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Apple to restrict iPhone, iPad multitasking in iPhone OS 4.0

Thursday's new OS roll-out to add Apple-controlled 'intelligent multitasking,' say experts

April 7, 2010 01:16 PM ET

If Apple announces multitasking for its iPhone and iPad tomorrow, it will be a limited version that the company controls, allowing some applications to run in the background but denying others, experts said today.

On Thursday, Apple will roll out iPhone OS 4.0 in a presentation to reporters and analysts at its Cupertino, Calif. headquarters. Most industry watchers expect that Apple will add multitasking -- the ability to run multiple programs simultaneously -- to the mobile operating system.

[Seth Weintraub will be liveblogging the iPhone 4.0 announcements for Computerworld starting from 1 p.m. Eastern]

"The iPhone OS has push notification, but that's not the same," said Aaron Vronko, the CEO of Rapid Repair, a company that services and supplies parts for do-it-yourself iPod, iPhone and iPad repairs. Vronko was referring to the half-hearted form of multitasking Apple added to iPhone OS 3.0 in March 2009. In push notification, the iPhone pings Apple's servers to see if there are, for example, new messages waiting for an instant message client. Push consumes some battery power, but much less than true multi-app processing, Apple claimed at the time.

"They'll do what I call 'intelligent multitasking'," said Vronko. By his definition, "intelligent multitasking" would set up Apple as the gatekeeper -- a function it already fills when it comes to what software is allowed on the iPhone and iPad -- and allow it to approve or deny specific programs the right to run in the background.

"That makes the most sense, because it lets Apple control the user experience and performance," Vronko added, referring to multitasking's strain on the slower processors in mobile devices and its drain on their batteries. "It would let them be careful how they let apps multitask."

Some software, like games, would not be allowed to truly multitask. "There's no reason for a game to multitask," Vronko argued. Instead, developers might be encouraged to automatically suspend their programs when a user switches to another, letting them pick up where they left off. Other software, such as instant messaging clients, music-streaming programs, or applications to track Twitter feeds or Facebook pages, would be given multitasking carte blanche, and be allowed to continue to run in the background.

Vronko based his opinion on the hardware inside the iPad, which he disassembled last Saturday to analyze its construction and components. The single-core processor that powers the tablet -- Vronko believes it's an Apple-specific design of the ARM Cortex-A9 -- and the 256MB of system memory, the same sported by the iPhone 3GS, makes full-fledged multitasking difficult, if not impossible, he said.

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