CUPERTINO, Calif. - Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad devices will soon be able to run more than one program at a time, an ability that phones from Apple's rivals already offer and that iPhone owners have long sought.
The changes, coming this summer to iPhones and this fall to iPads, mean that users might be able to listen to music through the Pandora program and check a bank account online simultaneously.
Currently, users must return to Apple's home screen, effectively quitting the open program, before starting a new task.
"We weren't the first to this party, but we're going to be the best," Apple chief executive Steve Jobs declared Thursday as bloggers, software developers and others in the audience greeted the news of such "multitasking" with applause.
The iPhone already permits some multitasking, but that's largely limited to Apple's own programs. Apple had not given users ways to seamlessly switch among all the software "apps" available from outside software companies, the way phones from rivals Palm Inc. and Google Inc. already do.
That will change with the updates known as iPhone OS 4. Apple generally makes such updates available for free, and often automatically, as a software download.
"It really changes the way you use the iPhone," Jobs said. "You're bouncing around the apps with tremendous fluidity."
Jobs said the company waited so long because it wanted to offer multitasking in a way that didn't drain the iPhone's battery or reduce the phone's performance.
Because Apple's new iPad runs the same software as the iPhone, changes would apply to that larger gadget as well. Some people have held off buying one because of its inability to run more than one program at once.
Other updates include the ability to have messages from multiple e-mail accounts land in a single inbox and a way to connect an iPhone with a regular keyboard using Bluetooth wireless technology.