iPhone Multitasking -- We're Still Waiting

People who expect to be able to run any application in the background on the upcoming iPhone iOS 4 are going to be disappointed. Apple is keeping a tight leash on application multitasking, with only a very limited range of capabilities allowed to run in the background.

This isn't a secret, but a lot of people aren't paying attention. Take, for example, Stuart Miles at the blog Pocket-lint, who reported this week: "EXCLUSIVE: iPhone 4 multitasking - massive delays expected." He notes that initial testing of the iPhone 4 shows that only Apple's own apps, like Clock, Mail, and Safari, currently support multitasking. "That's it!" Miles writes, with the exclamation mark.

It seems that, as Jobs pointed out, developers will need to enable multitasking on their apps for the function to work, before it comes with the free iOS 4 update on June 21. Something that's unlikely in a vast number of cases.

When we spoke to a number of developers, that aren't keen to be named in this article for fear of backlash from Apple, they all confirmed to Pocket-lint that, for any app to take advantage of the new multitasking features, it will have to be updated. Furthermore, many of those we spoke to felt that many apps simply won't be.

"Why would you want to multitask during a game," explained one.

Another said that, "the way Apple is marketing it is a bit misleading. Out of the 200,000 apps available, only a few will be able to multitask, and possibly not from day one."

Also:

The news is likely to come as a massive shock to current and new iPhone customers, who will no doubt expect to be able to multitask any app from day one.

It also means that if you do want to multitask, you might not be able to with your favourite apps until that developer updates them.

Not Paying Attention

I think Miles is right about customer expectations. Many customers will expect full multitasking of all apps from the moment the iPhone comes out of the box. It's what you get on a Mac or a PC, after all. And those customers will be disappointed.

Apple has been quite explicit about multitasking limitations since it announced iPhone OS 4 (now known as iOS 4) back in early April. As my colleague Gregg Keizer reported then:

As experts expected, Apple did not throw open the multitasking doors, letting just any developer add full-function multitasking to their applications. Instead, Apple added seven multitasking-specific APIs (application programming interfaces) to the iPhone OS 4 SDK.

Among the tasks that will be allowed to multitask, said [Scott Forestall, Apple senior vice president of iPhone software] are audio play, voice over IP (VoIP), location services, task completion and what Apple called "fast application switching," which suspends an application, then lets a user resume at the point he or she left off.

For example, you'll be able to stream Pandora, receive Skype calls, use location-aware apps, and finish tasks like uploading photos to Flickr, in background. But apps will have to be rewritten to take advantage of those capabilities. Many apps will support multitasking from the moment iOS 4 becomes available June 21, many others will take time or never support multitasking at all. Apple started accepting iOS 4 apps on Thursday.

But Wait! There's Less!

But wait! There's more! (Or, rather, there's less). Apple will make iOS 4 available to owners of existing iPhones. But not all existing iPhones will be supported for everything. Owners of the first-generation iPhone won't get iOS 4 at all. And only owners of recent devices will get multitasking support in iOS 4: For example, the iPhone 3GS, and the 32GB and 64GB models of the latest iPod Touch will support multitasking, but the iPhone 3G (that's the model I now have) won't. Apple says the iOS 4 restrictions on older devices are due to hardware limitations.

Just to be clear, before the Apple fanboys start crawling all down my shirt: I'm not accusing Apple of anything here. It has been quite candid about the limitations of the iOS 4 multitasking. Apple says those restrictions exist to preserve battery life and stability, and I find that quite believable.

But I think a lot of people haven't been paying attention to what Apple has been saying. They're going to buy iPhone 4 expecting complete multitasking, and they're going to feel burned.

Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist. Follow him on Twitter: @MitchWagner.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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