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Eight Ways Apple Could Botch iPhone Multitasking


Enabling multiple third-party apps could make things very unpleasant.

It's hard out there for an iPhone (AAPL) user. Once the bearer of the mightiest and most groundbreaking smartphone the world has ever seen, the iPhone owner has been plagued by a variety of features left unimplemented in the treasured device. Tethering. Adobe Flash (ADBE). Storage expansion. A carrier other than AT&T (T).

But willful iPhone users have brushed those issues aside -- to the point of denigration -- claiming they matter not on such a fine piece of gadgetry. However, that doesn't prevent them from celebrating when standard features from competing devices are unveiled years later on theirs. ("The iPhone: It now has cut and paste!")

Yesterday, AppleInsider related a rumor given by a few of its reliable sources. The rumor swept tech blogs and had Apple fans rejoicing. Finally! At long last! Could it be?

The iPhone might start multitasking third-party apps!

Although unconfirmed -- not to mention surprising, given Steve Jobs' dismissal of the prospect -- multitasking might be included in the next iPhone OS. Giving more credence to the AppleInsider rumor, 9to5 Mac spotted a new line of code in the iPhone developers kit that mentions a "multitasking dialog box." But as with the majority of speculative Apple news, nothing is confirmed until Jobs himself says it.

The multitasking feature would expand the limited number of background apps the iPhone allows -- Mail, SMS, Phone, iPod, among others. In its battle with the scathing Verizon (VZ) ad campaign, AT&T makes a point of showing its current system in action. But iPhone users fail to see the benefit of background apps if they can't listen to Pandora while browsing the Web or briefly check their email in between Street Fighter rounds.

While multitasking third-party apps is a welcome change for most iPhone users and finally puts the device on par with Android (GOOG), BlackBerry (RIMM), and Palm (PALM), the capability isn't free from a number of potential downsides. There's little chance that Apple will just turn the feature on without first playing damage control, but even the best case scenarios leave the iPhone vulnerable to at least one or two of these issues:

1.Availability limited to newer models.
With iPhone OS 4.0 expected to drop sometime in the summer, there's potential for Apple to unveil a newer iPhone model along with it. Could that place the threshold of multitasking availability just below it or iPhone 3GS? Possibly. If users of the first-generation iPhone couldn't enable MMS without a hack last year, multitasking might be limited to the later models. Of course, by sidestepping this problem, it will inevitably lead to...

2. Slower speeds.
Numerous users have reported that running more than three third-party apps at a time on a jailbroken iPhone leads to significant lag. Granted, this could be a symptom of performing a task the iPhone OS was never meant to do, but if it's a bug inherent to the iPhone OS, it might prove a problem for the Apple team. And if multitasking extends to iPhone 3G or below, users may not see much of a point to ever switch it on.

3. Memory hogging.
Commanding 128MB of eDRAM in the 3G model and 256MB in the 3GS, the iPhone doesn't have much wiggle room in terms of memory. If one were to listen to Pandora, play a round of Mysterious Island, then check Google Earth for a related archipelago formation, it won't be long before everything comes to a complete standstill. If the iPhone's memory model wasn't designed to support multiple third-party apps, how much will have to change?
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