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How to Multi-Task on Your iPhone

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Did you know that your iPhone runs more than app at the same time? The iPhone’s multi-tasking makes it easy to switch from one app to another, without closing an app first. In this article, author Michael Miller shows you how to multi-task on your iPhone — and run some apps in the background.
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Beginning with iOS 4 (and continuing into iOS 5), Apple’s iPhone has offered multi-tasking – the ability to run some apps in the background while you use another app front and center. It also means you can quickly switch from one app to another, since they’re both in your iPhone’s memory.

How does your iPhone’s multi-tasking work? And how can you best use multi-tasking for your own needs? Read on to learn more.

Understanding the iPhone’s Multi-Tasking

Put simply, multi-tasking is the ability to run multiple apps at the same time. One app runs front and center while the other apps continue running in the background. This makes it easy to switch instantly between apps, and to resume work in a previously-used app.

Apple’s multi-tasking, however, is not 100% true multi-tasking. With true multi-tasking, the code for each app is held in system memory, and the operating system serves as a type of traffic cop, deciding which apps get more or less preference. The iPhone, however, doesn’t have enough built-in memory for true multi-tasking; if it really held multiple apps in memory, the iPhone was slow down over time, drain its battery, and eventually crash and burn.

The iPhone’s multi-tasking, then, doesn’t hold running apps in memory. Instead, it pauses them while another app takes precedence. Then, when you switch to a paused app, it resumes exactly where it was, without having to restart.

There are actually seven different types of functions that utilize this type of background pause multi-tasking:

  • Background audio, so you can play music from iTunes and Spotify in the background while you’re performing other tasks.
  • Voice over IP services, such as Skype, so that you can be notified when someone calls you.
  • Background location services, such as those used in GPS apps, so that you can track where you are even while you’re using other foreground apps.
  • Push notification, so that you can receive important messages without having to log onto the main application.
  • Task completion, so that apps can finish any tasks they’ve started when you switch to another app.
  • Fast app switching, which makes all running apps instantly available, rather than having to start each of them up every time.

For example, imagine that you’re reading an email message that contains a link to a web page. Tap the link and your iPhone opens the Safari web browser and displays that web page. When you close Safari and return to the Mail program, you see the email you were reading is still open; you don’t have to reload what you were reading.

In essence, multi-tasking lets you do – or appear to do – several things at the same time. Multi-tasking is available in iOS 4 and iOS 5, It’s supported on the iPhone 3GS, 4, and 4S, as well as on the iPod Touch (third generation or later) and all iPad models.

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