Luke Wroblewski recently wrote a post in which he suggests that Apple may be limiting the iPad to one app at a time not for performance or screen real estate reasons, but to manage complexity. In fact, the iPad Human Interface Guidelines seem to corroborate this idea:

The best iPad applications give people innovative ways to interact with content while they perform a clearly defined, finite task. Resist the temptation to fill the large screen with features that are not directly related to the main task. In particular, you should not view the large iPad screen as an invitation to bring back all the functionality you pruned from your iPhone application. – iPad HIG

iPad Calendar

Could it be that the future of computing is mono-tasking? It probably sounds like I am being sarcastic here, but I’m not. Research shows that humans are just not very good at multitasking  even if they think otherwise. By allowing only one open application at a time the user can, as Apple puts it, “perform a clearly defined, finite task”. This could do wonders for our distracted brains.

In addition to saving our brains, perhaps the iPad will help save technology from itself. Technology has a terrible track record when it comes to simplicity. The temptation to add more and more functionality is far too great and the costs of doing so are too low. By constraining software makers in just the right places, Apple can push them to create simpler, more effective software and that is almost certainly by design.

For more on this topic:
Stanford Research Paper – Cognitive control in media multitaskers
LukeW – Are iPad’s Limitations Design Decisions?
D A Davies – iPad