Multitask-Masters: iPhone Pundits Strike Back!

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Developers want them their multitasking. They want them popping up, one after the other, like Agent Smith replicants in the Matrix sequels. What? Viruses incarnate from poorly conceived follow-up movies is a bad analogy?

Not according to some leading Apple pundits.

Witness Daniel Eran Dilger's iPhone 2.0 SDK: The No Multitasking Myth from Roughly Drafted Magazine:

By limiting the amount of background processes running, the iPhone’s OS X can offer more of that available RAM to the foreground application, along with a less distracted processor. The iPhone is not a general purpose computer; it is primarily a phone, browser, and iPod. Due to the restrictions imposed by the SDK, it will also be a credible gaming platform and pack the power to run significant productivity applications, all without giving up the ability to be a responsive phone, browser, and iPod. Other devices can’t make that claim.

Sure, Dilger is sometimes considered on the extreme-end of Mac'tivism. Let's see what Daring Fireball's John Gruber has to say when he takes on One App at a Time:

Why has Apple imposed this limitation? Easy: the iPhone is severely resource constrained. Battery, RAM, and CPU cycles are all severely limited. If third-party apps could run in the background, all three could suffer. RAM would suffer for sure; all running apps consume memory. The iPhone has just 128 MB of RAM, and no swap space. CPU performance and battery life would suffer when background apps do something — and if they’re not doing anything, what’s the point of keeping them running? I noticed a significant increase in battery life after I switched the Mail app’s auto-checking interval from 15 minutes to 60 minutes. That’s just one app.

Okay, but they're not developers. They don't understand the needs, the passion. But then developers aren't pure consumers either and developers don't always understand consumer needs. Sometimes developers are so busy with the abstract coolness of what they can do, they don't always stop and consider the colder reality of whether they should.

For every OS-changing Switcher app, there are dozens of buggy, crash-inducing WinMob and Palm fetishware. (As I can personally attest to, when even major apps from major developers rendered my Treo unusable).

No developer goes out there with ill-intent (malware aside), but their concern is app-level, not device or OS level. That's where Apple comes in. The overall user experience isn't the developers concern, nor should it be. It's Apple's concern, and right now Apple is imposing that concern via no-multitasking guidelines.

Note: John Gruber, quoting Hank Williams, also gives us The Flip Side of the Multitasking Argument. (Hit up the Roughly Drafted link above for some excellent back-and-forth between Williams and Dilger in the comment section as well.)

UPDATE: Gruber follows up in Foot, Meet Bullet, a point-counterpoint with Ian Betteridge.

What do you think? Is the ban on multitasking good or bad for the general user-base (i.e., our moms!)? For power users? Will Apple make exceptions for certain big developers (like AOL for AIM)? Will they relax the policy after the initial development rush is over, the space shakes out, and only cooler, more seasoned and reasoned heads remain in the game? Will some crafty devs will figure ways around the rules? (creativity thrives under constraint!). Or will things just stay the way they are?

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Multitask-Masters: iPhone Pundits Strike Back!

4 Comments

What do you think? Is the ban on multitasking good or bad for the general user-base (i.e., our moms!)? For power users?
To state the obvious, it doesn't matter a damn for many apps (you don't really need a game you're not playing or a shopping list you're not reading running in the background) but for some it's pretty critical (IM, RSS reader etc).
Will Apple make exceptions for certain big developers (like AOL for AIM)?
Would they play favourites like that? I'd hope they'd exempt classes of apps. Adium not AIM!
Will they relax the policy after the initial development rush is over, the space shakes out, and only cooler, more seasoned and reasoned heads remain in the game?
I'd guess the number of people who know the answer to that is very small! It does seem though that the (albeit rather short) history of the iPhone has involved the addition features that users want.

When the 3G iPhone arrives, it will have separate channels for data and voice. This means e.g. you could be talking to someone while a background app is downloading your e-mail. Why would you not want this?

but what if u want to keep your messenger running instead of having to sign in and out...look at the sidekick...