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Third-party multitasking finally makes an appearance on the iPhone

It's been just over a year since Apple last held an event touting the latest and greatest version of its iPhone OS. In March 2009, the big features that Apple brought to the table with iPhone OS 3.0 included copy/paste, push notifications, and push notifications (to make up for the lack of third-party multitasking).

Today, Apple is back at it again with iPhone OS 4.0. As has been widely speculated for the quite some time now, Apple is finally enabling third-party multitasking on the iPhone OS (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad). As the rumors suggested, double tapping the home button now brings up a “multitasking dock” which shows up to four programs running at once (here's a video of multitasking in action). The user then selects the application they want and "boom", you're there. As you would expect, the current application state is saved as you're double tapping in and out of apps.

For a demo, Apple's Scott Forstall showed off an app that has probably been the poster child for the multitasking movement on the iPhone: Pandora. Previously, if you wanted to listen to streaming music in Pandora while performing another task, it wasn't possible (without jailbreaking). The new multitasking APIs of iPhone OS 4.0 now make what seems like a no-brainer feature possible. As an added bonus, Pandora can now be controlled from the lock screen.

Multitasking also now integrates with background audio and VoIP. As a result, users can now receive Skype calls without running the program in the foreground and "exiting" the program will still allow you to receive calls. A locked iPhone can also receive Skype calls.

IPhone OS 4.0 will bring 100 new features for the end-user along with 1,500 new APIs for developers. Some of the more mundane features include iBooks, in-app SMS, home screen wallpapers (as seen on the iPad), Bluetooth keyboard support (another iPad donation), and “tap to focus” for video.

Another feature that has been asked for is a Folder feature for iPhone OS 4.0. This allows you to group similarly-themed apps together instead of having to sprawl across pages and pages of apps. You can name the folders whatever you want, and place them anywhere including on the dock. 

Moving on, another rumor that has been confirmed is a universal inbox for the Mail app. Mail from multiple accounts (Gmail, Yahoo!, Exchange, etc.) can now be viewed in a single unified inbox. Other new features of the Mail app include multiple Exchange accounts, fast inbox switching, threaded messages, and the ability to open attachments with their respective apps. 

Apple is also looking to court more business users with better data protection, mobile device management, Exchange Server 2010 support, and SSL VPN support.

For the gamers out there, Apple is really trying to bring gaming and social networking together. The new social gaming network, Game Center, is taking a page from Microsoft's book (re: Xbox 360) with friend invites, matchmaking, achievements, and leaderboards.

In another move that's new for Apple, the company is introducing iAd which allows developers to quickly and efficiently delivers ads to users through apps. Apple will host and sells the ads -- it will also take a 40 percent cut of the revenue in return. The ads are completely interactive and use HTML5 -- Apple is really pushing for the industry to move past Adobe Flash. Apple's purchase of Quattro Wireless now makes sense.

IPhone and iPod touch users will get the update this Summer, however, there are a few caveats. IPhone 3GS and 3G iPod touch users will get the full update. IPhone 3G owners and 2G iPod touch users will get a reduced feature set (no multitasking) due to lower hardware specifications. First generation iPhone and iPod touch users are just SOL. IPad users will have to wait until the Fall for the update.

Other items of note today include that fact that has sold an additional 150,000 iPads since launch day bringing the total number sold to 450,000. In addition, 600,000 iBooks have been downloaded and over 3.5 million iPad apps (3,500 iPad-specific apps are currently available in the iTunes App Store) have been downloaded since launch day.

Steve Jobs likes to talk numbers, and he continued adding that 50 million iPhones have been sold to date, while 35 million iPod touches have been sold.

With iPhone OS 4.0, Apple is looking to maintain its lead over Microsoft, Google, and Palm in the smartphone OS arena, while at the same time nip at the heels of RIM. Considering that Microsoft chose to go with Apple's "old" approach to copy/paste and push notifications (instead of true multitasking) with Windows Phone 7, it should be interesting to see what Microsoft's response will be now that Apple has charted a new course.

With iPhone OS 4.0, Android, and webOS now supporting these two basic features that a lot of mobile users today simply take for granted, Microsoft might have to rethink its strategy going forward.

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2G iPod Touch
By CZroe on 4/8/2010 2:43:21 PM , Rating: 2
I thought the 2G iPod Touch / iTouch was closer to the 3GS because it had a performance improvement over the 1st-gen iPhone, iPhone 3G, and original iTouch.

Shouldn't it get multitasking too? Why only the 3rd-gen Touch?

RE: 2G iPod Touch
By Abrahmm on 4/8/2010 2:55:14 PM , Rating: 2
Because then you have to buy a new one to get the update. Steve knows how to milk his customers.

RE: 2G iPod Touch
By PrinceGaz on 4/8/2010 3:03:39 PM , Rating: 3
The 2nd gen iPod touch had the same CPU and RAM as the original iPod touch and also the iPhone and iPhone 3G; the one difference for the 2nd gen iTouch is they upped the clock-speed of the CPU in it from 412MHz to 533MHz, giving it a small but still worthwhile speed-boost.

What the iPod touch 2nd gen didn't get was more RAM and that is critical to multi-tasking. An original iPhone clocked at 412MHz would be much better suited to multi-tasking if it had been fitted with 256MB RAM, than the existing 2nd-gen iTouch with a faster 533MHz CPU but only 128MB of RAM.

Multi-tasking requires working-memory so those apps running don't have to be paged to disk, which in the iP* device range would mean writing to flash-memory.

The CPU performance boost of the iPhone 3GS and iTouch 3rd-gen is also much greater than the boost that the iTouch 2nd-gen provided over older devices (improved CPU architecture as well as clock-speed increase), though that is irrelevant really as it all comes down to RAM.

RE: 2G iPod Touch
By ksherman on 4/8/2010 3:10:37 PM , Rating: 2
The 2nd Gen iPod Touch (based on the iPhone 3G) was only slightly faster because it didn't have a phone to run and its CPU had just a hair-faster clock speed.

The 3rd Gen iPod Tough and iPhone 3GS had not only faster CPUs again, but also doubled the RAM from 128MB to 256MB, contributing to better over-all phone speed and offering up enough memory for multi-tasking.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone
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