Remember Apple's push iPhone notifications that were supposed to be available in September, but weren't? Apple's silence has lead to much speculation as to whether push notifications are still in the pipes or if the feature has been axed entirely. Site MacRumors offers its own speculation, claiming to have heard rumblings from Apple about an alternate to the push notifications that would allow apps to continue running even after an app is closed.
The push notifications would permit third-party apps to notify you of updates even when the app is closed. An instant messaging or scheduling app would benefit greatly from push notifications, since the app could alert you to new messages and events without requiring you to open the app first. For people like me who can get easily distracted and forget that I was in the middle of an instant message conversation, this would be a very helpful feature.
But some say it wouldn't do quite enough, which is where the multitasking rumors come in. The iPhone is already capable of running programs in the background; however, the feature is limited to Apple original programs like iPod music. If Apple were to allow third-party apps to run in the background, then it would allow for the same features as the push notifications, while also opening up apps like internet radio to keep playing after the app is closed.
Of course, a major issue with allowing multitasking on the iPhone is the memory strain. On current iPhones multitasking, if implemented at all, would need to be limited. However, MacRumors speculates that the next-generation iPhone will be optimized to take advantage of multitasking and will support running more apps in the background.
The biggest question, though, is why would Apple allow multitasking? Push notifications make sense because they do not benefit any third-party apps that would directly compete with Apple's own services. However, it seems that Internet radio apps stand to benefit greatly from multitasking, but that could detract from Apple's own iTunes service. Some other apps might thrive in a multitasking environment, but iTunes is Apple's cash cow, and I don't see Apple making any changes that could interfere with that success.