On April 8, less than a week after shipping the iPad, Apple previewed the next generation OS for its mobile devices. The update includes seven major, or "tentpole," features and over 100 other minor enhancements, including multitasking and folders. The update will be fully supported on the iPhone 3GS and 3rd generation iPod touch. The iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod touch however, will support "many" but not all features of the new OS. First generation iPhones will not be supported. iPhone OS 4 will be available later this summer for the iPhone/iPod Touch and in the fall for the iPad.
The iPhone OS is already capable of multitasking—you can go to the Maps application while on a telephone call for example—but only Apple's apps have been allowed this privilege. Apple needed to implement some type of third-party multitasking to keep pace with Google's Android platform (which already has this feature) while preserving battery life and maintaining the responsiveness of the foreground app.
iPhone OS 4.0 will provide developers with seven background services—background audio, VoIP (Voice over IP), background location, local notification, task completion, and fast app switching—that will give users the multitasking features they have been clamoring for without the headaches associated with "true" multitasking. "We weren't the first to this party," Jobs noted, "but we're going to be the best. Just like cut and paste."
The "dock" at the bottom of the Home screen displays your four most commonly used apps. Double click the Home button and a second dock slides on top of it and shows you the apps you have running in the background (Fig. 1). Jobs demonstrated opening an e-mail, clicking a link to open Safari and then opening a game that he had previously frozen.
Users will finally be able to tame screen sprawl by organizing their apps in folders (Fig. 2). Drag an app on top of another to create a folder. The folder's name defaults to the app's category (like "Games") but can be changed. A folder can contain up to 12 Apps, and iPhone OS 4.0 can handle up to 180 folders, for a total of 2160 Apps.
Users can view all of their mail accounts in the new Unified Inbox (Fig. 3), organize their messages by thread, and open attachments using another App directly from within Mail. Additional features include support for multiple Exchange accounts and fast inbox switching.
iBooks for iPhone and iPod touch
Apple will bring the iPad's iBook application to all iPhone OS devices. All books and bookmarks will sync wirelessly across a user's devices. Just as with the iPad, "Winnie the Pooh" will be included with the iBooks app.
New enterprise features
Several new enterprise features were announced, including increased data protection for business-critical information, new tools for deploying and wirelessly managing iPhones, enabling the hosting and wireless distribution of custom iPhone OS applications, improved Mail and Exchange Support, and SSL VPN Support. For more detail on the implications of OS 4.0 on the enterprise see the article beginning on page 83.
Apple also announced plans to develop a social gaming network called "Game Center." Game Center will host online leaderboards, allow gamers to challenge each other, and provide automatic matchmaking. Game Center will be supported in iPhone OS 4.0 but not deployed until later this year.
Finally, Apple is entering the mobile advertising business with iAds. Developers can deploy iAds inside of their apps instead of building their own advertising solution. Jobs stated that most online advertising "sucked," but the iAds platform would increase interactivity and raise the quality of ads. Let's hope so.
iPhone OS 4: Lots to like! More to come?
There's a lot to like in the new OS. Apple's implementation of multitasking strikes me as the ideal way to give users the most important benefits of multitasking while still preserving battery life, responsiveness, and stability. Folders are a clean and simple organizational scheme, and a Unified Inbox alone will be worth the price of admission for some users.
There are over 100 other features, some of which are intriguingly undefined, like "iPod Out." Reports a few days after the presentation linked it to a "hidden" remote application for a future Apple car integration kit. Just as some features of iPhone OS 4 will not work on older iPhone OS devices, other (unannounced) features will only work on the upcoming (unannounced) 4th generation iPhone, expected sometime in late June.