book on Amazon and listen to Mozart at the same time on my iPad.

Ultimately, both operating systems will provide great multitasking support. At the moment however, the approaches to solving this problem are simulacrums to their parent company’s market approaches.

Google pursues open route launching early and often, asking users to mitigate the multitasking interaction effects in exchange for early support of multitasking. On the other hand, Apple provides a limited platform with a seamless experience the masses demand.

I’m using one device on each platform for now and hedge my bets.

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