Why The iPhone Doesn’t Multitask
I’ve had my iPhone 3GS for a few days now. It is turning out to be everything I expected. Perhaps because I did my homework before buying. I went into it with my eyes wideopen.
One thing I knew going into buying this handset was that the iPhone’s ability to multitask was mostly non-existent. The iPod function would play music in the background, Microsoft Exchange syncing would occur in the background. Built-in apps (and some third party apps) would appear to resume where they left off.
There are times where the ability to multitask would be useful. Streaming music over 3G with one app and using Trapster to look for known speed traps is one (FYI, the new release that’s compatible with 3.0 is HOT). Using something like a chat client and “some other app” is another. I’m sure you can name about a gajillion others.
We often treat our smart phones like computers. They are, in a sense, but they aren’t nearly as full powered as your desktop or laptop computer is. Consider that my personal computer is a first generation MacBook with 2 gigs of RAM and an external screen attached. Surely I can run–and see–a number of apps at once. It also has the benefit of a hard drive that allows me to use virtual memory to run more apps.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 3GS supposedly has 256mb of RAM. One of my first work laptops I had at Nokia had that much RAM. But unlike that laptop, the iPhone 3GS doesn’t have a hard drive for using virtual memory. Sure, you could use the flash memory for this purpose, but do you want to wear out the flash in your phone that much faster?
The Nokia E71 has only half the RAM of the iPhone: 128mb! Yes, it multitasks. I can tell you that phone starts bogging down when more than a couple of applications are running on it at the same time. The phone crashes or freezes and needs to be power cycled. Regularly.
While there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to multitask, our mobile platforms today don’t have enough RAM–or CPU–for the task. Apple, having a singular focus on an excellent user experience, decided not to allow third party apps to run in the background. By focusing most of the memory and CPU on only one primary task–and a controlled set of others–Apple ensures your iPhone experience will be smooth. That isn’t to say your phone won’t crash, but it happens much less frequently.
And you know what? I think it’s a lack of multitasking is an acceptable tradeoff. My phone is more reliable. It doesn’t randomly freeze. It does what I’m asking it to do when I ask it to do it. It’s the way most people expect their phone to behave. Apple will support multitasking when our mobile platforms have a bit more memory, CPU horsepower, and, of course, better battery life.