Update: It looks like there are at least two methods for enabling apps to run in the background on older iOS devices. The article now features both.

When Apple introduced iOS 4, one of the features I was most excited about was the ability to run third party apps in the background. While you could always run Apple’s native apps such as Music or the Safari web browser in the background while using other apps in the foreground, there was officially no way to stream music from Pandora or another music app while surfing the web or playing a game.

Unfortunately, iOS 4 only supports multitasking on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 3rd generation. If you have an older device such as an iPhone 3G or a second generation iPod touch, you’re out of luck — unless you jailbreak your iDevice.

Jailbreaking basically means hacking your mobile device to open access to otherwise unsupported settings. This allows you to install apps that aren’t available in the iTunes App Store and make other changes. While it’s legal, it may void your warranty. And if you download a software update from Apple you’ll probably have to go through the process of jailbreaking your device again. It’s clearly not for everybody.

But yesterday, the folks at the iPhone Dev Team launched jailbreakme.com, an extraordinarily simple web-based tool for jailbreaking your Apple mobile devices. I’d been holding off on jailbreaking for a while, but the new tool just made things too easy for me to resist. This morning I unlocked my phone. Now there are two ways to enable apps to run in the background.

Method 1: Backgrounder

There’s an app called Backgrounder that you can install to enable apps to run in the background. Read on for instructions:

The first step is to open up the Safari web browser and navigate to jailbreakme.com. You should see a screen that looks like this:

Next, just slide the button from the left side of the screen to the right. Your device will download a file and then install it. The whole process should take just a few minutes. When it’s done, you’ll get a message letting you know an icon for the Cydia store has been added to your home screen.

Cydia is like an unofficial app store for programs that aren’t available in the Apple iTunes App Store. Like the App Store, it contains both free and paid applications.

When you open Cydia for the first time, it may need to download some data. Once it’s done updating, you can browse or search for apps you may want to install.

Since we’re on a mission right now to enable background support for third party apps, let’s jump over to the Search tab at the bottom of the screen. Tap Search, and then enter the word “Backgrounder” (without quotes) into the search bar.

Make sure to select the version for your device (most likely not the one that says it only runs on iPhone OS 2), and click the install button.

You should see a black screen with a bunch of text and a progress bar for a minute or two. Once it’s done, you should be able to run apps in the Background.

All you need to do is open any app and run it. When you want to go back to the home screen without closing the app, just press and hold the Home button until you see a message that says “Backgrounding Enabled.” Your music, video, or other app should continue to play even after you’ve left the program, allowing you to load the web browser or another app while continuing to listen.

But Backgrounder isn’t just good for streaming audio. Since it basically runs the app in the background, that means if you click away to open a new app and then want to go back to the previous app you don’t need to reload it from scratch. It will resume right where you left off, which means it loads faster and shows you the last thing you were looking at when you clicked away. So if you’re running an eBook app or the New York Times app in the background, when you relaunch those apps you’ll pick up on the same page you were reading when you clicked away.

You can also change the behavior of the Backgrounder App by clicking the Backgrounder icon on the home screen.

Even if you have a newer iPhone or iPod touch which supports native multitasking, Backgrounder might be worth checking out since it works with pretty much every iOS app, while native multitasking only supports certain functions (like streaming audio) and requires developers to update their apps.

On the other hand, one problem with Backgrounder is that it doesn’t give you an app drawer with a list of currently running apps, which is something that iOS includes. That means if you have a bunch of apps running in the background and you forget about them, your device may be using more system resources than you had intended and you might need to perform a reboot to clear things up. It also means that if you have half a dozen music or audio apps and you can’t remember which one is playing music, you may have to go to the home screen and launch several different apps before finding the one you want to kill.

Still, Backgrounder is breathing a bit of new life into my aging second generation iPod touch, and it was totally worth jailbreaking my device for this one feature alone.

Method 2: Features and Winterboard

If you want to add multitasking capabilities and an app switcher that looks a lot like the one Apple uses for newer iOS devices, you can download two apps from Cydia that work together. One is called Features, and the other is Winterboard. But you only really have to install Features, since it will automatically install Winterboard for you.

Just search the Cydia store for Features, and select the iPod 2G or iPhone 3G version depending on which device you’re using. Features is only available for iOS 4.

Once it’s installed, just open the Winterboard app and hit the Select Themes button so that you see a screen like the one below:

Select multitasking (or any other features you want), and you’re good to go.

Now you don’t have to do anything to tell an app you want it to run in the background. That will be the default behavior from now on. For instance, you can open up Pandora and start listening to music, and it will continue playing in the background when you go to the home screen or open another app.

Unlike Backgrounder, Features makes it easy to switch between running apps. Just double-tap the home screen and an app drawer will open up showing a list of running programs. You can also close any program from the app drawer by pressing and holding until you see a minus menu which you can tap to close that app.

thanks David for the tip on Features! You can check out David’s demo video at YouTube.

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing.He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...

9 replies on “How to enable multitasking on older iPhone, iPod touch models”

  1. “On the other hand, one problem with Backgrounder is that it doesn’t give you an app drawer with a list of currently running apps, which is something that iOS includes. That means if you have a bunch of apps running in the background and you forget about them, your device may be using more system resources.”

    Although there is no app drawer containing a list of running apps, these apps are marked with a little black and white “starburst” or badge in the upper corner of the icon so that you will know it is running in the background. The downside is that you have backgrounded apps across several different screen pages on the iphone.

    Backgrounder is usually used in conjuction with a app-switching app like Proswitcher, Proswitcher replicates the palm-pre “cards” feature for multitasking and is summed up on iphonedownloadblogs website at http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com/2009/12/30/pr

    You can trigger the cards view by opening the application from home-screen, touching the status bar, or by double clicking the home button. To add an application to the Cards view, you simple have to launch the app, then hold down the home button for about one to two seconds. To remove an app from the “Cards” view click the close button on the top left of the card, to swipe the card up the screen.

    Unfortunately, Proswitcher was crashing on my newly jb iphone 4, as well as my friends 3gs, possibly because it wasnt compatible with iOS4. I had to remove it for the time being until the app is updated. This is definitely a bummer because these two apps in conjunction with each other are one of the top reasons to jb and sits at the top of my list of must have apps along with MyWi, Winterboard, SBsettings, Activator, My3G, Tvout2

  2. Thanks. I'll definitely have to check out proswitcher on my iPod touch, but I won't expect any miracles. I'll see if I can't find another task switching app in Cydia too.

  3. there's an easier way!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And it supports native multitasking on iphone 3g and ipod touch 2g(MB and Mc models). just download winterboard from cydia as well as Features from cydia. WHen you search for features just select your device. iphone 3g or ipod touch 2g. When you download it. go into winterboard and check multitasking, wallpaper. then hit the home button and let it respring. YOu should now have native multitasking and homescreen wallpaper. here's a youtube vid on it in case you get stuck.

  4. Multitasking is possible on older devices, except that Apple cares about the people who think it’s a terrible experience and complain to Apple, when in fact he did not have enough RAM to run at decently.According cdevwill, multitasking can be activated with a single line change in a system.

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