Apple to allow third party iPhone Apps to run in the Background?

Business Insider reported couple of days back that as per their sources, Apple is seriously evaluating the option of allowing third party iPhone apps to run in the background, a feature that the iPhone lacks but one that is already available in some smartphones such as T-Mobile G1, upcoming Palm Pre etc.

The rumor states that with the iPhone OS 3.0 expected to be released this summer, there are two possible scenarios:

User’s Choice:

Apple could allow users (us) to select the iPhone applications that we want to run in the background. The user will have an option to choose a particular iPhone application (probably a set number of apps only) and either add or remove it from running at the background.

Apple’s Choice:

This would mean that Apple will give permission to a select number of apps (the request will need to come from the developers of the app) and allow them to run in the background. Since, the decision will lie at Apple’s end; this will allow Apple to have a better control on the app that run in the background. The apps will be given permission based on their resource utilization and its impact on iPhone’s Operating System.

The Push Notification feature that has been included in iPhone OS 3.0 does offer the ability to do some sort of background processing but is more limited to certain types of apps (example: chat, emails, Twitter etc). For example, if you receive a message on yahoo while the Beejive IM app is not active than it will notify you of the new message, which can be checked by opening the iPhone app.

Although, background processing is gaining more and more popularity forcing Apple developers to think about a more plausible solution, the fact remains that Apple had two major issues with background processing. One is the battery life; multi-tasking would mean that the battery life that will go down faster than stocks on Dow Jones between January to March. Another is the limited amount of RAM (128 MB, currently) and this could lead to frequent crashes and slow down.

My concern is shared by John Gruber from Daring Fireball:

Ordinarily I wouldn’t link to something as sketchily sourced as this, but: I heard something very similar from a decent (but second-hand) source back in January during Macworld Expo. What I heard then was that Apple was working on a vastly improved dock for your most-frequently used apps, and that there’d be one special icon position where you could put a third-party app to enable it to run in the background. Take it with a grain of salt, though: my source in January described it as an idea Apple was working on, nothing more.

The major limiting factor right now is RAM. There just isn’t much left for third-party processes on the current hardware’s 128 MB.

However, if we are to believe the hardware improvements that are anticipated in Apple's new iPhone, which is expected to come with more RAM and faster processor speed, then this does seem like a possibility.

Until that happens, there is an app called Backgrounder, which allows third party iPhone apps to run in the background. (It is only available for jailbroken iPhones).  

Let's hope Apple will allow at least limited number of third party iPhone applications to run in the background (at least with their next generation iPhone). So the Push notification Service can take care of ‘message intensive’ applications while the ‘rumored’ feature will take care of running selective apps in the background.

The option to allow users to select apps is more appealing as I think we all have apps that we prefer to run in the background while we go about our regular business. As for me, I would like Pandora and Skype to run in the background.

What do you think about the capability to run multiple third party iPhone apps in the background?

[via Business Insider]