updated 03:15 pm EST, Tue February 3, 2009
Bkgrnd Apps in iPhone 3
Apple may give iPhones true but controlled support for background apps with a major revision of the operating system, a claim from MacRumors suggests. Pointing to one or more unnamed source, the site says the delay in implementing the long-delayed background push notification feature promised at last year's WWDC may transform into a true background app process that lets users choose which software stays open as they switch to other tasks; Apple's proposed solution would only allow a channel of network data to be sent to individual programs.
At present, the iPhone must automatically close most apps and only allows certain of Apple's own services to run in the background, such as e-mail checks and music playback. The interface is often cited as the primary reason for the limit, as it doesn't include buttons or shortcuts to switch apps without closing. When justifying the its since-stalled background push notification efforts, Apple didn't overly reject the notion of running background apps but criticized operating systems like Windows Mobile for poor management that necessitated a dedicated task manager to close programs.
While background push notification enables instant messaging software and some other apps to remain effective, programs that need a constant connection like IRC clients or streaming radio need to remain fully active to be effective.
It's not known whether the feature would be enabled for all iPhones in a future firmware revision, such as 3.0, or only for future models. While Apple has never commented on any hardware limitations for its own product, most observers believe the current iPhone lacks enough processing power and RAM to run more than a small number of programs at a time. Apple's next iPhone is widely believed to be getting performance upgrades that could include a new ARM processor and more memory, neither of which has changed since the original model's debut in 2007.
True background apps may be necessary to fend off competition from rivals moving towards more advanced touchscreen smartphones, particularly the Palm Pre. The new handset's webOS has a similar interface approach but uses its center button and gesture shortcuts to let users close or change apps regardless of what's running.