Apple announced this week that multitasking would be included as a part of the iPhone's OS 4. For its users, this is huge news: one of the few frustrating aspects of the device has been its inability to run apps in the background. Apple revealed that the obstacle was mostly related to optimizing the power consumption of background apps to save battery life. After solving that problem, multitasking was quite easy. It will be rolled out to iPhones this summer and iPads in the fall.

While multitasking is a very welcome addition to iPhones, it will mostly serve to provide the smartphone with better entertainment value. After all, you can't do any real work on an iPhone. But for the iPad, multitasking has the potential for the new gadget to take on an important new dimension. With this new capability, they begin to compare more to netbooks and could actually be used for work.

If using the iPad in a mobile setting, then you still probably won't get much work done, since its on-screen keyboard will make productivity challenging. But if you've got it set up on your desk with a Bluetooth keyboard, suddenly it will feel a lot like a computer. You can switch back and forth between a spreadsheet, a presentation, an web browser, etc.

How the iPad's multitasking will work hasn't yet been revealed. On the iPhone version, you can have multiple applications going at once, but you can only display one at one at a time. However, what if the iPad's multitasking includes an additional layer of functionality? Imagine if it allows users to display more than one window at a time on the screen. That would provide an additional dimension to its work productivity potential.

On the iPhone the mere physical constraint of its screen size could explain why this additional multitasking capability wasn't an option. If you had two windows on its tiny display, you couldn't see what was going on. But for the iPad, users have a lot more screen to work with. For that reason, having more than one application display side-by-side would work just fine.

One of the problems here could be power usage. Remember, that's what constrained Apple from including multitasking in the first place. If more than one application is being displayed simultaneously, it's hard to imagine that the battery could sustain much of that activity. Then, the background power-saving tactics wouldn't apply to whatever apps are displayed.

Still, even without multiple app display, multitasking will make the iPad a far more useful device for work. Even if it remains a little less functional than a netbook or laptop for that end, you could get real work done. That should allow the iPad to appeal to a broader audience -- beyond just the crowd who wants another entertainment device.

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