There are rumors spreading throughout the blogosphere that Apple’s next iPhone operating system will have multitasking. Many people are thinking the Cupertino-based company will finally include this long-awaited feature in iPhone OS version 4.0. But if they know what’s good for them and iPhone users, they will leave it out.
For those that don’t know, multitasking, also referred to as background processing, is the ability to have multiple processes utilizing a device’s resources at the same time. This means that you could be browsing the web on your iPhone and open up another application, complete a task and go back to the exact same web browsing session. Granted, you can do things on the iPhone that some would call multitasking, such as using Safari while in a phone call. However, many other apps must be closed to open another app. For instance, you cannot use the Last.fm application (an internet-radio streaming app) while you check your latest tweets in TweetDeck.
There are a few reasons why Apple hasn’t allowed multitasking, even though competitors (e.g. Android) have. One is security. The company is supposedly afraid that, given the ability to run in the background, malicious apps could evade users’ attention and do more damage than they can currently. Another reason the iPhone doesn’t multitask is due to performance issues. Running one or more processes in the background obviously takes more horsepower when it comes to mobile CPUs. If the rumors are true, Apple has overcome its fears of multitasking. However, I wager that the decision to develop a multitasking iPhone will come back to haunt Apple.
The security issues are an aside when it comes to an updated iPhone OS. Android OS has multitasking and there have been no problems with viruses or malware. However, it’s the performance jump that is needed to multitask that will leave iPhone users wanting Apple to backtrack to their previous ways. I own a myTouch 3G, which is an Android device. I also own an iPod touch, which runs the iPhone OS. What would you predict is my only complaint about Android? You guessed it: multitasking.
I use my Android device daily, and the only problems I run into are due to its ability to multitask. While the device can accomplish background processing, it easily makes the system slow down. Slow way down. Depending on the apps I am running at the time, the myTouch 3G can freeze up completely with as little as four apps running. This is not something you want your phone doing, especially if you need to make an important call. To contrast this, my iPod touch has never been unresponsive. And I can still do my two most-common activities at the same time: listening to music and browsing the web.
While there is hardware that Apple could throw at this problem, it will be a big hit on the iPhone’s battery life. A faster CPU could enable efficient multitasking, but the iPhone’s battery will drain even faster than it currently does. This is due to the fact that battery technology has fallen behind other advances in the mobile arena.
Apple might accomplish multitasking, but there is a big risk involved. The iPhone could easily lose its sex appeal and the “it-just-works” factor if it gains this feature. In the end, I think iPhone users long for multitasking simply because they don’t have it. And as the Rollings Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want”.