The next major iPhone operating system update -- to 4.0 -- purports to bring with it monumental shifts in the way the iPhone works and behaves. Chief among them will be multitasking, the ability to run two or more applications at once, with the non-active ones remaining open in the background.Multitasking is one of the features that iPhone users have clamored for since iPhone OS 2.0 and the first third-party apps emerged in 2008. Apple has yet to confirm any features for the iPhone past the current OS (3.1.3). That hasn't stopped reports on the subject from flowing freely.
AppleInsider claims to have information from a trusted source on iPhone OS 4.0. It describes the coming multitasking feature as similar to OS X's Expose feature, which sorts out all the active windows in a single layer so that all are visible at once. It explains:
Those familiar with the design of iPhone 4.0 said that the user interface will resemble Apple's desktop Expose feature, in that a key combination -- reportedly hitting the Home button twice -- will trigger an expose-like interface that brings up a series of icons representing the currently running apps, allowing users to quickly select the one they want to switch to directly. When a selection is made, the iPhone OS zooms out of the Expose task manager and transitions to that app.Sounds interesting, and even possible. HTC is already doing something similar with its SenseUI on the Android platform. I've seen it in action, and it works pretty well. Rather than bounce between open applications, however, HTC's Sense lets users quickly jump to any of the seven home screens.
Whether or not AppleInsider's information is accurate, the time is right. Palm's webOS, Nokia's S60, RIM's BlackBerry OS and Google's Android OS all offer multitasking to a certain degree. In order to remain competitive, not only does Apple need to bring multitasking to the iPhone, but it's implementation needs to be top notch. Something akin to what AppleInsider describes could do the trick. With the (growing) number of applications available to the iPhone -- many of which are begging for background processes -- Apple has to offer a solution in the not-too-distant future.
The bigger question is, can Apple deploy something like this by July? The company is launching a new device this week (in case you hadn't heard, the iPad), and is surely focusing efforts there. Apple released iPhone OS 3.0 in July 2009, and has followed it with only the most minor of updates since then. Perhaps iPhone OS 3.x was a stop-gap that Apple needed to use while spending time prepping iPhone OS 4.0. After all, 3.x offered only the most incremental upgrades to the base platform (MMS support, video support).
Apple is also expected to release a new version of the iPhone by late June/early July. Is the timing too tight, or will it all come together in one brilliantly executed play?
We'll find out. Eventually.