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Apple's next iPhone software adds multitasking, more or less

Apple introduced the next version of the iPhone's operating system--also used on the iPod Touch and the iPad--at an event on its Cupertino, Calif., campus Thursday morning.

(Note: I've updated this post.)

The big news: This update will bring something that resembles multitasking to some of those devices. While iPhone OS 4.0 won't keep multiple third-party programs open at the same time--what people usually mean when they throw this term around, and what you get in Google's Android, Palm's webOS and even on "jailbroken" iPhones--Apple says this update will offer many of multitasking's benefits at a lower cost in battery life.


(Since Apple did not provide a video stream of the presentation--per its usual practice, I expect that to show up tomorrow it posted a QuickTime stream Thursday evening--I'm relying on liveblog reporting from such sites as Gearlog and MobileCrunch, as well as the company's just-issued press release.)

The new iPhone operating system will do that by providing system services that applications can call upon to work in the background. One will handle audio (demonstrated with a version of Pandora's Web-radio program), while a second will support Internet calling (seen in a demo of Skype's software). Others will allow applications to check your location (helpful for navigation programs), send notifications to the screen, complete such tasks as file uploads or downloads in the background, and save your work and their status before pausing their activity.

(Update: For more technical details about how iPhone OS 4 does this and how that compares to Android's multitasking, see Android developer and Google employee Robert Love's fair-minded evaluation of the two platforms' approaches, then read his earlier post explaining why neither can afford to offer the same multitasking you'd get in Windows or OS X. Mac users with enough gray hair may then recall that Apple once proposed a similar multitasking-esque solution for Mac OS itself.)

But only some iGadgets will support this feature when iPhone OS 4 arrives this summer. To quote Apple's release: "Multitasking requires iPhone 3GS or third generation iPod touch (late 2009 models with 32GB or 64GB)." What about the iPad? I've got a query into Apple PR and will update that when I hear back. The iPad won't see the new software until this fall; although Apple's release doesn't spell out that it will support multitasking, in the last minute of the video Jobs says it will get "all these features." Older devices are definitely out of luck--and it seems that the first-generation iPhone and iPod Touch can't run OS 4 at all.

The iPhone 3G and iPod Touch 2G will, however, gain access to some other new features. This upgrade will let you group applications in folders; provide better e-mail software with the option of a universal inbox to show all your new messages; include a version of the iBooks program included on the iPad; add various security features on many corporate users' shopping lists; bundle a Game Center with some social-gaming features; and let programmers make money off free programs using a new "iAd" service.

During the presentation, Apple briefly alluded to other upcoming features, such as support for Bluetooth keyboards, customizable home-screen wallpaper and a digital zoom for the iPhone's camera, but offered fewer details on them.

Apple left out other items on some users' wish lists, such as integrating social-networking sites like Facebook or adding Bluetooth file transfer and data synchronization. And we'll have to wait to see if some of the promised new OS 4 goodies get held up by AT&T Wireless; remember, that carrier took months to support multimedia messaging and still hasn't implemented the "tethering" option Apple delivered in last year's iPhone OS 3 release.

And if you want to run applications that Apple hasn't approved, you'll still have to jailbreak an iPhone; Jobs specifically ruled out allowing "unsigned" applications in a Q&A after the session. (He cited the possibilty of users downloading pornographic applications; I hate to break this to Mr. Jobs, but I'm pretty sure the Safari browser on the iPhone can display plenty of porn already, inasmuch as the Internet has no lack of smut in general.)

That's what I know; what do you think of the news? If you own an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, did Apple's campaign promises meet your expectations? If not, what else were you hoping to see?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 8, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Mac , Mobile  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Court cuts FCC's net-neutrality power; now what?
Next: Apple's iPad: Tool, toy or trap?


Apple said OS 4 update coming to iPad in "Fall."

Posted by: dcborn61 | April 8, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I love it when a company takes my money for a product and then gives me moral lectures on how I should use it.

Posted by: scarper86 | April 8, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

An "official" version will never be as capable as a jailbroken phone. There's no going back. Apple: cut the cord.

Posted by: byxnet | April 8, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Can someone give us a good comparison and contrast between the Chinese government and their lock down of the Internet to prevent the spread of porn to a country of over 1 billion people (with that high of a population they should not be unfamiliar with sex) and Mr. Job's contention that the IPhone is locked down for the same reason. I'm thinking that they both lock down for the same reason and it has more to do with group think and control than anything to do with morals.

Posted by: ThomasFiore | April 8, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

The multitasking now available for Apple apps on the iPhone, and, the new forms of multitasking for third-party apps in iPhone OS 4.0, should be adequate together.

I am not offended by Apple's decision to approve apps. The quality of Apple apps exceeds those on other platforms partly because of strict guidelines. Guys looking for porn are free to find it outside of their applications.

Jail-breaking is overly touted. People who do it give up more than they gain, including access to AT&T's 3G signal and Visual Voicemail.

Posted by: query0 | April 8, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

@ThomasFiore the difference is that you're not forced to buy the product. go buy another product. in China you can't just get up and leave the country because you don't like it there.

Posted by: knowledge2 | April 8, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

I've already made $800 buying Sprint a week ago at 3.85 a share. My plan was, and is, to drop the Iphone for the HTC Evo coming out on June 13. And today's announcement that Jobs' limited "multitasking" won't even be an option for a 3G user like me is the final straw.

Although I have been an Iphone fan/user from day one, it is clear that Jobs doles out improvements solely to stay one step ahead of the competition, instead of delivering the best product he can to his adoring customers.

Check out the Evo and the latest version of Android and the "Sense" UI and you'll see that the Iphone will not remain the best smartphone deal in 2010.

Posted by: delores521 | April 8, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Cramming lots of features into iPhone software all at once is a bad idea because the engineering, design, and user-interface are likely to suffer. It's amusing to me that the no-Apple, no-way crowd can point out all the features that other phones had before the iPhone (multi-tasking, cut-and-paste), but can't explain why those phones haven't been nearly as successful. (Many Ph.D. scientists prefer Apple products. Are they "sheeple" too?) I would much rather wait for Apple to do it right (requires engineering) than to listen to a bunch of people who have no sense of the difficulty of doing things right.

Posted by: scsmits | April 8, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Delores.

I've had several Iphones now. Plus an Imac and Macbook Pro.

But I will be dumping the Iphone and getting an Evo.

It does all the things the Iphone should be doing now.

Plus it's 30 percent larger, which I love.

Posted by: Hillman1 | April 8, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

This is interesting information, but only half the story, the other half will come in June when the new iphone is announced. (evidence of a camera flash has already been found). I think the new hardware will add a new dimension to the software just announced.

I do find it odd that the ipad won't get these features until the fall - what reason is there to delay? Many of these features make more sense on the ipad.

There's a phone out there for everyone - no one is locked into buying apple. The Droid, Nexus, etc all have merit. I'm glad they're competing - it means better phones for everyone.

Rob, what's your opinion? Your post is big on facts, not so big on commentary. You're the expert - what do you think?

Posted by: Vanguard08 | April 8, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

"Many Ph.D scientists prefer Apple products"...


scsmits, are you sure you aren't just being a bad boy???

(Ever notice that Apple has about the same market share as there are gays in the general population?)

Posted by: dl4550 | April 8, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

If you had actually been a PhD scientist, you'd know it's nothing to be proud of, certainly their preference doesn't prove Apple is good.

Posted by: d12s34f56 | April 8, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

In a lot of ways, the iPhone is almost up to the level of competency of my tired old Nokia 770.

That's one of the first-gen "internet tablets"; no cellphone but it can bluetooth to one. The CPU is merely a 400 MHz ARMEL but what the heck... It can serve web with 'ginx', handles mail, does bluetooth file transfers, etc. Not all that many of the modern sort of "apps" for it, but the ones that exist are useful.

The main reason I mention this is that you could have dozens or more of background processes running at once...

It runs Linux. Still.

Posted by: thardman | April 8, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

First Apple said there was no way to make sub-$500 netbooks that isn't crap. That was true until Apple came out with the iPad.

Next it's multi-tasking is evil, sucks battery, users can't handle etc etc...until Apple incorporated it into iPhone OS 4.0

Now task managers are bad for us. I suppose that'll be true until Apple implements it in iPhone OS 4.1

Posted by: tundey | April 8, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

@scsmits: The problem isn't really that apple's products don't have feature X, y or Z. Its that Apple likes to disparage features that it hasn't implemented. They basically question the intelligence of the buyers of those other devices by saying things like "all sub-500 netbooks are crap...multi-tasking isn't necessary".

BTW, even if *ALL* Ph.D scientists favor Apple, what does that have to do with anything?

Posted by: tundey | April 8, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Apple has now posted the video of the announcement - I recommend watching it, as it really filled in the questions I had just reading the live coverage text of the event.

Every gizmo represents a tradeoff in one way or another. When Apple finally comes out with their iPhone 4.0 release, I'd love to see multitasking (along with the hit it makes on battery life) compared head to head with the competition. Until then, we are all just guessing.

I like the new folders concept, as it really makes it easy to keep apps organized and easily available. Having a unified mailbox will be moderately helpful (I have two mail accounts), and I like the ability to organize messages by threads. The new iBook store, enterprise enhancements and the new Game Center will not be of use to me, but I'm sure that others will find them helpful. I really think that the new iAd is a homerun (and you really need to watch the presentation to see how it was implemented).

My biggest disappointment is that the original iPhone (which I own) will not run the new operating system at all.

Posted by: coffeetime | April 8, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

That screaming sound was the pain of Apple fans as they get whiplash as they change their steadfast belief that "multi-tasking is a bad idea on the iPhone" to "Of course you'd want to multi-task on a phone, and Apple does it best!"

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | April 8, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Go to any meeting of the American Astronomical Society. You'll be surprised to find that at least 60% of the laptops are some model of MacBook. By the way, ever notice that Apple was making profit even in the teeth of a recession? Market share means nothing if your profit margins are so small (because you've decided to be a commodity company) that a dip in the economy loses money.

Well why would a Ph.D. astronomer buy something that will inhibit his or her ability to work? Why wouldn't they want the best machine (native Unix, X11 windows, wide selection of Unix software from Fink, superior UI, and MS Windows native if desired) to do their work? You would be hard pressed to attribute this solely to marketing, as many Apple haters claim. Yes if demanding users are buying Apple, that's evidence that Apple is good.

Apple is, after all, in the computer BUSINESS, so for Steve Jobs that means deceiving the competition in more ways than one. And frequently that means changing his mind after he has made some short-sighted statement about the limits of some technology. But some of what Steve Jobs says is true: multi-tasking will drain a battery faster, simple energy conservation. So Apple has to engineer the multi-tasking to avoid the inevitable headline: iPhone Users Complain of Short Battery LIfe.

Posted by: scsmits | April 9, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! Don't know how many times Apple needs to be told that these devices need to support, FLASH!

Posted by: RogerinMinnesota | April 9, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Flash is not coming to the iPhone. Ever. And, that is a good thing.

All these advertisements for the HTC Evo passing as comments notwithstanding, the iPhone is still the best-selling smartphone in the world. Apple appears to be doing most things right.

Posted by: query0 | April 11, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

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