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Gaston Hillar

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Dual-Core Tablets: They're Just Around the Corner

September 28, 2010

Dell unveiled its Inspiron Duo Tablet powered by a dual-core Intel Atom CPU a few weeks ago. This week, Research In Motion unveiled its Playbook Tablet with support for a dual-core ARM Cortex CPU. Developers will be able to translate this dual-core power into application performance.

In Windows Phone 7 Series Multicore Programming Features, I talked about mobile devices adding more processing power. Mobile devices are going multicore, and tablets aren't an exception to this rule.

Multi-touch and voice commands are very important to simplify the interaction between a user and an app that runs on a tablet computer. However, users typically expect tablet apps to provide both a responsive UI (short for "User Interface") and an exciting UX (short for "User eXperience").

Tablet users don't want to see an hourglass when they say "next page". They just want the app to understand the voice command and show the next page for the document as soon as possible. Tablet users don't want to see a progress bar when they use their fingers to produce the gesture that enlarges a video being reproduced; they just want the app to display a bigger video.

No matter the operating system, in order to provide a responsive UI with dual-core tablets, you can run code in more than one thread and use asynchronous programming. The asynchronous operations usually run in additional threads and leave the main thread or the UI thread available to process the UI events. These operations make it easy to create a UI that is available to process the gestures or voice commands received from users. At the same time, because the asynchronous operations can run in additional threads, they take advantage of the processing power provided by the additional physical core.

If you design your application with an asynchronous programming model in mind from scratch, you will be able to provide a really exciting UX for these new dual-core tablets. You can also take full advantage of multi-threading for algorithms that require all the power provided by the available cores. However, it is very important to remember that users want responsive apps. The additional core is great news for developers that are already trained for multicore development.

If you use a task-based programming model, such as .NET Framework 4 with its Task Parallel Library, you will be able to create simple asynchronous code that mixes tasks with continuations and the task scheduler assigns these tasks to software threads. An asynchronous programming model is usually suitable for responsive tablet apps. Task-based programming is an appropriate paradigm to develop this kind of apps.

A year ago, my post Downsizing Multicore Programming Skills to Take Advantage of Intel Atom talked about the new opportunities for multicore programming in modern mobile devices. The new opportunities are even more exciting and it is time to start developing apps that take advantage of the extra processing power.

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