Apple looking into possible solutions to allow third-party apps to run in the background

Mon, May 18, 2009

News, Rumors

It’s been nearly 2 years since the original iPhone launched, and since then, Apple has done an impressive job of slowly but surely addressing many of the initial complaints levied upon the device (i.e no SDK, lack of 3G). Now, rumors are starting to spread regarding steps Apple might take to remedy one of the few remaining gripes about the iPhone – the inability for third party apps to run in the background.

BusinessInsider is reportingthat Apple is looking into implementing the following workarounds. One solution would give users the ability to select one program that would have the ability to constantly run in the background, while another potential solution involves Apple granting specific permission to pre-approved apps to run in the background.

We assume that developers could apply for permission to run in the background, and that Apple might approve or deny them based on the resources they need, how well they behave with the operating system’s stability, and how much network bandwidth they need.

This solution, however, might make more sense in theory than in practice. Apple can barely stay on the ball when it comes to handling app submissions – adding another variable for Apple to keep track of and be responsible for might prove to be too burdensome.

Meanwhile, John Gruber over at DaringFireball writes that he’s heard rumblings of Apple exploring the idea of having a special spot reserved in the dock launcher that would give any app placed there the ability to run in the background.

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.

Lastly, MG Siegler over at TechCrunch chimes in on the topic with a report gleaned from a trusted source of his:

Basically, my source says that while this is in no way a done deal yet, Apple is definitely trying to come up with a way to offer background support for third-party apps. They went on to note that while Apple may have something to say about it at WWDC, it’s very unlikely that any solution would be ready at that time, and could be a situation similar to how Apple announced Push Notification at WWDC last year but said it was coming in a few months (which it later was delayed until iPhone 3.0).

So there you have it. Regardless of when Apple decides to allow third-party apps, it’s good to know that Apple appears to be working hard on a solution to the problem, if you wanna call it that. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Apple might eventually decide against allowing third party apps to run in the background because of the potential tradeoff in terms of battery life and the overall usability of the device. But with recent reports hintingat a new iPhone with double the RAM (up to 256 MB) and a faster processor (up to 600 Mhz), perhaps Apple’s concerns will soon be alleviated by a simple hardware upgrade.

In the meantime, developers will have to make due with the long-awaited debut of push notifications which will be a part of the upcoming iPhone OS 3.0 update.


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