The Future, Unveiled

Apple today took the wraps off iPhone OS 4. My first reaction — what’s left for the haters to complain about? Who am I kidding, they’ll always find something.

The laundry list of improvements is staggering and downright impressive. Apple highlighted seven of over 100 new user features, and noted that developers will have over 1500 new APIs at their disposal for creating apps.

The seven “tentpole” (their word, not mine) features are:

  1. Multitasking
  2. Folders
  3. Improved Mail
  4. iBooks on iPhone & iPod touch
  5. New Enterprise Features
  6. Game Center
  7. iAd

My thoughts on these:


As many folks are probably saying right now: Finally. I, for one, understood Apple’s stance in the past on multitasking, how running apps in the background would significantly drain the battery and slow responsiveness of the device. After all, the iPhone is a communication device, and what’s the point of background processing if the thing will be dead in an hour? 

As it was with copy & paste, Apple may not be the first to implement multitasking, but they are doing it better. Their idea is to multithread via seven different services available in the API.

  • Background audio
  • Voice over IP
  • Background location
  • Push notifications
  • Local notifications
  • Task completion
  • Fast app switching

Examples: Pandora can stream it’s audio and use the pop-up screen controls normally reserved for the iPod app while the rest of the app basically falls asleep. Skype can continue a voice call or monitor for incoming calls. TomTom can continue to give directions while you switch to the iPod app. Push notifications as they are now can continue to be used. Local notifications allow for apps to post reminders or other events without using an Apple server. Task completion allows Flickr to finish uploading a picture while you move on to something else. And fast app switching essentially freezes an app while the user handles another task in another app. 

This method of using services cuts down on a lot of processing overhead while allowing the user to move on with their digital lives.


Folders allow you further organization of the home screen. Currently, with the limitation on how many home screens are available, only 180 apps can be seen on the device maximum. With folders, 180 folders can be present, containing a maximum total of 2,160 apps!

I can already tell I can consolidate my 5 home screens down to one or two, since I already use those screens as a rudimentary folder system (only two of them are chock full).

I consider this a very welcome feature.

Improved Mail

By far, this one stands out as a gigantic improvement for me personally. With the addition of Universal Inbox, I may actually put more than my MobileMe account on my phone. Apple is also adding the ability to thread conversations, which is something I have desired more than a universal inbox. There is also fast inbox switching, which I haven’t yet seen the details of how that works.

iBooks on iPhone & iPod touch

Since getting the iPad, I have really been enjoying the iBooks app. So far I’ve only gone through the included copy of Winnie-the-Pooh with my son over the past couple nights, and it has been great. Well, Apple is bringing the same reading experience to the iPhone and iPod touch, along with the iBookstore. Thankfully, purchases and the place you last left off in a book will wirelessly sync between all your iPhone OS devices. Kind of like Kindle’s WhisperSync. I’m thrilled about this.

New Enterprise Features

Now with faster warp speed! Wait, no, not that Enterprise.

Apple is beefing up security and services for business users, such as:

  • Data protection
  • Mobile device management
  • Wireless app distrubution
  • Improved Mail & Exchange Support
  • SSL VPN support

 And that’s about all I care to cover on that.

Game Center

Apple is forming a social gaming network that will allow developers to have their games invite friends, matchmaking for multiplayer, leaderboards, and game achievements. Think Xbox Live for portable games.


Apple is breaking into the mobile advertising space. Why? This is what Jobs had to say on the matter:

“Developers [who create free apps] need to find a way to start making their money,” Jobs said. “A lot of developers turn to advertising - and we think these current advertisements really suck.”

His reasoning for this is the current situation of ad interaction within apps. When an ad is tapped, the user is yanked out of the app entirely and dropped into Safari. Apple is betting that if ads interact with a user within the app, more ads might get clicked. I say it’s a gamble. I personally am not an ad clicker, except on accident. That’s also why I opt for paid versions of apps over ad-supported versions.

I don’t know how much the average developer gets from ads that they place in their apps right now, but with iAd, Apple does all the work. They sell and host the ad, and the developer gets the larger slice of the revenue — 60%.

Other Features

Other features that were either mentioned or just shown on the screen :

  • File & delete Mail search results
  • Search SMS/MMS messages
  • Web search suggestions
  • Choose image size in Mail messages
  • Bluetooth keyboards
  • CalDav invitations
  • Larger fonts for Mail, SMS & alerts
  • Cell data only setting
  • Spell check 
  • Persistent Wi-Fi
  • Gift Apps
  • Birthday calendar
  • Recent Web searches
  • Create Playlists
  • Top Hit in search
  • 5x digital zoom
  • Nested Playlists
  • CardDav
  • Tap to focus video
  • Upload workouts to Nike+
  • Places in Photos
  • iPod Out
  • Home screen wallpaper
  • Search SMS/MMS messages
  • Wake on wireless

Items in that list I am interested in are home screen wallpaper (loving this on my iPad), upload to Nike+ (no need to let iTunes handle it), and Birthday calendar (currently the only calendar that I have to sync via iTunes, because MobileMe doesn’t handle it). Another is nested playlists (I think that means folders in the iPod app).

Things Missing

An overhaul of the notification window system would have been nice, and so would a status summary of notifications and events on the lock screen. Also, no word on when AT&T will support tethering on the iPhone. This one is seriously beginning to bother me. It’s been over a year since tethering was announced and in two months it will have been a year since the feature has been available in the rest of the world. AT&T needs to get with the program, or Apple needs to make an iPhone for Verizon, which says it can handle the traffic. 

Final Thoughts

Apple says that OS 4 is slated for release to iPhones and iPod touches this summer, and iPads this fall. 

This is also the first OS release that won’t cover all devices. First generation iPhones and iPod touches won’t receive the update.

And like last year with the original iPhone not supporting MMS, the iPhone 3G and the second generation (late 2008) iPod touch will not have multitasking. I suspect this is because both devices have 128 MB of memory, versus 256 on the iPhone 3GS, third generation (late 2009) iPod touch, and the iPad.

I would be a little miffed since I own an iPhone 3G, but I had already planned on upgrading this summer as soon as a new model is released. 

Overall, this looks like a great step for the iPhone OS platform. People who have downloaded and installed the beta OS have said it is the most stable beta 1 release they’ve seen from Apple for iPhones. All things considered, this looks to be a maturing step for iPhone OS.

I highly encourage watching Apple’s video of the event.