Push notifications will never equal true background app support!

Friday, April 10, 2009 15:09
Posted in category Apple, Featured, iPhone

Apple’s Push notifications while grossly past due from their original due date of last year, were at least delayed for good reason.  At the iPhone OS 3.0 preview, Apple stated the delay was because of “developers suggesting ideas and methods of implementing the push service that they had never thought of”, which in return required a complete re-write of the service, hence the massive delay.  Apple’s stubbornness (or innovative thinking, depending on who you talk to) to support background processes has kept many iPhone hopefuls on the fence, not quite sure if they can go without  background apps in exchange for the whole Apple ecosystem and hype.  So why does Apple refuse to bring by far the most requested and undoubtedly most important feature, background processes, to the iPhone platform?


Battery life.  I remember way back to the iPhone press event showing off iPhone OS 2.0 when they used an example of background app management from a Windows Mobile packing Samsung. (above)  While definitely the complete opposite of the iPhone in terms of everything, looking at Win Mo’s background app management as the only example of why the iPhone doesn’t use it is an extremely poor and one sided example.  Sure Win Mo’s sucks, but the iPhone could have definitely improved upon WM’s shortfalls.  Instead Apple turned a cold shoulder, a blind eye, whatever body part you want to reference…they flat out ignored it.  


However, Apple choose to also point out the hit that a device’s battery takes when running apps in the background.  While this is a very valid reason for reinventing the way background applications are implemented and work within an OS, it by no means should have been a reason to do without them completely.  Instead, Apple choose to use a background push service much like MobileMe or RIM uses for their email and data services except applied to more than just email but apps of all genres as well.  Apple has claimed that the push notification method of receiving updates will knock your battery life down by *only* 23% when active!  23% is terrible!  By their standards imagine how bad background apps destroy battery life.  It’s odd, even using my old Blackberry Curve all day with WiFi and bluetooth turned on with several hundred emails as well as several hours of web browsing would still leave me with slightly over 50% at the end of a 15 hour day.  If I used my iPhone as heavily as my Curve, I would be looking for an outlook before the clock even makes it to noon.  If RIM as well as many other manufacturers can get decent to good battery life with background processes why can’t Apple.  

The iPhone’s battery life all ready down right sucks.  I think Apple’s most ignorant decision on the design of the iPhone 3G was the downgrading of the battery.  The original iPhone had a 1400MAh battery while the iPhone 3G only has a 1150MAh.  Why on god’s great green frickin earth would you stuff more battery sucking features into a phone and make the battery smaller?!  Clearly not a smart move or pro consumer move at all.  Maybe Apple wanted more people to pay for the battery replacement service as the battery will die quicker because users will deplete and recharge the battery quicker than their 1st gen iPhone counterparts.  


Now back to the whole concept of their background push service.  While the concept makes sense in theory, in real world use it does nothing but restrict users and how they interact with their phone.  With the push notification service you will be able to get Facebook updates, instant messaging notifications, etc.  You could as shown at the 3.0 preview event get updated sports scores as well as updates to your RSS reader displayed in a nice little number on the iPhone homescreen.  These are all fine and dandy but what about the score of other types of applications that deal with reminders, calendar events not tied into the iPhone calendar, 3rd party radio apps such as Pandora, Last.fm, and Slacker, as well as a slew of other applications that I can’t think of at this particular moment.  For instance, do want to stream some music from one of the music services mentioned a few moments ago but need to reply to an important email or check some game scores?  Tough luck.  Without background apps it is impossible.  Push notifications won’t do anything to fix this.  Another painful reminder of the iPhones unneeded limitations are brought forth when one tries to use a “to-do” or “reminder” application.  The way any typical to-do app works is that it sits idle in the background until the designated time comes up, at which point it alerts the user through a combination of audio/video/or physical (vibration) means.  Now you could get around this by designing an app that ties into an online server and service that syncs to-do’s and reminders between device and cloud.  Then the server sends a “push notification” to the device by way of a data connection alerting the user.  While this is an ingenious method to getting around no background apps what happens when you don’t have a data connection because your carrier doesn’t exactly have a very robust network?  You miss you big date, phone call, appointment, etc.  Clearly a problem that will still keep many people form adopting Apple’s jesus phone for it just isn’t quite what it could be.


Now I’m not completely bashing a push notification service.  In fact, if Apple were to incorporate background apps and push notifications you could leave the backgrounding to audio/video apps, to-do/reminder apps, *insert other clever idea here* while messaging apps and sports highlights among others could use the push service thereby giving you reliable service and battery life.  Besides, background apps can’t be that bad on battery life, at least not much worse than shortening your time away from a plug by 23%.  Either the iPhone is a terrible multitasking device/OS, or the developers themselves just aren’t that great and can’t grasp the concept of background tasks.  Either way you look at it, Apple’s claim of battery life as an issue is BS.  Every other smartphone manufacturer use background apps and while some have worse battery life than the iPhone, many times many have better battery life than said Apple device.  

Of course you could always go with plan B which is to give Apple the big digital finger and just jailbreak your iPhone/iPod Touch.  Anyone trying to talk you out of it and warning you of the impending perils you will face are nothing but lies from a technologically idiot themselves, or they just don’t understand how a gadget/tinkerer thinks and operates.  Jailbreaking your iPhone/iPod Touch will open up your device to UI customization (which Apple also stubbornly ignores…but as with many Apple problems, needs its entirely own article), banned apps such as tethering apps and any other apps that greedy carriers see as stepping on their toes and revenue streams, as well as the wonderful world of background apps.  A simple, quick download of “iPhone Backgrounder“, developed by Gaizin, will ensure that your iPhone/Touch will run whatever application(s) you want…letting out the multitasker inside  that has for so long been dormant.  iPhone Backgrounder is dead simple to use.  Open up the app you want to run in the background and simply hold the home button like you would for force quitting.  Except this time you will see a dialog box pop up saying that “Background Enabled” (as seen to the right) and to keep holding to force quit.  To turn of backgrounding for said app just do the same thing again…(open - hold).  It’s helpful to note that backgrounder is recommended only for App Store apps.  Because of the way jailbreaking and jailbroken apps operate, backgrounder is less reliable.  Instead users who want background support on jailbroken apps are advised to contact the developer for true background support to be hand coded in.


With the weeks leading up to iPhone 3.0, many were hoping that because of the complete silence on the push notifications as well as the rampant rumors circulating that Apple was even going to allow background apps, Apple would in fact cave in as they did concerning native apps when the moved from iPhone 1.0 -> iPhone 2.0.  However for many it was a bitter/sweet moment and still for some a stab in the back.  Will Apple ever adopt true background support?  If they did it would certainly be one less reason for people to jailbreak their iPhones/Touches.  And we all know now how much Apple loves the jailbreaking scene.  Will the continued lack of background support on iPhone 3.0 mean you are leaving all together?  Or will you jailbreak as 3.0 has already been jailbroken?  I’m curious as to how many hopefuls who have been holding out will finally throw in the towel and move elsewhere.  I know at the time I got the iPhone, I was really wanting to Blackberry Bold.  However, delay after delay as well as my move to OS X made the iPhone my new gadget to take my money.  


Now that Apple has had a clear lead in the consumer market for going on two years now with still no one really stepping up to compete, even still I find the Crackberry user inside of me always looking over my shoulder back across the fence at what my other friends enjoy.  Mainly much better messaging services, background apps, as well as completely open and “free” bluetooth stacks/profiles.  Yes, all RIM has to do is either give the Bold a tad more power under the hood and a slightly larger screen and/or make a new device with a touchscreen/full qwerty combo and my iPhone will go on eBay faster than a a fat mans cholesterol rises after a trip to McDonalds.  Yes that Blackberry itch, the need to be always connected, checking to see if that little blinking light is illuminated never goes away.  Sometimes its voice gets quieter, but it’s never gone.


So what’s your take.  Are push notifications a wasted investment and is Apple spinning their nicely designed wheels in the icky mud (+1 for me), or are push notification services the way of the future.  Speak your minds fellow readers.


Source: World of Apple

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One Response to “Push notifications will never equal true background app support!”

  1. Gib says:

    April 11th, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I really want back ground processing

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