Apple to allow iPhone multitasking?

February 4, 2009 // 9:12 a.m.

Tags: #apple #firmware #iphone #iphone-30 #ipod-touch #macos #macos-x #mac-os-x #multitasking #os-x #push-notification

The iPhone OS might just finally be getting true multitasking features with the rumour that Apple will be relaxing its ban on third-party background tasks.

Reported over on MacRumours, many are taking the lack of the announced “Push Notification” functionality in the latest firmware release for the company's popular touch phone as an indicator that the current restrictions on background tasks could be lifted in the near future.

Currently, Apple doesn't allow third party software to run as a background task – instead requiring each application to fully quit when a different task is launched. While this keeps memory clear and the OS ticking over nicely, the restriction does make the development of software such as instant messaging systems somewhat of a challenge. “Push Notification” was Apple's solution to this problem: a system by which an application could be alerted even if they are not currently active. Despite being announced back in June, the functionality has not yet made it into any officially released firmware for the iPhone or iPod Touch – with Steve Jobs claimed to have described things as “running a bit late.”

While it could well be that Apple is holding the functionality back from release until it's absolutely sure it's not going to cause any problems with the platform, there are hints that the company will – either instead of or to complement the push notification system – allow a small number of user selectable programs to run as background tasks, remaining active even when another app has focus. If this proves true, it opens the iPhone and iPod Touch platform up for some exciting new software developments – but could be restricted to just one or two applications at a time due to limited memory capacity in the hardware. This is likely something that Apple will be addressing in the next revision of the hardware, should the restriction on running tasks truly be lifted.

If the restrictions are lifted - and background tasks are finally allowed - can you think of a killer app that the platform is missing? Tempted to look into iPhone software development a bit more, or is the platform still to restrictive even with true multitasking? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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