iPhone OS 4.0: Multitasking and App Switching


From an end user perspective, few of the announcements at today’s Apple iPhone OS 4.0 media event were likely as welcome as was the arrival of multitasking. It’s a feature that people have been looking for since the launch of the platform itself, and it looks like we’ll now be rewarded for waiting so long.

While the OS 4.0 implementation of multitasking doesn’t actually run an app in the background, it does something much better in terms of efficient power and resource usage. Apps can take advantage of seven background services to enable crucial functions without putting too much strain on your device. Unfortunately, you’ll have to have a 3GS or third-gen iPod touch or later to use any of these.

7 Services:

Music Playback

Radio apps like Pandora or Last.fm will now be able to continue playing their audio streams in the background. You’ll even be able to control playback from the lock screen. Maybe your inline headphone controls will also work? Wasn’t specifically mentioned, but makes sense.

VoiP Support

Want to use your Skype credit instead of depending on AT&T’s ridiculous rates? Now you can, all the time. Skype can remain open in the background, and still take incoming calls. In theory, it could become the only phone you need. Skype was demoed, but every VoiP app in the business will likely get on board.


Turn-by-turn navigation apps will be able to use your GPS location even when you’re not actually in the app, so your phone can continue to give you directions while you endanger yourself by playing Plants vs. Zombies in traffic. Also, apps will be able to access Wi-Fi and cell tower positioning to lessen the drain on your battery if they don’t need the accuracy of GPS.

Local Push

Apps can push out their own reminders locally on the iPhone without needing to access servers. Great for to-do reminders, among other things.

Task Completion

Set something in motion, like downloading a new track in Tap Tap Revenge, and the app can now make you aware when it’s completed even after you’ve left it. This could be a real time saver.

App State Save/Restore

Switching apps quickly will be a lot easier now that you can freeze the state of an app and quickly switch to another, then switch back and resume exactly where you left off. This is the easiest to implement, and I imagine all developers will include it eventually.

That’s the story of iPhone OS 4.0’s multitasking capabilities. Regardless of its limitations, it will be a hundred times better than things currently are, especially if the developer community embraces the new features, which I’m sure it will. What multitasking service are you most excited about?

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