iPhone: The unwatched pot never boils

cartoon-pipe-smoke-tea-kettle-whistling-its-time-readyThe blogosphere has long lamented the lack of background notifications on Apple’s iPhone, but will Apple’s iPhone 3.0 software really be a panacea its been cracked up to be? Sadly current reports suggest the next release will do nothing to fix an inherent limitation that many of us suffer: on the iPhone only one thing can happen at a time. Like an a small child lost in a solipsistic thrall, the iPhone can only download or process information for the currently running application.

For the iPhone, the unwatched pot never boils.

This limitation isn’t merely academic. For instance, if I open a page in Safari and then switch to a new tab, I expect the first tab to continue running and loading the page for me to read later. Instead, once I switch to the new page, the first one stays frozen in time. Or say I fire up NYTimes reader, but then check email before it finishes downloading all its articles; hours later when I’m stuck on an airplane I’ll have nothing to read. Data sharing apps like DataCase and MobileFiles only work when they are active and loaded. Voice recording applications stop recording when you switch to a new application.

Is this an inherent limitation of all mobile devices? My old Treo 650 could instant message and receive email at the same time. My blackberry lets me “Alt Tab” to another application and then return back to the first one. There shouldn’t be any reason why given a well-designed API that NYTimes Mobile can’t download new articles automatically once a day, or why Pandora has to stop playing once I leave the application.