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Apple enhances iOS 6 multitasking with new background navigation updates

As new iOS devices become more powerful and sophisticated, Apple is likely to continue to evolve the platform's multitasking features, as exemplified by Maps' new background direction updates.

Apple's strategy of taking its Maps solo in iOS 6 was initially described in Apple wants to wipe Google off the map with iOS 6, while a second segment detailed how the company will be levering vector graphics to greatly improve the Maps experience in iOS, a third segment outlined how Apple is adding 3D Flyover features to displace Google's Street View, and a fourth described its new navigation features.

Backseat directions

One of the novel features of Apple's new Maps is that directions can continue as a background task. In fact, iOS 6 will not only put up a standard "click to return" banner for the Maps app (similar to those presented for background audio playback, VoIP or phone calls), but will also now display live "street sign" turn by turn directions (below) visible from the app you're currently using.

This enables drivers to exit Maps to text (hopefully not while driving; too much multitasking can be a bad thing), play music or check email and still get updates of upcoming turns along their route.

While something similar could be accomplished with standard notifications, the "direction signage" badge used by Maps is new to iOS 6. It lacks the app icon typical of standard banner notifications, providing more screen space to the information of the message.

The feature may eventually become something third parties can exploit to provide similar kinds of long term, location-based or urgent updates, similar to the way the iPhone's voice call-style background banners were opened up to third parties when Apple first released support for background multitasking in iOS 4.

The future of multitasking

Apple is likely to make more substantial changes to how iOS multitasks in the future as mobile devices get faster and more powerful. However, the company has not sought to multitask purely as a marketing feature, resisting the concept of "freely" running any number of apps concurrently due to battery concerns.

At some point, however, it's likely the company will enable additional new background features including, for example, the ability to respond to an incoming message without leaving the current app.

Apple has already demonstrated integrated services that work between apps, such as new support for Twitter and Facebook that enable users to post updates or share photos without leaving the current app, and for some time as supported embedding web views or composing and sending emails from within another app.