RAM – i.e. Random Access Memory, is all important. It’s the workspace which your phone’s OS runs in. And a critical parameter, in terms of what you can do with your smartphone, is how much RAM it has free. Free for you to do stuff. Like run a web browser, play a game, and so on.
Over and over again, in reviewing iPhone games for IPAL, I come across user reviews saying ‘Game is buggy, just crashes every time’. Now, no developer worth their salt would release a game that kept crashing. What’s happening is that the iPhone is physically running out of RAM. Starting with perhaps 40MB free, some of the fabulous 3D games need just about all of this and when the RAM runs out, the OS panics and shuts the game down. Result: one unhappy user. On my iPod Touch, with 60MB free most of the time (again, after the OS has loaded its bits and pieces up), I never, repeat never, hit RAM limits, incidentally.
Apple have repeatedly said that the iPhone is not going to be allowed to multitask third party applications. Some have speculated that this is because third party apps might drain the processor power and decrease battery life. This may well be the case, but I say the ban is because Apple knows full well that with RAM being so critical that just one big game can hit the buffers, there’s no way they can let users run such applications in the background.
In short, there simply isn’t enough RAM to go round.
I don’t think Apple will change their stance on all this in one fell swoop, at Monday’s WWDC, but they will announce a brand new ‘iPhone 3′, I predict, and my fervent hope is that they’ve added in another 128MB RAM chip, giving iPhone users 170MB or so free after booting, enough that even the very largest games will load with oodles of space to spare.
In fact, there would be so much spare that Apple could then experiment with letting third party apps multitask, i.e. stay resident in RAM, in the background, so that the biggest bugbear of iPhone gaming, that of having to wait while games get started all over again…. and again….. and again…. is eliminated. They could then release an iPhone OS update in the Fall that activated this allowed behaviour, and bringing the iPhone up to the multitasking level of every other smartphone in the world.