Is there real multitasking in iPhone OS 4?

Is there real multitasking in iPhone OS 4?
For all iPhone OS 4.0 features - check here.

Multitasking has always been a much-needed feature by smartphone users and some of the major operating systems have had it throughout the years. When the Apple iPhone came out, it really redefined how a smartphone should work. However, as all things under the sun, it was not perfect, and one of the biggest argument of its critics was the lack of multitasking. So now that Apple has just announced that multitasking is coming with iPhone OS 4, which will be launched this summer, the most heavily-attacked drawback seems to have become the device's strongest weapon, as it promises fluid system performance and good battery life. But the war is not over yet. Some people say that what Apple demonstrated was actually not a real multitasking, but some limited workaround that will just present a solution for the most popular services. The reason we came up with this article is because we wanted to answer the question of whether or not the Apple iPhone 3GS and the newer models (because the 2G and 3G won't support that functionality) will actually be able to multitask. So here it goes...

Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 are two of the most popular platforms, and one of those operating systems, which have the ability to run multiple third-party processes at the same time. Indeed, these platforms have had multitasking for some time, but there have always been issues with this. Try loading more than two or three heavier 3rd party apps and the phone is a goner. Or worse, it would simply display an "insufficient memory" message and refuse to start the app. Or even worse, it may freeze, so you'd need to waste your time restarting it. It might even require you to remove the battery, as the device won't even restart. Even though these may seem like extreme cases nowadays, this was a common experience maybe just a year ago.

Then we have Android, the platform that is now prospering thanks to its quickly-improving open-source model and high-quality smartphones like the Motorola DROID and Google Nexus One. Of course, Android has multitasking, but let's take a closer look at how it implements it. You can easily reach a total of six currently opened apps. While this limits you, six apps is not that bad. Who would need more than six apps at the same time? However, the truth is Android actually starts closing apps automatically, once it feels its system resources are running low. So this means that you can open a webpage in the browser, then start listening to music with some player, then play a game (with the music still playing in the background), then check your mail, and then you decide to get back to that webpage but wait! It's gone, and the browser app is loading all over again. This may be counteracted to an extent by equipping the smartphones with better hardware like faster CPUs, more RAM and larger batteries, but as the hardware gets better, the apps will want to take advantage of it, so they will also become more demanding. So, eventually you'll always have that sluggish performance when attempting to have a number of apps simultaneously running, and Android will keep closing the "older" apps. Yes, the Nexus One is snappy now, but are there really many quality apps that can utilize its resources? In other words, Android can multitask, but only a limited number of apps, much like Windows Mobile and Symbian S60.

You have probably already seen what multitasking will look like on the iPhone. There's that dock that appears at the bottom of your screen when you double-press the home button. From there you can jump right to the app that you want, and  you can also close apps inside it, by pressing and holding with a finger for a bit, as if you want to rearrange them.

But one would ask: "Are the multitasking capabilities in iPhone OS 4 any better than what these other platforms offer? And will I be able to run several 3D games at once without the phone crashing (not that I would need that)? And is there some real multitasking going on, not some limited functionality? And if there is, how did they do it? And..." Alright, alright! Let us explain for Christ's sake!

Apple's developers have examined much of the apps that are available in the App Store (for the record, they are now over 185,000), and have figured out which are the key services these apps need in order to multitask. What does this mean? Here are some examples: Skype needs the VoIP service on all the time, so it knows when someone is calling you. Pandora needs the service, which allows audio in the background, in order to keep playing music, while you are doing something else. Your uploading files need the "Task completion" service so they can proceed to upload in the background, while you are playing a game, for example. Your game needs the "Fast app switching" service to be able to quickly save its state and later, when you decide to get back to playing, quickly resume the gameplay, without having to load the whole level again.

So they have narrowed these to seven key services and developed them as APIs that can be used by software developers: Background audio, VoIP, Background location, Push notifications, Local notifications (these are push notifications that can be sent by your offline apps to inform you of something), Task completion and Fast app switching. These functions can be utilized by developers in the making of their apps to carry out whatever functionality they want. For example, you can write an app that will track the user's location, push notifications to them about some in-app event and stream music, all while running in the background.

What about games? Imagine you are playing a game, but you want to check something on the internet. The game saves its state in the blink of an eye thanks to the "Fast app switching" service, then you open the web browser, find what you're looking for, and then decide to return to your game. Selecting the game's icon from the multitasking dock will bring it up again, after that you'll have three seconds to get yourself ready and then it will continue from that exact same place where you left it. No loading, no restarting of the app, and no worries for you if it's still there or it has been closed, due to lack of system resources.

This is possible, because Apple says the minimized app is actually using zero CPU. That ensures the system's so familiar smooth performance. Even more, it should also guarantee good battery life. It sounds too good to be true, but we certainly hope it will.

So users should have no worries whether the iPhone will have real multitasking. These seven services should cover all the different scenarios and for the most part, devs will probably just stick to "Fast app switching" so that the users will not lose their progress when they want to switch to another app. To us, this sounds more like a completely rethought, full-featured multitasking, to which Google and company will have to play catch up.

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38 Comments

1. dswatson83

Posts: 56; Member since: Jan 13, 2010

You left off one key bit of info PHONEARENA. Here is the problem, without utilizing those API's, the iphone WONT multitask. This is a problem for a couple reasons. All existing apps, until they are modified if ever, will not multitask. Iphone will just shut them down. The other problem is, you have no idea if the software has built in the API's for multitasking so it will be some trial and error before you find out which ones do. You may using a gps software, head over to the internet, and then try to return to gps only to find out the developers are either still retrofitting the software or they never included the API. Sounds problematic at least during the first 6months to a year before all the apps are upgraded and all developers are on board

7. ilia1986 unregistered

Disagreed. There is still time until 4.0 - enough for every dev to get ready. In addition, I seriously doubt people hesitate getting an app if it cant use the APIs. The insane number of app downloads until now kinda shows that. And finally - you are recieving something which is going to make the iphone even more awesome than it already is. For free. Zero cost. Do you reaaly want to start complaining? Didn't you hear the expression "Dont look a gift horse in the mouth"?

12. JeffdaBeat unregistered

That's exactly what I was thinking...Apple has just announced that Multitasking is coming...it's up to the developers to take that and modify their apps. Most developers will do just that because who wants an app that can't run in the background? dswatson85, you say we'd have to wait 6 months...I doubt it will be that long. In fact, I bet as soon as the new SDK comes out (if it hasn't already), the modifications will be made rather quickly to ensure developers continue to make money

26. iceman23

Posts: 31; Member since: Sep 21, 2009

Did you guys even watch the keynote? It took the Pandora (Internet Radio) app developers 24 HOURS to implement apples multitasking APIs!!! The whole reason this works and will work fluidly is because it is not true multitasking! True multitasking is what makes the Android users have a sluggish OS!!! When an app is in the background with true multitasking it takes to many resources, drains the battery, and pushes the phones to its limits... THIS IS CHANGE AND THIS IS GOOD!

31. narley

Posts: 357; Member since: May 14, 2009

Sluggish? i'll put my DROID processor against your Iphone anyday..... and beat it in speed, responsiveness, oh and signal strength.

32. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

so, then, what APPLE is doing could be considered the NEW way of multitasking.....

36. horse21

Posts: 2; Member since: Apr 15, 2010

Multitasking is doing multiple things at once. It cannot be called multitasking if you're only doing one thing at a time. There is a difference between the background services and the minimized applications. Services are multitasking and use CPU, and minimized apps (the ones that consume no cpu) are obviously not multitasking since they do not do anything. If a web browser did the latter, it would not load a page when you switched to a different app. This is the same type of thing Android is doing, so if that is the cause of a sluggish OS, consumption of too many resources, etc it's going to do the exact same thing to Apple's devices. Especially considering the fact that Apple's devices have slower hardware than most of its competitors. Minimized apps are nothing new either; Android allows programs to enter into a sleep state when the focus is shifted from them. Here they can save their state, and stop any tasks that do not need to be running while they do not have the focus of the user. This frees up the CPU that the program would otherwise be using, doing the same thing as Apple for all intents and purposes. And if they don't implement something like Android's killing applications to free up memory, then the system will run short on memory quickly, as the iPad and iPhone 3GS only have 256 MB RAM. That's half of the RAM current Android phones that are coming out with. You can be sure that the nice games for the iPad will need a lot of space to save their state. So far in iPhone OS 4, there's change, but nothing innovative. They're even taking advertisements from Google, albeit in a prettier form. However, the prettier form takes more resources, and sounds like it will be even more intrusive. That's hardly something to be excited about, ad free apps were something nice about Apple. Hopefully OS 4 won't be forced onto my devices, and hopefully apps will be backward compatible. I'm expecting that both the iPhone and iPad will be getting big and expensive hardware buffed versions soon to be able to handle the OS update.

2. jrcrow79

Posts: 477; Member since: May 02, 2008

hello kids!!.. rather than think about every possible reason why the iphone may/may not truly multitask..just wait n see..im one to jump to conclusions now..ALOT could change in a few more months

3. GlenF

Posts: 50; Member since: Nov 02, 2009

"Sounds problematic at least during the first 6months to a year before all the apps are upgraded and all developers are on board" yes and this also gives Android 6-12 months to catch up...smart move Apple

4. cellgeek82

Posts: 518; Member since: Dec 20, 2009

Android should sue, Apple is copying them. Apple is like, duh what's multitasking? What's Flash? Wait it still includes the Apple logo! Well dadburn lets get one! I thought that Luke Wilson said AT&T could "multi-task". Sorry but voice/data hardly is considered multitasking these days, welcome to 2010.

5. dave412_4

Posts: 11; Member since: Dec 07, 2009

I know the iphone can surf the web while your on the phone( which not many people care to do) but Motorola droid can listen to music while surfing the web and having the navigation(for free) running at the same time.lol I believe that qualifies for multitasking? All the iphone/ipad users will most likely have to buy a the new model when it comes out this Christmas if they truly want to multitask.

15. adash13x

Posts: 20; Member since: Apr 08, 2010

yupp for another ridiculous price!!!! LOL

19. dave412_4

Posts: 11; Member since: Dec 07, 2009

That would never happen.lol Steve jobs can solve that when then new iphone(3GS-2) comes out Steve wants everyone to have an iphone so he will make the iphone 3GS $99, so people can afford older technology. After the rebate and upgrade discount my Motorola DROID came out $65. beat that Steve

21. E.N.

Posts: 2610; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

Haha, you guys are too funny. You guys are getting a head start in finding something else about Apple to complain about.

27. iceman23

Posts: 31; Member since: Sep 21, 2009

NO IT WILL WORK WITH ALL iPHONE 3GS's AND all 32 and 64 GB iiPOD TOUCH 3G's!!

6. dandirk unregistered

Personally I think this is a great implementation. Using the old windows "services" model I think is great and what handheld devices truely need to use more. Personally I don't really care about multitasking per se on a phone. Screen is too small, and if apps are light enough, so what if they have to load again. Background services ARE important, like notifications or push/pull info etc. I don't care what anyone says, my droid gets slow with many apps used... task killer is nice, but some apps you can't kill due to updates/notifications... wished they just added these as services so I could actually close apps when I am done! The fash switch seems awsome if they can pull it off seamlessly with games etc seams like a lot of info to copy/cache though. As for apps needing an upgrade. Don't think thats a big deal, its a new feature just with any OS app devs have to leverage it. btw I am a happy droid owner.

28. DonkeyPunched

Posts: 321; Member since: Jan 10, 2010

Agreed. My Android gets hella laggy when it really shouldn't. I'd rather have all the apps close individually honestly than have it with multitasking. Or somehow find a way to make it not lag. ;[

8. clevername

Posts: 1436; Member since: Jul 11, 2008

Thing is, just like with 3.0 devs are gonna have to put out updates to every app to make it compatible with iPhone 4.0. They do this during the last stages of beta and finish shortly after the gm release. So just like when they made apps compatible with 3.0 they'll spend the time adding the new necessary api's. So 6-12 months is extremely unlikely. 2-4 weeks after public release seems more than likely since apple will force devs to make all apps compatible.

9. GlenF

Posts: 50; Member since: Nov 02, 2009

Riddle me this if the droid does not multi task well how does mine have the ability to give me email updates, live widgets such as weather, sports, and news, while all at the same time im able to browse the web send a text and listen to my internet radio at the same time. Also why is one of the most popular applications in the app store a task killer which boasts being able to kill multiple applications at once on a device that doesnt multitask well. Lets face it folks everyone has been sold a bill of goods by apple they no longer provide the best pda until they come out with a completely new and redesigned device stay tuned

22. E.N.

Posts: 2610; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

In the app store? I don't see it.

29. DonkeyPunched

Posts: 321; Member since: Jan 10, 2010

Its Advanced Task Killer I think he is talking about. I just think it's sad that they want Android phones to be considered "better" when the multitasking features actually aren't great and the apps aren't great enough. :\

10. o7o

Posts: 114; Member since: Jun 26, 2009

Well, PhoneArena, you've got almost every example of multitasking-capable OSes in the market, except for the best implementation of multitasking ever! Maemo5 on Nokia N900. That is the TRUE multitasking!

11. invictimus

Posts: 1; Member since: Oct 23, 2009

To be precise, that is the ONLY TRUE multitasking!

16. iHateCrapple

Posts: 734; Member since: Feb 12, 2010

+1 Agreed

24. krochisy

Posts: 8; Member since: Sep 24, 2009

You guys are forgetting WebOs it is a true multitasker and the interface is the best around.

33. sprintpcs7032

Posts: 36; Member since: Apr 07, 2010

+1 Exactly

13. DontHateOnS60

Posts: 872; Member since: Apr 20, 2009

I beg to differ PhoneArena. No catching up is necessary when you offer a solution that truly does what it should. I'll take Symbian and Maemo 5 any day of the week over iPhone OS 4.0. S^3 and S^4 are going to be beasts at it too just like S60 was.

14. ecml

Posts: 129; Member since: Mar 23, 2010

Too many news on here about iPhone!!!!!!

17. iHateCrapple

Posts: 734; Member since: Feb 12, 2010

+1 Agreed

30. DonkeyPunched

Posts: 321; Member since: Jan 10, 2010

Lol Why? They have enough news about the 2.1 Updates on Android phones all the time, and then when they decide to come out with an article on an update that comes annually, you Android fanboys flip out. They even have a dedicated "all Android" arena. Go to the bottom of the webpage if you don't know what I mean. I think it's fair for iPhone's to have their spotlight since they just released a new product and update news. There are many Android phones being released and they get attention. Everyone obviously heard about HTC phones with Android recently because they've been headlining them like crazy.

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