After the quick death of Microsoft’s Kin phone, Redmond’s hopes for a winning mobile platform are largely resting on Windows Phone 7, the company’s forthcoming mobile operating system that aims to take on the likes of the iPhone and Android in the consumer smartphone phone market. Although Microsoft has still not committed to any availability date for Windows Phone 7—common wisdom is that they want to hit the end-of-year holiday season—Microsoft has announced one thing that Windows Phone 7 won’t be doing: multitasking. In a note to developers, Microsoft confirmed that Window Phone 7 will only let one application at a time run in the foreground, and no third-party applications will be allowed to run in the background at all. When users navigate away from an application, Windows Phone 7 7 will terminate the app in a process called “tombstoning“—however, when users return to the application, it’s previous state will be restored so users can pick up where they left off.
“When a user navigates away from your application, either to a chooser like picture chooser, or to a launcher like phone call, Windows Phone operating system terminates your application,” wrote Microsoft’s Yochay Kiriaty. “The operating system maintains state information about the application. If the user navigates back to the application, the operating system restarts the application process and passes the state data back to the application.”
At least users won’t have to completely restart applications when they return to them, but the ability to have any application suspended at any time by a phone call may be a bit troubling. Microsoft’s specificity that no third-party applications will be allowed to run in the background is key: that implies Microsoft will be running its own background processes, presumably to handle things like push notification services.
Given the roots of the Windows Phone 7 operating system, multitasking capability is something that should be easily available to the OS: Microsoft’s decision to restrict background applications to its own processes probable stems from a desire to maximize battery life—Windows Mobile devices are infamous for having batteries sucked dry by background processes—as wellas implementing a strong security model and enforcing a certain quality to the Windows Phone 7 experience.
Google’s Android operating system offers multitasking for user applications; Apple’s iPhone only recently picked up the capability with iOS 4.