The fourth-generation iPhone and its operating system, now known as iOS 4.0, are finally here. As the magazine's resident skeptic, I usually come up with a list of missing features when I review a new OS or device. Yes, there are some features missing from the iPhone 4 and iOS 4.0, but not enough to regret my purchase. Overall, I was quite impressed with the new software and hardware.
I'll begin with the iPhone 4 which offers an abundance of features in about as compact and elegant a package as you can get.
Focus on photography
The main camera in the iPhone 4 has been upgraded to 5-megapixels and includes an LED flash for basic illumination in low light situations. The camera not only takes great photographs, it can actually capture HD movies (720p and 30 frames per second).
Even better, you can edit those movies using a downloadable, mobile version of Apple's iMovie application ($4.99, app2.me/2551). The app doesn't have all the features of the desktop version of iMovie, but you can still produce a respectable video with it, including special effects, titles, and transitions. You can even upload your movies to a MobileMe gallery or to YouTube from the app! I'll probably never use my single-purpose Flip camera again, which is admittedly one of Apple's goals.
Second front-mounted camera and FaceTime
Finally, Apple has delivered on a long-anticipated feature. The iPhone 4 has a second front-mounted camera for video conferencing. Third-party apps will no doubt take advantage of this second camera over time, but for now, all of the excitement is focused on Apple's FaceTime video conferencing tool.
FaceTime currently works over Wi-Fi only, but 3G support is on the horizon. FaceTime shows up as an option after you place a cellular call, but you can also place a FaceTime call independent of a phone call. Simply select and open an individual contact and tap on the "FaceTime" button. Unfortunately, FaceTime currently only works between two iPhone 4 devices, decreasing the appeal of this well-integrated feature. At the very least, it would be great if iChat users on a Mac and/or Skype users on any computer with a camera could participate in a video conversation. Fortunately, Apple is making FaceTime an open standard, so wider support is probably coming. FaceTime support can be turned on or off (Settings >Phone), which might be good if you actually gave an iPhone 4 to a youngster.
I coordinated with my colleagues at iPhone Life, and we conducted numerous FaceTime sessions as soon as we got our hands on our iPhone 4 devices. It was great to be able to quickly and easily conduct a video call, but there were some limitations.
When using FaceTime, I recommend that the Wi-Fi networks on both ends of the call be as fast as possible (Wireless-N). Otherwise, you may experience choppy video and dropped sessions. I was initially disappointed that FaceTime didn't work over 3G, but having experienced some problems using it over a Wi-Fi network (which is faster than 3G), I understand why Apple is holding off on this.
The "Retina display"—seeing is believing!
Even though some competing smartphones boast 4.3-inch displays, Apple kept the iPhone 4's screen size at 3.5-inches. However, this limitation is offset by the quality of its amazing, 960 x 640 "Retina display". This technology effectively quadruples the pixel density of the screen. As a developer, I was worried this change might require yet another rewrite of my software. After all, I had just finished porting all of my apps to the iPad! Fortunately for users and developers, iPhone apps run unchanged, and the higher-resolution rendering of text and Apple's user interface make the apps look even better. Developers of graphic-intensive apps might want to submit versions with higher resolution images to benefit from the Retina display.
Implications of a gyroscope
As if an accelerometer, compass, and GPS weren't enough, Apple added a gyroscope to the iPhone 4. This has the potential of adding a whole new level to gaming apps. With six-axis control, apps will be able to provide more accurate feedback based on location, direction, and orientation. I cannot wait to see how developers take advantage of this. Ironically, the iPhone can now tell which direction it is facing, but because of the iPhone 4's new design, with a flat back made of glass just like the front, users are reporting that, unlike the older iPhones, they can't tell which way it's facing when they reach for it from a pocket or purse!
Faster, more capable, not as power-hungry
The iPhone 4 includes Apple's faster A4 processor and 512MB of RAM (twice that of the iPad), making performance downright "zippy." In addition, battery life is longer thanks to the iPhone's higher-capacity battery and the fact that the A4 processor isn't as power-hungry as its predecessors. The improved performance is needed for some of the more demanding tasks the new device performs, such as FaceTime video conferencing and HD video editing with iMovie. It's also needed for the new multitasking capability enabled by iOS 4.0. Multitasking works great on the iPhone 4 and is supported on the iPhone 3GS (when it's upgraded to iOS 4.0). Unfortunately, the processors on the original iPhone and the 3G can't handle it; it's not supported on those devices.
The iPhone 4's outer case has been redesigned to include a so-called "hardened glass back," which interferes less with Wi-Fi and cellular signals. In addition, the new design includes a flat outer edge rimmed with a stainless steel band, which acts as an antenna for the device's cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi transceivers. In theory, these new design features are supposed to increase reception, and they do… in most cases.
However, many users have reported reception problems, which seem to be associated with the way they hold their devices. Apparently, different sections of the metal band act as antennas for various transceivers in the device, and these sections are separated by thin plastic separators. If your fingers rest on these separators, they can interfere with reception. Apple's somewhat less than satisfactory advice is to hold your iPhone differently. Fortunately, there are rumors that a software fix is in the works, which would be available by the time you read this.
Get a case for your iPhone 4!
One immediate solution for the reception problem described in the last paragraph is to get a case for your iPhone 4. This would not only prevent your fingers from touching the metal band, it would also protect the glass back of the device, which has turned out to be more fragile than advertised. I've used a number of iPhones and have always kept them in a case. I don't care how hard that glass is supposed to be or what demonstration videos Apple has on their website, this tradition will continue with my iPhone 4.
I anxiously await a wide selection of cases specifically designed for the thinner iPhone 4. See page 36 for a first look. In the meantime, I am using an old iPhone 3 case made of silicone, with holes cut out for the front camera and LED flash on the back. It works, but I feel like I'm covering a supermodel with a parka.
A number of the iPhone 4 features described earlier are really elements of iOS 4.0, the latest version of the iPhone operating system and application suite. Users of the more recent iPod touch, iPhone 3G and 3GS can upgrade to iOS 4.0 for free via iTunes. Many, but not all of the iOS 4.0 features will work on these earlier devices. Below, I describe some of the new features and include a few tips on how to get the most out of them.
Since Apple opened up the iPhone to user-installable apps, iPhone owners have been requesting a better way to organize apps on their iPhone. Apple listened to their requests (finally) and added Folders capability to iOS 4.0. Ever since I started installing apps on my iPhone, I've wanted to group them in categories for easier access. For example, I wanted all of my games in one place, all of my news apps in another, etc. You can manually move apps around to different Home screens, but this is a time consuming process. The Folders feature solves this problem.
Creating a folder is easy. Hold your finger down on an app icon until it starts wiggling (just as you would do if you wanted to delete the app). Instead of deleting the app, drag the app icon on top of another app icon. A folder is created and given a name based on the app's category (i.e., the category of the dragged app). If you don't like the name given to the folder, you can type over the suggested name to change it.
You can use folders to address another frequently raised concern. If more than one person uses your iPhone (you, your spouse, your kids, etc.), create a folder for each user. Put the apps that only one person uses in his or her folder and keep the commonly-used apps on the main Home screen. This technique will be especially useful when iOS 4 is available for the iPad, since it is more likely to be shared than the iPhone.
You can even add folders to the Dock, making them accessible from every Home page. Note that if an alert appears on one of the icons in a folder (indicating the availability of an update or something else), a badge will appear on the folder icon containing the total number of alerts for all apps within the folder. Open the folder to see which icon received the alert.
When you want to delete a folder, simply empty it of all app icons and it will automatically disappear. (Holding down on the icon until it starts jiggling doesn't let you delete folders!)
Multitasking: Great, but don't overdo it!
Multitasking is new to iOS 4.0. Apple has devised a way to make multitasking use fewer resources, but using it still requires more memory, more CPU activity, and more battery power. (Multitasking is not supported on the iPhone 3G because of this.) You need to decide which apps you really need running in the background. For example, it makes sense to keep your instant messaging app on all the time, but do you really need your favorite game siphoning off CPU power? Keep in mind that, with iOS 4.0 apps on supported devices, if you hit the Home button, the app you were using remains running in the background. If you truly want to close an app, you have to explicitly do so from the multitasking app bar, which you see by double tapping the Home button. Otherwise, just hitting the Home button only moves the current app to the background.
Finally, only apps built with the iOS 4.0 SDK support multitasking. You might have to wait until your favorite app is updated before you will be able to use this capability.
iBooks: Not ideal on the iPhone, but…
With iOS 4.0, iBooks is now available for Apple's handheld devices (free, app2.me/2403). Because of its smaller screen size, the iPhone is not the ideal platform to read an eBook. However, there will be situations when you have some free time, don't have your iPad with you, and want to continue with the book you're reading. In such cases, pulling out your iPhone makes a lot of sense. This is especially true with the iPhone 4. The Retina display provides greater than 300 dpi resolution, a level typically reserved for printed material.
iBooks is no longer limited to books purchased on Apple's iBookstore. You can now add your own PDF documents to a new PDF bookshelf and view them using the app. A comb binding appearance is added to the front page of your PDF for an elegant display of your own documents. It's a well-done app, and it's free—making it a serious competitor to the various PDF reader apps in the App Store.
Apple has tried to bring the iPad experience down to the iPhone form factor, but it's so small that you end up changing pages almost every other paragraph. Some of that simply cannot be avoided because of the limited screen size, but Apple made some design decisions that I don't agree with. For example, they left the status bar in, consuming valuable screen real estate. In addition, they've included an overabundance of white space at the top and bottom of the page. This may be aesthetically appealing, but Apple should give users the choice of turning extraneous features off to provide more space for the actual content of the book.
Customize your wallpaper
Wallpapers, or custom backgrounds, can be a nice way to personalize your phone, and it is surprising it took so long for this ability to reach the iPhone, but it does with iOS 4.0. At least it's true for the iPhone 4 and 3GS. Unfortunately, this iOS 4.0 feature is not supported on the iPhone 3G. In a reply to a customer e-mail, Steve Jobs said it was a performance issue.
To set the wallpaper for the home screens or lock screen, or both, use the Photos app. Select the desired picture and touch the icon with an arrow, then from the menu that appears, touch ‘Use as Wallpaper'. For those with devices that support the feature, a background can be far more useful than just putting a pretty face on your phone. For example, you can use it to help you get your iPhone back if you lose it. I recommend using a graphic app to create a custom wallpaper image for your lock screen. You can use any background image, but you should superimpose over it your name, home phone number (non-iPhone), and "reward if found" message. Even if you have a password set, the first thing seen by the person who finds your phone will be a message describing a way to "do the right thing."
Additional search option: Bing
With iOS 4.0, Apple will offer Microsoft's Bing "decision engine" alongside Google's search engine to give users a choice of how they want to search the Web. Microsoft has done a bang-up job with Bing. It's visually appealing and, true to Microsoft's marketing, is designed to help you make decisions faster and easier. The search engine concept is due for an overhaul; Bing is trying to be to Google what Windows was to DOS.
Bluetooth keyboard support
Bluetooth support has been somewhat enhanced in iOS 4.0. You still cannot remotely pause and skip music with a Bluetooth headset, but you can finally use Bluetooth keyboards with the iPhone and iPod touch, as you can with the iPad. Portable wireless keyboards make a lot of sense if you have a lot of text you want to enter into an iPhone. However, I am more excited about potential gaming accessories. App developers need to standardize on keyboard controls. If they do, accessory makers could develop entirely new and useful devices for the iPhone. For example, you might see a case shaped like a Playstation controller with actual buttons (X, Y, A, B, etc.) that would transmit keyboard commands to the iPhone via Bluetooth!
The most powerful iPhone yet!
The iPhone 4 is a beautiful and highly functional device, but I was a little disappointed by some of its shortcomings. The two most significant of these are its reception problems and the glass back that almost mandates that you keep this beautiful device hidden in a protective case. The iPhone 4 could revolutionize video conferencing, but for now it only works between iPhone 4 devices—that needs to change. I appreciate that the powerful A4 chip used in the iPhone 4 improves performance and reduces the power consumption. Finally, I welcome the enhanced Bluetooth support that allows me to use a wireless keyboard with the iPhone, but Apple still needs to improve support for other Bluetooth devices.
Apple's is promoting the iPhone 4 with iOS 4.0 as a "magical, revolutionary device that changes everything, again." I agree, but there is still work to be done. Fortunately, the folks in Cupertino don't rest on their laurels. More fortunate still is that most (if not all) of the problems mention in this article can be fixed with software updates.
If you have an iPhone 3GS you should upgrade to OS 4.0, since it is free. iPhone 3G users might be better off upgrading to the iPhone 4 to enjoy all of the benefits of iOS 4.0 without any performance issues. If you have an original iPhone or the 2G, or if you've been considering an iPhone, now is the time to jump in. Despite the minor annoyances, this is your chance to own the most powerful iPhone yet.