AppSwitch in Review – Taking the power into our own hands!

One of the more confusing aspects for both the geeks and casual users of iOS 4.0 is definitely the multitasking part. A friend of mine, after having recently bought an iPhone 4 complained to me about a bug which caused the whole screen to shift. Only when it happened again and I was around to witness it did I reveal to her the secret — that it was in fact the multitasking tray. And I’m not even going to start about the bizarre idea of mixing in there all recently opened apps regardless of whether they support multitasking or not. But thankfully for this last part, a clever team of devs  - XCool Apps – have come up with a completely legitimate solution – AppSwitch.

The purpose of AppSwitch is plain and simple – to put some of the control over what’s going on in our iPhones and iPod Touches back into our own hands. It does this by providing a bunch of information about the iDevice, from the simple stuff such as detailed system information on board and current RAM status to the advanced console log and, of course, a complete list of all running processes.

I know, all of that other stuff is great too, but let’s start with the most tasty part – the process list. AppSwitch shows all currently running processes, both the system and user ones, together with their process id and start time. Each process may be assigned a category, which include Multitasking (the everyday iOS 4.0 compatible apps), Built-in (like Messages, Mail, Safari, etc.) and System, though at the moment only a handful are entered. One stat I really feel is missing is the amount of RAM each process takes up. On the other hand, AppSwitch allows users to quickly switch to any process or even a particular screen within it, so long as if the developers have entered the appropriate information in the AppSwitch database.

In addition to the process information options, AppSwitch offers you detailed system information on your iDevice, including currently assigned IP addresses, MAC addresses, the device’s UDID, model name and a bunch of other data. On a separate tab you will find a handy pie-chart visualizing the current status of your iDevice’s memory, which is split into Free, Inactive (left over from old apps and easily freeable), Active (taken up by currently running apps) and Wired (taken up by various system activities), together with the Page in and out stats. Finally there is the console log, detailing various system messages split into several categories (Info, Notice, Warning and Debug). While I’m a bit hazy on how the average user would read this I imagine it could very useful for developers who are still shying away from the Jailbreak arena.

The interface of AppSwitcher is nicely done; it’s very clear and intuitive. A nice touch is that you can download icon packs for the process list, making it much more visually readable. The downside is that icons are only supported for apps that the devs have actually entered in their database. Which, incidentally, can be updated in-App without the hassle of waiting for an updated version of the app itself.  And here is where us, the users, come in. Realistically assessing their capabilities, they’ve decided to use the crowd sourcing model of updating the app database. For each process you can send a feedback e-mail describing the application’s name, developer and category and very likely, it will be included in the next database update.

Apple is the king of interface design and here it stands far ahead of the competition. Unfortunately the whole multitasking interface is, at least IMHO, a complete blunder. And it’s great that even with the strict ToS that Apple enforces over the developers, XCool Apps have managed to sneak in such a handy application as AppSwitch into the App Store. At the moment they still have quite a ways to go, especially populating the app database (out of the 200,000+ apps in the store only a little more than 400 are recognized by AppSwitch) and implementing some simple functionality like displaying occupied memory on a per process basis. At any rate, there isn’t really a “legit” alternative to the app at the moment. So if you value control over your iDevice even in the slightest regard, AppSwitch is certainly a steal at just $0.99.

With this I declare AppSwitch officially touched!

App Summary
Title: AppSwitchDeveloper: XCool Apps
Reviewed Ver:1.0Min OS Req:3.0
Price:$0.99App Size:7.95MB
  • Unique and well-realised process listing functionality
  • Additional Memory, System and console stats
  • In-app updateble app databse
  • Pluggable app icons
  • Very limited process database at this point
  • Doesn’t display occupied memory on a per-process basis
  • Doesn’t have a separate category for Cydia-apps and processes

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