3 examples of why the iPhone needs background processing

Three products at DemoSpring show that it's time for Apple to get off the stick and figure out the background problems like power management and security.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read
Ambit can't spy for you if it can't run in the background. Voxofon

PALM DESERT, Calif.--Apple is leaving behind clever mobile-app developers--and it's evident at the DemoSpring conference. Three interesting and potentially useful mobile apps were introduced here Tuesday on other platforms--Windows Mobile and Android--because these platforms allow background processing, and the iPhone does not.

When the 3.0 version of the iPhone operating system came out, it added background notification, but through a server-based push mechanism that only gives developers a few capabilities for sending notifications to phones. It's not true background processing like you have on a computer or on other smartphones. An advantage to the Apple scheme, though, is that a rogue background app can't keep the phone powered-up constantly, draining battery life, or opening security holes. Power can be a big problem with poorly written background apps on Android in particular, where apps that keep the GPS system powered up can reduce battery life on a phone to unacceptable levels.

But these three products at Demo show that it's time for Apple to get off the stick and figure out the background problems like power management and security. Developers will continue to build cool apps on other platforms, and pull users to them, until it does.

Phone Halo is a service that keeps you from losing your keys or money clip by monitoring when its Bluetooth fobs go out of range. The only way it can work is for a background process on the phone to be monitoring the Bluetooth system. It works on the Blackberry and Android OS, but not on the iPhone.

Ambit Control is a monitoring system for smartphones (or spyware, if you wish) that parents install on their kids' devices. It tells you what the kids are doing on the phone: who they're calling and texting, what apps they're installing and running, and so on. Again, it's an Android app. You can't do anything like this on an iPhone.

Motoriety is an automotive-monitoring product that collects data from a Bluetooth sensor in the car as well as usage and location data from the phone itself to keep you driving safely and keep you up-to-date on your car's health. It could, theoretically, work fine as a foreground process, but the concept falls apart if you can't use your phone for anything else (like making phone calls) when the app is running. So it needs a background process. It's being released first for Windows phones. Android will follow. iPhone is off the map until it gets background capabilities.

I'm convinced that if the iPhone let developers create apps that run in the background, the above apps would be on that platform first instead of competitive platforms, which have fewer app-buying users (except possibly Motoriety, which is partly funded by Microsoft). And there would be more developers making more interesting and useful apps that work for us all the time, even when they're not in our faces.