Wunder-ful iPhone Multitasking!

In my post regarding the lack of iPhone multitasking, I pointed out that merely allowing for media back-grounding would alleviate a lot of the problems posed by the iPhone’s lack of multitasking. In that post I mentioned that you could-sorta-a-bit listen to streams while doing other things if you could get the Safari-encapsulated Quicktime player to play it via a web link. But it was hard, in an age of MLB At Bat 2009, Slacker, Stitcher and a plethora of other media apps, to make a case that this odd route to to multitasking was useful.

But hey, something Wunder-ful has happened!

Links: WunderRadio; Stitcher; Slacker; Oceanus; MLB At Bat 2009; Wikiamo;

A couple weeks ago the folks behind the fabulous WunderRadio application released an update. A few stability fixes, some better resilience to the vagaries of 3G streaming, nothing major. At least at first blush.

Then I noticed that on the Now Playing page a new link was present while listening to a station; wedged between “Help” and “Change bit rate” was a new link: “play in background” (capitalization zaniness theirs).

Play In Background!

Whoa. A single click takes me out of the WunderRadio app, opens to a station-specific page in Safari, which then auto-starts the same stream in the iPhone’s Quicktime player.

OK. How does that help? If I close the QUicktime player to switch tabs in Safari it stops playing. Open a new page, it stops playing. Humph. But if I leave Safari altogether it keeps playing. Oh frabjous day! Now I can stream audio while I:

  • check email
  • use the excellent Wikiamo app to get to Wikipedia
  • use Google Maps
  • ship with Amazon’s excellent iPhone app
  • etc…

Given the vast array of purpose-built iPhone apps, you can do a lot while you keep your hands off of Safari. All of a sudden my iPhone is massively more useful! All with a free upgrade cleverly utilizing existing iPhone capabilities. You can even pause and resume with the switch on your headset. Hah!

Except, sometimes I really need a web browser. Right?

That was when I stumbled across Oceanus; a webkit based browser (like Safari), that works pretty much as well as Safari in the general case and boasts a full screen mode to boot.

And when Safari is snottily not allowing anything to happen but streaming, Oceanus is happy to have multiple tabs going at the same time. So between WunderRadio, Safari-Quicktime, and Oceanus, I can now have, albeit a little clumsily, streaming audio in the background while doing other things on my phone. (Like my Motorola Q could do three years ago.) The thing that annoys me is how close this is to my proposed IPod-App-Controlled Media Streaming proposal from earlier this summer; Apple could formalize an API for this and make it really accessible in about a week.

(As an aside, there a several alternate browsers in the App Store; Oceanus was attractive to me because my main use for a browser is Google Reader, and full screen gives me more real estate.)

Oh, and one other thing? MLB AT Bat 2009? Slacker? Stitcher? Pandora? You are on the clock to provide the same functionality. I like your apps, but I hate that I am trapped inside them. Shoutcast, RadioBox, iHeartRadio etc? If all your streams are available via WunderRadio, you are gone.

Multitasking, even clumsily done, is a game-changer.

P.S. It’s not perfect — Safari-based apps will be forced to open in Safari. But that is a bit of nit.

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