I have an idea for a potential solution to the iPad’s multitasking and discoverability issues.*
This is quick, off-the-cuff, and not fully fleshed out. The kind of idea I’d throw out in a brainstorming meeting at work. Please bear that in mind, and be kind.
I’m calling my idea The ActionBar.
I’m envision a panel that slides in from the left (or perhaps right) side of the screen, allowing it to be close to the user’s hands. I’d expect the user to be able to use their thumb to both reveal and interact with the contents of this panel.
Once revealed, there’s an option to pin it open permanently, a sort of power-user mode for those who want to take advantage of these controls on a regular basis. This panel could perhaps replace the Dock, as well as provide a home for all sorts of interesting features and functionality. Here’s a few that immediately come to mind:
Dock-like functionality for 3-4 commonly used apps (or folders of apps)
a DragThing-style “dropzone”, a sort of visual clipboard, for sharing files/assets between apps
an app-specific section for additional functionality or settings
on-screen buttons for triggering various multitasking-related views and functionality
Really, the sky’s the limit to what you could use this area for. The key is that it adds a consistent visual location to the interface for more complex functionality to live, rather than hiding those features behind obscure finger incantations. I think today’s iPads can afford to sacrifice a bit of screen real estate in the service of clarity.
*: If you’re unfamiliar with the iPad’s multitasking features, or haven’t kept up with the recent discourse around its failings, take a look at Gruber’s take on Daring Fireball, or Rene Ritchie’s perspective on Vector.