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Rumor Has It: iPhone 4.0 Bringing Multitasking

The iPhone has a number of advantages over its smartphone competitors, but one thing it hasn’t had that users have been clamoring for is true multitasking. Push notifications were intended as a workaround designed to give users the ability to stay up-to-date with multiple apps without having to actually run them at the same time.

It’s still only a partial solution, though, and one many iPhone users aren’t satisfied with. True multitasking is still high on the want list of many iPhone users, and really remains the only thing not addressed by the many major feature additions iPhone 3.0 brought. Luckily, true app backgrounding capabilities are said to be on the way in iPhone 4.0.

That’s according to sources AppleInsider describes as having a “proven track record in predicting Apple’s technological advances.” According to those same sources, though, Apple (s aapl) still has a ways to go before it can introduce these features to iPhone users. But the problem doesn’t lie with the iPhone’s ability to run multiple applications at once.

In fact, the iPhone is quite good at multitasking in its current incarnation. Nike+ runs great while you do other things like take calls and/or check your email. But it’s the only non-Apple app that’s allowed that privilege. And Apple developed it for Nike (s nke), so it doesn’t really count. What’s new in iPhone 4.0 is that third-party developers will finally be able to run their apps in the background, too.

Apple hasn’t enabled true multitasking for all apps not because it’s been technically prevented from doing so, but because doing so represents a security risk in terms of opening the door to apps being able to run in the background without the user’s knowledge, which is how viruses and other malware works.

There’s also the issue of increased performance requirements, and increased battery usage. Apple is said to be addressing both of those with the new framework, though the source provided no specifics about how exactly that would be managed. I predict that mutitasking will only work on newer hardware, most likely the 3GS and above. A next-gen iPhone will probably be built from the ground up with multitasking in mind, and should offer battery and processor improvements scaled to compensate.

Another challenge Apple faces in bringing background multitasking to the iPhone is redesigning the user interface. As of now, users can access any currently running Apple programs that use backgrounding by tapping a thin colored bar at the top of the screen. While that works quite well for just one app, if you have a number running at once, it could quickly become way too cluttered and obscure the app you’re actually using at the moment.

According to AppleInsider’s source, the solution in the works at Apple leverages some existing tech from OS X to accomplish this. Personally, I’m betting on some kind of Exposé-type interface, possibly accessed through a special gesture or in a way similar to the one used now to bring up the iPhone’s Spotlight search screen. It might also take a page out of mobile Safari’s book, and use an interface similar to the one the browser has for displaying multiple pages.

The iPhone’s interface in general could probably use a makeover at the point. It’s been unchanged since its launch, and while many would call that a testament to its strength and intuitiveness, there’s no denying that as the iPhone gains new abilities, Apple might want to consider some more drastic changes to the ways in which users access and make use of those functions.

I’m sure Apple can handle the UI challenges, but I’m much more wary about how it addresses the potential security risks that come with opening up backgrounding. Luckily, it still has absolute control over the App Store, but it still might be possible for industrious hackers to bypass the safeguards in place and get some malicious software onto people’s devices.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

24 Responses to “Rumor Has It: iPhone 4.0 Bringing Multitasking”

  1. MarkyMark

    Personally I’m okay with Apple taking as much time as they need to get this working just right so that it doesn’t rob my precious iPhone of even more battery life or causing the thing to burn up in my hands because it’s trying to do a million things at the same time.

    I think people just need to calm down and realize that we can’t expect to have every feature that’s available on a huge, well ventilated desktop computer. I think we’re too spoiled and expect too much. That doesn’t mean Apple shouldn’t improve and/or innovate even further but with each new improvement there’s a price to pay.

    I’m sure I won’t be popular with that comment but I just think these devices already do so much that a majority of us don’t even use that adding more features that could mean dealing with more issues.

  2. HArbmaster

    I had heard a rumor that microsoft is releasing a windows mobile 7, and that, like apple, they will be eliminating multitasking. Which practically means that apple wont add multitasking since other companies are following them, leaders arent followers right? This actually proves that they wont add multitasking but dont get me wrong because I would love nothing more than jultiasking on my iphone

  3. Ilan Ben Menachem

    Yes we can do multitask with i phone.there are so many function likes as good capacity to access internet download data.this one is good for us.

  4. Matt Hayes

    Multi-Tasking would be absolutely fantastic, as long as it’s designed to ensure we can’t end up with malware or viruses on a device that I depend on throughout my day. I still hold out hopes that Apple/AT&T will allow us to tether our iPhones so we don’t need to pay $45+ per month for a separate mobile internet device. I would also like to see user selected backgrounds for all of the home screen (not just the lock screen) and also the ability to have custom tones for SMS and e-mail.
    I guess it’s just a waiting game now.

  5. As for as I know, Blackberry has multi-tasking and is also considered the phone of choice for security. I’m sure Apple can address both issues, when they do, maybe I’ll give up my BB for an iphone.

  6. “As of now, users can access any currently running Apple programs that use backgrounding by tapping a thin colored bar at the top of the screen.”

    Huh? Can someone explain this sentence to me? I’m pretty sure this isn’t true.

    • Think of the phone running in the background – the green bar at the top lets you get back to that ‘app’. I don’t know of any other app that does this – I haven’t tried Nike+. The other background example is when using iPod. I can click twice on the home button to access music controls.

      I suppose the general point is valid – the UI needs a tweak before it can handle a variety of apps and switching between them

    • Anonymous

      I think the solution would be to have that bar bring up an iPhone version of the App Switcher. It seems to make the most sense without having to rework a lot of the UI.

  7. David McCormack

    I must challenge the prevailing assumption that multitasking needs a faster processor and/or runs the battery down quicker. In any multitasking OS, most running processes (whether they are foreground or background) spend the vast bulk of their time doing absolutely nothing whatsoever. For example, the 62 processes currently running on my desktop are consuming a grand total of just 1-2% CPU. Yes, a badly written app could certainly do something silly that would chew up CPU. It is important to realise, however, that this can happen today when running in the foreground on iPhone OS 3.x just as easily as when running in the background on a hypothetical iPhone OS 4.x.

    One negative to multitasking is that it would make it possible to develop apps that frequently poll a server for updates (something like a Twitter client for example). I think however that the order in which Apple has introduced features to iPhone OS will mitigate against this. They have made an efficient push delivery mechanism available to 3rd party developers long before the introduction of multitasking. So iPhone developers hopefully have the push mindset already. This is in sharp contrast to BlackBerry OS, which has always had multitasking but only very recently opened up its push delivery infrastructure to 3rd party apps. In my experience, the vast majority of 3rd party BlackBerry OS apps that interact with servers while running in the background are pollers – quite ironic on a platform famous for push-delivered email.

    • i think there is one thing missing from the iphone, multitasking, this would make it so mcuh better. If apple do bring out multitasking on the new iphone os 4, it will make such a big difference