Smartphones

Even men can multitask in Android

Jack Wallen offers some tips and tricks for making multitasking on the Android platform almost as easy as it is on your desktop.

In a recent post by Toni Bowers, she asked the TechRepublic community if you all think that women are better at multitasking than men. Regardless of any study results or your own personal beliefs, Android doesn't show gender preference or favoritism. Whether you're a man or a woman, Android actually does true multitasking, unlike the "other" mobile OS.

When you open a task in Android, it remains open until you actually close it - you know, sort of like a desktop PC. This is very much evident with tablets (such as the Motorola Xoom, offered by Verizon Wireless), but on smaller handsets (like the Droid X and Samsung Captivate), multitasking isn't so obvious. However, with a few tips, tricks, and an extra app (for good measure), multitasking on the Android platform can be almost as easy as it is on your desktop.

Let's take a look at these tips as well as an outstanding application that makes multitasking a no-brainer (as it should be).

Switching tasks

So, you know all those tasks are running on your phone somewhere. You're staring at your Droid X desktop and all you see are icons and widgets. How do you get to a list of all currently running applications so that you can either open one back up or close one to free up some memory? That, my friend, is simple. If you press and hold the Home button on your handset, the Android "Task Manager" will open, allowing you to select which app you want to go back to (see Figure A).

Figure A

Tap the app you want to use and it will immediately open.

Tap the app you want to use and it will immediately open.

Back to task

This one is pretty nifty. If you have a few apps open (the ones you usually use), don't hit the Home button to open one of the other tasks. Instead, use the above Home key trick to open the Task Manager, and then select the other app. Now, if you want to go back to the previous app, hit the Back button and you will go right back the app you previously had open. This doesn't work if you hit the Home button and then open the next app, because the Back button will assume the most recent action was the Home screen, which is exactly where you will be when you hit the Back button.

Make use of widgets

Obviously, you can create shortcuts to launch applications and then use those applications as per normal. But some applications offer widgets that can be placed on the desktop that give the same functionality but allow for the application to not have to be opened up to use. Instead, the widget resides on your desktop, displaying whatever you need to see or know.

Unfortunately, not all applications have widgets. The best way to find out is to long-press the Home screen (this may vary depending upon the handset and provider) and then select Widget. Scroll around the listing to see what widgets are available. If the widget you want isn't there, the best thing to do is to go to the Android Market and do a search for "widget" (no quotes) and scroll around to find what you need.

For those of you who love the HTC widgets but don't have an HTC handset, give Beautiful Widgets a go. It'll set you back $2.88 (USD), but it's worth it for the clock/weather widget alone.

Smart Taskbar

The Smart Taskbar is one heck of an application that allows quick access to all applications, running tasks, running widgets, create quick launch buttons, and more. This app can be found from the Android Market and, once installed, will place a tiny arrow on the right side of your home screen (see Figure B). Tap that arrow to reveal the Smart Taskbar tool.

Figure B

Tapping the small left-pointing arrow will open Smart Taskbar.

Once Smart Taskbar is open (see Figure C) you will see icons for all your installed applications. Tap on the Tasks tab and then tap on the running app you want to switch to.

Figure C

To configure Smart Taskbar, tap the configure button (the gear button) and then click Preferences.

With Smart Taskbar, it's also possible to create five quick launch buttons. These buttons live just over the tabs (you can see I have a Kindle app launcher, Web browser launcher, Google Docs launcher, Pumpkins and Monsters launcher, and FM Radio launcher). When there are no launchers present, each location will have a "+" button. Tap the "+" button, and then locate the launcher you want.

Smart Taskbar can do quite a bit more than this. I highly recommend you install it and then play around with the app to find out what it does that suits your needs best. Also note there are two versions: Free and Paid. The paid version will unlock the task killer, backup, allow you to build custom action button, and remove the ads.

It's true that Android does handle multitasking much better than the competition. With a few tweaks and/or tips, you can have your Android device multitasking as it was designed to do.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

7 comments
dinkydonko
dinkydonko

And what about Maemo? I have Iphone, Android 2.3 and Maemo - Maemo wins hands down for multitasking. Expect Meego will match at least and with the ability to run android apps on Meego the Nokia N9 could be a cracker!

tracwhitlow-x5
tracwhitlow-x5

THE ANDROID SYSTEM FOR MY HOME PC? NOW I'D BUY THAT!

tutor4pc
tutor4pc

The article got me excited. To bad. I downloaded the app and tried to run it on my HTC Hero 200. I get into the setup screen but not into the application. The descriptions are off the wall and I am sorry for wasting my time. The trick with the home screen seems to be nice at first. But just because I once used an application I do not want that icon in the task list that does not tell me if the app is still active or not. I stick with my old task manager in AndroidBooster. That gives me real control.

Andy M
Andy M

Good Android tips. While it's true that Android's multi-tasking is better than iOS and Windows Phone 7, there are other phones with better multi-tasking than Android. WebOS and BlackBerry come immediately to mind. That's one thing I miss about BlackBerry from when I switched to Android, as too many things (not everything) pause operations when you switch focus on Android and they just kept processing on the BlackBerry. But even with that I don't regret switching to Android. :)

Denise Dow
Denise Dow

I've been holding off upgrading my phone (it has a track ball if you can imagine!) awaiting the next BB announcement, what have you heard about it, is it worth the wait? Will I be able to view and update .docs ?

Andy M
Andy M

I switched from BB to Android, but Documents to Go was what I used on BB to view and edit documents. Works great, and you can buy it now and use it on both your current phone and your next one when you get it.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

But it is a tablet and you want to upgrade your phone... It looks like documents to go can edit documents on BB devices. I find people are doing this on the 9800 Torch from AT&T. This phone is a few months old. Is there a newer one you are aware of?

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