It’s not full-fledged multitasking, but Loopt will be the first third-party app to send out information even when you’re not actively using it.
The location services program, which tells friends where you are and finds nearby points of interest, has announced an “Always-On” service that continues to update your whereabouts in the background. Here’s the catch: Loopt itself is free, but Always-On will cost an extra $4 per month on your AT&T bill.
Business Insider’s Dan Frommer writes that Loopt struck a deal with AT&T, allowing the iPhone to beam out its location even though Loopt itself is not actually running. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber writes, this is a server-to-server system, not an app that functions in the background.
The implications of the deal depend on what’s happening behind the scenes. If AT&T is simply providing a workaround for apps that want to send out information in the background, all this means is that other apps — more location services, mostly — could strike similar deals, as long as the app itself doesn’t need to function at the same time.
But let’s just speculate that AT&T has some sway over the iPhone’s inability to multitask. After all, any application that constantly sends and receives information equates to more strain on AT&T’s already inadequate network, so maybe the no backgrounding rule was a way to cut down on traffic. If that’s the case, we might eventually start seeing real multitasking, on the condition that iPhone users pay an additional charge when there’s a data exchange involved.
Given the uproar that would occur if customers started getting nickled and dimed on more monthly charges, I’m inclined to think deals like the one between Loopt and AT&T will be few and far between. But as much as it would irk me, I’d pay a little extra every month to listen to Slacker Radio while playing games or surfing the ‘net.