Multitasking Mobile Operating Systems


Because of the constraints imposed on mobile devices, early versions of iOS did not provide user-application multitasking; only one application runs in the foreground and all other user applications are suspended. Operating system tasks were multitasked because they were written by Apple and well behaved. However, beginning with iOS 4, Apple now provides a limited form of multitasking for user applications, thus allowing a single foreground application to run concurrently with multiple background applications. (On a mobile device, the foreground application is the application currently open and appearing on the display. The background application remains in memory, but does not occupy the display screen.) The iOS 4 programming API provides support for multitasking, thus allowing a process to run in the background without being suspended. However, it is limited and only available for a limited number of application types, including applications

  • running a single, finite-length task (such as completing a download of content from a network);
  • receiving notifications of an event occurring (such as a new email message);
  • with long-running background tasks (such as an audio player.)

Apple probably limits multitasking due to battery life and memory use concerns. The CPU certainly has the features to support multitasking, but Apple chooses to not take advantage of some of them in order to better manage resource use. Android does not place such constraints on the types of applications that can run in the background. If an application requires processing while in the background, the application must use a service, a separate application component that runs on behalf of the background process. Consider a streaming audio application: if the application moves to the background, the service continues to send audio files to the audio device driver on behalf of the background application. In fact, the service will continue to run even if the background application is suspended. Services do not have a user interface and have a small memory footprint, thus providing an efficient technique for multitasking in a mobile environment.

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