Does the iPhone OS Need Multitasking?
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the launch of the iPhone 3GS, rumors are beginning to circulate about what we can expect from an iPhone 4G. One of the most-wanted, and most-speculated features for the next-generation iPhone OS is the ability to truly multitask between apps.
Apple has neither confirmed nor denied that a next-generation iPhone OS is impending at all, but that hasn't stopped the speculation. Apple seems to be a slave to routine, and past development and release cycles suggest that we can expect a new iPhone OS this summer.
Multitasking, or the lack thereof, has been one of the most prevalent complaints about the iPhone as a serious business smartphone--although I am not sure it is iPhone users who are doing the complaining. The lack of iPhone multitasking was a prime target of Verizon's "Droid Does" marketing campaign for the Android-based Motorola Droid.
The reality, though, is that the iPhone OS is already capable of multitasking--technically speaking. Certain apps and functions already multitask. You can switch to email or calendar while a voice call is still connected in the background. You can listen to music from the iPod function while continuing to use other apps on the iPhone. The multitasking is there, Apple has just restricted which apps actually have access to it.
To be honest, the iPhone screen only has enough real estate to display one app at a time, so multitasking is irrelevant in most cases. What is more important than literally leaving other apps open in the background, is building apps that are capable of retaining their state even when they're not in the foreground.
In other words, I don't need the app to run simultaneously, but as I switch from app to app I would like for the app to remember where I was so I don't have to start over each time. Since I can only see one app at a time anyway, this sort of app memory basically achieves the same goal as true multitasking. This solution is the responsibility of the app developers rather than Apple itself, and many apps already take this approach.
True multitasking introduces some additional issues that Apple, or iPhone users will have to contend with.
1. Battery Life. Battery life is often cited by Apple as one of the reasons multitasking hasn't been allowed thus far. The more apps that are running at the same time, the faster the battery power will be consumed.
2. Performance. Multitasking is still limited by the processing power and memory available to the system. Opening two or three applications on a Windows PC may work fine, but if you open ten applications you will probably grind your system to a virtual halt. Running multiple applications simultaneously will bog the iPhone down and could lead to frustrating performance.