There are rumors circulating (from very reliable writers) saying that Apple is considering background tasks on the iPhone. The rumor doesn’t say that this is exactly a done deal yet but it seems that Apple is trying out different implementations of the feature. It’s even possible that Apple will have something to say about it at WWDC, but it is unlikely that a solution would be available then.
The most recent background task rumors point to Apple possibly approving some applications to be run in the background by adding a second approval queue, specifically for apps that want to run in the background. This would mean that Apple would only allow some applications to use this feature, their decision would most likely be based on CPU and memory requirements of the app.
The other option mentioned is the user being able to select two applications that will run in the background, these two apps would be the only ones on the device that could run in the background (aside from the current Mail, Safari, Phone, and iPod apps that can already run in the background), it’s possible that user selection would be done by placing the application icons in a special part of the iPhone’s dock area.
There are tons of upsides to being able to run background tasks but the downsides are so much harder to deal with. Battery life being one of the most important problems that would arrise. One of my favorite things about the iPhone is my ability to do so much with the device and still squeeze out about two days worth of battery life with it. Background tasks would severely impact battery life and as a result could cause the entire user experience to go down the tubes.
The iPhone would also take a hit because of the hardware resources necessary to perform these background tasks, John Gruber puts it best:
The major limiting factor right now is RAM. There just isn’t much left for third-party processes on the current hardware’s 128 MB.
If the recent bump up in RAM rumor is true though this problem would completely go away (for new iPhone users at least).
I just hope that everyone, calms down about this and remembers that these rumors only say that Apple is considering their options in regards to background tasks and there are no current sources publicly available saying that Apple is actually going to do this, just that they are thinking about it and could do it.
Update 6/2/09: The Green Room has posted a single image with a rundown of every 2009 iPhone rumor. A great reference for what to expect on Monday.