Multitasking on the iPod touch

I have recently bought an iPod Touch, to replace an old iPod that got dropped in water. One of the reasons for choosing the Touch was the ability to run apps, including the 3CX softphone, allowing it to be used as an extension to my phone system.

I know this will not be a popular post with some people, but I have to say that my experience of multi-taking on the iPod Touch is horrible, and it’s certainly ensured that I won’t consider an iPhone when I next look for a new mobile. Apple makes some great products, and I just can’t understand how they came up with an implementation of multi-tasking that is so clunky, and actually makes Symbian S60 look like a shining example of good UI design.

3CX phone allows me to use an iPod touch as an extension to my phone system

This is the 3CX phone in action. It works pretty well, and means that I can effectively use the iPod Touch to replace my DECT cordless phone, when I’m around the house or in the back garden. Pretty neat; as I’ve mentioned before, my phone system is all VoIP now.

Of course, for a soft phone to be useful, it has to be running, and 3CX goes into multi-tasking mode. That’s fine – I don’t want it to suddenly disconnect from the phone system and miss calls as a result. But what happens when an app is multi-tasking? You get a big red pulsing bar at the top of the iPod screen, that’s what. It looks like this:

When an app is multitasking, this red bar appears at the top of the screen

In a way this is useful, as it lets me know the application is running, and I haven’t accidentally quit it, but I can’t help thinking it could have been a little more subtle, perhaps? Just turn the title bar red, maybe? That’s particularly important, because not all apps appear clever enough to know about this, and in some of them, if the red bar is at the top of the screen, the labels for some buttons disappear off the bottom. Oh dear.

Now, let’s see what happens when you double click the button on the Touch, to see the app list.

In the list of apps, there's no context to say 3cx is different

This is the task switcher / list of recent apps. First, it seems to be essentially doing two things – allowing me to either close a running app, or remove something from the recent list. That’s fine, but there’s absolutely no context here. If the way that 3CX is running is significant enough to merit that pulsing red bar elsewhere, why isn’t it indicated here in some way too? If the app is multi-tasking, then closing it from here will stop it doing so and that might be important – in the case of 3CX, it means you won’t get your phone calls.

So, why can’t there be something to indicate that?

The other bugbear I have about this is that it all seems a hell of a palaver; I’m used to Symbian, and I know it’s fashionable to knock it, but if I wanted to kill an app, I’d hold down the menu key, pick it from the list, and press the C/Delete key to kill it. Job done.

Here, I’ve got to double click the button, then hold my finger on an icon until they all wobble and the minus sign appears, and then tap the one I want to kill, and then press the button to get back to ‘normal’ mode.

I really am struggling to see that as an advance. Yes, I know there are lots of things that iOS does that people think Symbian makes impossible; I know that many of the settings in Symbian are tucked away and confusing; and I know that I can just tap on an app in iOS and it’ll carry on where I left off, which is probably find for most users.

But I still really find this multitasking business – as described here, with 3CX – utterly bonkers on the iPod Touch. And since SIP functionality is something I consider very important in a mobile, it really has put me right off having an iPhone.

8 Replies to “Multitasking on the iPod touch”

  1. Surely as the app your talking about is 3rd party it is the developers fault it the red bar is too thick and there being no indication on the app icon.
    As for te quiting of the app. It is stanard for iPod Touch and iPhone. Don’t you know that before you bought it?
    This article is about a badly researched purchase with an anti-Apple rant.

    1. First, apologies for the delay; your comment got caught by the spam filter while I was on hoiday.

      Badly researched article, you say? Can you point to a factual inaccuracy? Does the red bar not appear? It is not placed there by the app – it’s placed there by iOS when a program runs in a proper background (ie not dormant) mode. The lack of useful context in the app switcher on iOS is not down to the application – it is down to the operating system.

      If there are two classes of applications that can appear in the switcher – some of which will simply resume where they left off when you remove them, and some which will actually stop doing a task when you remove them – then why is it not reasonable of me to point out that this is a daft bit of UI design? The icons in the switcher don’t appear to change for any application – they are the standard unlaunched, un-badged icon that appears on the main screen. If there is a method by which a developer can alter the icon in the switcher/recent apps list, and it’s not being used, then I’d accept it’s the developer’s fault. But I’ve not seen any other app do that either. Have you?

      As for being an ‘anti-Apple rant,’ you should see me when I do get ranting. This is a critique of what, in my view, is a pretty poor piece of implementation by Apple, a company for whom I have a lot of respect. In fact, far from being anti-Apple, for the bulk of my working life, I’ve used their systems; most of the work I do for PC magazines is done using Apple equipment.

      Running 3CX wasn’t the sole reason for buying an iPod touch – it’s just one extra reason. And I think that, as someone who commentates on technology, I should be quite free to point out the shortcomings of parts of the interface in any product, whether it’s from Apple or any other manufacturer.

  2. You shouldn’t blame a bad app as the total failure of iOS multitasking.

    Bria App answers calls while on background, so does Acrobits VOIP App. It’s just that 3CX does not have proper background mode. But that is the fault of the app maker.

    Look at Viber. It works in the background and uses the push mechanism which results zero battery drain.

    I agree with some of your comments of the multitasking handling UI being clunky, but you should be reporting correctly. You are normally excellent in that regard. This is the first time I saw you fail.

    1. 3cx does have a background mode, but also has to work round deficiencies in the is, explained on their blog.

      Other multiple tasking apps suffer from this too, like Awareness. The red bar is intrusive and the list of recent apps fails to distinguish between those that are running, waiting for notifications or idle.

      That’s not me being wrong. That’s how iOS works. When you might need it, it doesn’t show you that closing something may impact on what you’re doing.

  3. The iOS background mode is not the same as in most other OS. Apps are expected to sleep in the background (no red bar) and instead rely on the push mechanism to alert the user (ringing) and wake up on user command. Viber works that way and it works very reliably.

    Fully running in the background is available as an option but as it drains the battery (as expected), it is not an advised mode of operation. I agree about the clunky UI but if an app is not designed as recommended by the OS vendor it is not the fault of the OS that user experience is not good. Follow the rules and you can offer a seamless experience. Viber did so did 3CX could.

    1. The big difference is that Viber is a service. 3cx is a SIP client.

      It works with any SIP server, including my pbx, and that of many other companies.

      The SIP standard does not include configuring ones server to notify Apple each time a call comes in, nor should it have to.

      But that’s the way Apple fudged background tasks with push notifications. This isn’t a 3cx problem. It’s an iOS flaw, made worse by poor ui design.

  4. The reason for your constant red bar is that you are using a UDP connection to your SIP server. This is the default for a VoIP setup.
    Sadly iOS can’t hold on to a UDP connection whilst putting an app in background sleep (since UDP is connection-less) so the app must thrash your battery waiting for any notification from the SIP server.

    If you can configure a non-standard TCP connection to the SIP server in this instance, 3CX will play nicely with iOS multi tasking.But requries support in your PBX. it’s supported by asterix, which if your home PBX is a freebie, you’re probably using.

    1. Thanks for that; I’ll have a fiddle – I’m actually using 3CX as the home PBX, so it should be a simple change

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