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Multitasking on a Surface is a Snap


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I had Tweetro and Mail running on my Surface RT. I tapped on a link in Tweetro to open the page in the browser. I finished reading the article in Internet Explorer. I swiped in from the left edge. What app was I switched to?

Tweetro, of course. I expected the swipe to be interpreted as a back to last app gesture, and that it was. Then I waited for a second or so. I swiped in from the left edge once more. Although not as confident as last time, I still expected to be switched to Mail, as an IE to Tweetro back to IE swiping sequence didn't make sense.

I was wrong. IE was swiped back in. I needed to find out why and see if there's some underlying logic that determined this. I would have been disappointed if there wasn't. Fortunately, it became quickly apparent what the rationale was. And I wasn't disappointed.

See, on Windows 8, the app that's swiped in from the left edge depends on when you last did a left swipe to switch apps. If like in my example you wait a second or more, you're returned to the previous app. The time delay results in an assumption made that you're continually switching between two specific apps. For example, you're writing an email but consulting a website/document/etc. as you write it. However, if you do a swipe within a second or so of the last, the switched to app is not the one you were on previously, but the next in the queue. The assumption here is because of the minimal time interval between swipes, your intention is to swipe through your running apps rather than jumping back to the last app.

Confused? Watch the video (apologies for the poor production values).


This is pretty great. It makes multitasking even without snap frictionless; you can switch between two apps seamlessly without any interruptions. This is a stellar feature on Windows RT that demonstrates a commendable attention to detail. It's one of those things you may not consciously notice, and that would explain why I've not come across anyone heaping praise on it.

It's little big details like this that make the Surface RT an attractive alternative to the iPad. There are many points that the iPad beats the Surface on, but multitasking is not one of them. And multitasking is a big deal. It's no small win. And that's why Microsoft should really be making a bigger effort to emphasise the practicalities this win brings to the user.

This was a post from my blog focusing on Microsoft's devices and services' UX/UI found at mtrostyle.net - Home. Check it out if you've a moment. If you enjoyed reading it, would appreciate it if you spread the word. Catch me @mtrostyle.
This is something I for one have been taking advantage of and yes it is a great feature that doesn't really get talked about. Of course it wasn't directly the point of the post but it is worth pointing out how swiping in and back pulls up the list of open apps. Now using this gesture with the others you mentioned means very powerful multitasking options.
Is it not showing as an embed in the original post for you?

In any case, direct link to the video is here: .

No it did not, but thanks for the link. That looks amazing. But I could not replicate it. I tried by having the Mail app, Skype and IE open. But what I did notice is that if I do what you show on that video within IE, I can switch from one page to another by sliding from the left to right and from the right to the left. I'm not quite sure what I am missing. With the three apps - as mentioned earlier open - when I switch from the left to the right, I get the bar where I can see the app windows listed one below the other (in my example there are two) and right at the bottom of that bar, I can see the Start screen in miniature clicking on which brings me back to the start screen. It is like using the Win key. So, I wonder, is this app specific? Should not be at least in the way you describe it.

One thing I noticed is that if I open an app from within IE - like what I did when I viewed the original post that you linked to and which contains a link to Tweetro, I go into the app store - specifically to the page to buy Tweetro). Now I can switch from the App store back to IE (the page containing the link). But If I am in IE and I have the Mail app open, I can't move from IE to the Mail app doing what you described - unless a link in the Mail app leads to IE or from IE to the Mail app, if you know what I mean.
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Krista, there are three motions plus one for IE you noted. First let's start with IE. When in the app you can swipe left and right to go forward and back pages as you noted. You do not need to do this from the edges of the screen.

Moving on to the three multi task gestures, all take place by initiating the swipe from the left edge of the screen coming from the bezel onto the screen.

1. Swipe in from left edge to go to previous task. Continue swiping to cycle through all open apps.

2. Pause for a second before swiping in from the left edge to switch back and forth between the two most recently used apps.

3. Swipe in part way ~25% and without lifting swipe back towards the left edge to get a list of all open apps and the start button as you described.
I think to really get a feel of the timing for 1 and 2 you need to use a counting tech used as a drummer. Quickly switch would be simply 1,2,3,4 or the slower would be 1 e & A, 2 e & a, 3 etc. on both examples you swipe on the number count- getting a different result as described by OP. :big smile:
OK. Thanks guys, I got it. I had to go to Settings>PC Settings and then to App Switching to enable that feature. And, yeah, it is amazingly convenient!