For all the plaudits that Apple rightly got for the things they did well with their announcement of the iPhone SDK and their supremely well thought out AppStore ecosystem, there’s (at least) one major brickbat which needs aiming in Cupertino’s direction.
It seems that third party iPhone applications will be forced to exit when you press that ‘Home’ button to bring up the launcher – a big mistake that will limit (again) the iPhone’s potential as a true smartphone. As a longstanding smartphone user on other platforms (S60, Windows Mobile, etc.) I’ve grown up with both true multitasking and with wide sync capabilities. And, you know, when a new platform doesn’t have these, then it’s blatantly obvious.
In the old school (think Palm) way, apps did specific ‘vertical’ things and once you’d started looking at something else there was little reason for the original app to still be running – especially given that app launching on Palm OS and (presumably) on iPhone is so quick that there’s no real delay next time you want to run it.
However, we’re in a whole new Web 2.0/services/awareness world now, where third party applications expect to be allowed to stick around. For example, Internet presence/chat/downloading apps, navigation software, GPS loggers (OK, so the iPhone doesn’t yet have GPS, but that’ll come), social sharing apps – these all need a healthy degree of multitasking, in order to be getting on with doing their thing while the built-in and other third party apps do theirs.
My current Nokia N95 8GB doesn’t have the iPhone’s elegance or iTunes consistency – and some things are a pain to do, it’s true. But by supporting full multitasking for all applications, I’m able to run up to 10 (at least) third party apps at once – not that I’m an uber-geek, but simply because I can leave applications running, in order to do what they do best.
So that when I return to my sports logger, I find it’s been tracking my position and can give me distance, speed and a track on Google Earth. When I return to Jaiku, I find it’s been updating the status and comments of all my friends in the background and they’re all assembled and ready to read. When I return to the photo sharing utility, I find that the 5 megapixel photos I took 15 minutes ago have all been uploaded in the background and are now online and being shared with the world. When I return to the podcasting client, I find that the shows I asked for earlier have been grabbed over my office Wi-Fi and are now ready for listening. When I fancy some new listening, on the move, I can tune into an Internet Radio Station and leave the client playing music in the background while I use other applications. And so on. All trivial use cases when there’s full multitasking.
Preventing applications from existing in the background was one of the main reasons why Palm OS 5 died a death – OS X on the iPhone is advanced enough that it doesn’t have to and shouldn’t make the same mistake – let’s hope Cupertino’s engineers can adjust this aspect of the SDK and the app environment before the iPhone 2.0 firmware appears in June.