Apple's said no background apps on the iPhone forever, citing it destroys stability and system resources. Today, three reputable publications have independently claimed that Apple is having a change of mind. What the hell?
Techcrunch, Gruber and Alley Insider (Alley first) all claim to have sources that say Apple is working on and discussing just how they can run applications in the background. (An example of such an application and a potentially convenient use for background apps is an IM client that would alert you as soon as you got a message; Apple previously claimed their now late push data system could alert dormant applications of new events without needing those apps to be open. Open apps would take up resources.)
Part of this rumor is that Apple would require applications that run in the background to undergo a more thorough application process for the iTunes store. That makes sense and is the most likely scenario. Apps could be vetted (even more stringently than the current approval process) for processor and memory usage, then approved for being a background-capable app.
Why would they change their minds? Well the Palm Pre is certainly the main reason we can think of. Palm has, to many reporters, said that the Pre's advantages lie in its faster hardware, light operating system designed specifically for a mobile environment, ability to run multiples programs at once—each referred to in the UI as a card—despite the potential battery drain. And the Pre, as we all know, is high up on the list of things we're all excited for.
But what makes more sense is for all of this to be for the next hardware iteration of the iPhone, one that has more processing power and memory—two things that are in tight supply on the current versions. This would mean Apple could stick to their story of not being able to support background apps now, but still deliver on something just about everybody wants.