Apple's Next Mobile OS Ready for Multitasking?

Apple enthusiast blogs are reporting that multitasking, a feature at or near the top of every iPhone user's wish list, will finally happen when version 4.0 of the phone's operating system comes out. Just when that release will happen though, is an open question.

AppleInsider cited "people with a proven track record in predicting Apple's technological advances" as sources for the multitasking on the iPhone OS but offered no specifics. Of course, it could be those sources simply downloaded the latest build of the iPhone software developer kit (SDK), which the sleuths at 9to5 Mac have done and noticed a reference to multitasking in the source code comments.

If nothing else, Apple is becoming a creature of habit. For the last two years it released a beta version of an SDK in March to prepare developers for a June/July operating system upgrade. The iPad, due April 3, will use iPhone OS 3.2, so a 4.0 version seems likely this summer when a fourth generation iPhone should be due.

The iPhone is capable of multitasking now but it only allows Apple applications to multitask. Third-party apps cannot. One reason for this is management of resources and power conservation. You can't run an iPhone like a PC with multiple minimized apps or your battery will go dead in minutes.

As several blogs have noted, iPhone OS does not use a paged memory model. That means multi-tasking applications must compete for the same memory space, meaning they might overwrite each other or step on each other in the same memory space, or they may crash.

And there's not a whole lot of memory in the iPhones. The original and 3G models have 128MB of eDRAM and the 3GS has 256MB. That can fill up quickly. So Apple would appear to have its work cut out to add effective multitasking support.

Apple as "feudal lord?"

In other iPhone news, the The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has peeled back the curtain on Apple's iPhone Developer Program License Agreement in a most creative way, and has excoriated Apple in a similarly creative way.

The iPhone Developer Program License Agreement is pretty rare and hard to find, because by agreeing to its terms and conditions, the developer agrees not to make public any contents found in the Agreement.

But when NASA decided to make an app for the iPhone, someone at the EFF had an epiphany. They used a Freedom of Information Act request to get the contract. Since NASA is a government agency, the FOIA request applied, and the EFF had the Agreement in hand, which it has posted for all to read.

EFF lawyer Fred von Lohmann went over the contract details and ripped Apple over some of the terms, stating "If Apple wants to be a real leader, it should be fostering innovation and competition, rather than acting as a jealous and arbitrary feudal lord."

von Lohmann noted that the Agreement bans developers from making any "public statements" about the terms of the Agreement, any applications developed by using the SDK may only be publicly distributed through the App Store, bans any and all reverse engineering, bans jailbreaking or tinkering with the device, Apple may remove the app at any time, and Apple will never be liable for more than $50 in damages to any developer.

Apple gets away with getting 100,000 developers to bend to its will because it is "the sole gateway to the more than 40 million iPhones that have been sold. In other words, it's only because Apple still "owns" the customer, long after each iPhone (and soon, iPad) is sold, that it is able to push these contractual terms on the entire universe of software developers for the platform," he said.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


mobile developer, iPhone, Apple, mobile operating system