Everything you need to know about iPhone OS 4.0

On 8th April 2010 Apple unveiled its latest iteration of the iPhone operating system (iPhone OS 4.0) to a bunch of industry experts. You can watch the Keynote lecture on the Apple website here or read on for a comprehensive review of the key features from this shiny new development kit.  Registered developers can get their hands on the SDK now. Consumers will be able to download the software and reap the benefits on their iPhone or iPod touch this summer, while iPad users will have to wait until autumn.

What are the main features?

There will be over 1500 new APIs allowing developers to gain access to functions such as the calendar, photo library and putting SMS into their apps. All in all this leads to a total of 100 juicy new user functions.

In the preview Steve decided to focus on seven key features that will affect consumers. He termed them his “tent poles” of the new OS. Looks like it’s going to be a pretty big tent.

Steve Job’s Tent for the iPhone OS 4.0 – Illustration by Rebecca Jones

Steve’s Seven ‘Tent-pole’ Features of the iPhone OS 4.0

  1. Multi-tasking
  2. Folders
  3. Enhanced Mail
  4. iBooks
  5. Enterprise Features
  6. Game Center
  7. iAd

1. Multi-tasking

Multi-tasking enables the user to run multiple applications at the same time, for example you could stream internet radio whilst browsing your emails. In OS 4.0 a simple double click on the home button will open up a bar at the bottom of the screen. This shows the user all the applications running in the background. They can then choose to pause and resume applications where they left off, allowing easy switching between apps.

Apple have figured out how to do this with 3rd party applications without draining performance by selecting the essential services required to work in the background. These APIs will be made available to developers so they can integrate them into their apps.

Examples of iPhone multi-tasking

  • Background Audio –  Pandora will allow streaming of customized internet radio.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol –  Skype will be able to receive incoming calls when in another application or if the device is locked.
  • Background Location – TomTom can continue to track your position and give you directions, even while you have music applications running.
  • Task Completion – Flickr will tell you when it’s finished uploading photos.
  • Fast App Switching – This will store the state of an application in the background so that it uses no CPU. So multi-tasking shouldn’t affect the processing speed of the app that is open.

2. Folders

This is key for those who are tired of scrolling through pages and pages of apps and then discovering you can only fit 180 apps onto your iPhone. Drag and drop applications on top of each other to automatically create a folder. The intelligent naming of the folder is dependent on the app store naming convention. All in all you will be able to store up to 2160 applications on your device.

Steve also showcased wallpapers, showing how users can personalize their device further by changing the background.

3. Enhanced Mail

Apple have listened to requests from users and added some key features to the Mail. There is the option for a unified inbox, allowing multiple email accounts to feed into one inbox. They will also support multiple exchange accounts. For those who prefer keeping inboxes separate there will be fast inbox switching. Mail can be organized by thread so you can follow email discussions more easily. Finally users will be able to open up email attachments with apps from the App Store.

4. iBooks

iBooks is Apple’s ebook reader. Since it was rolled out on iPad there were requests to bring it to iPhone. It will use the same iBookstore as the iPad. Users can buy a book once, transfer it to all their other devices and wirelessly sync pages and bookmarks. Plus you get a free Winnie the Pooh book.

5. Enterprise Features

According to Apple over 80% of Fortune 100 companies use iPhones. So they have added in some extra features to support businesses. This includes better data protection, allowing users to encrypt all their emails and attachments with pin codes. They will make APIs available so developers can encrypt data in their app too. There will be mobile device management, which is useful for mass deployment of iPhones. As well as wireless app distribution, multiple exchange accounts and support for Exchange Server 2010 and SSL VPN (Juniper and Cicso).

6. Game Center

Apple showed a preview of a social gaming network that they plan on making available later on in the year. As there are 50,000 games and entertainment apps already on iPhone, Apple want to provide a service that will allow developers to add extra functionality into their applications. This includes inviting friends, matchmaking, leaderboards, and achievements.

This announcement sent a shock-wave through the established gaming community as there are already a whole host of iPhone gaming platforms in existence, including Open Feint, Crystal, Scoreloop, Plus+ and Agon. However since the Apple keynote the developers of these networks have announced that they plan to fully integrate with the new platform. Game Center will enable them to increase their user base and allow them to focus on what makes their services unique.

7. iAd

Apple wishes to continue to promote the freemium economy (keeping apps free) whilst providing developers with a source of income so they can afford to make more amazing apps. Therefore Apple’s announced iAd, their mobile advertising platform.

There are 185,000 apps on the app store and swiftly approaching 100 million devices in circulation. The average user spends 30 minutes a day in apps and if you were to show an advert every 3 minutes, that would be 10 ads per day. Multiplied by the number of handsets means a phenomenal amount of ad impressions. Apple will sell and host the ads with 60% of the revenue being given to developers.

iAd will be built directly into the iPhone OS. This is beneficial for the user as clicking an ad will bring them interactive and video content without taking them out of the app they were in. Ads can be developed HTML5, but as it stands there will be no support whatsoever for Flash and Java.

Steve finished off by showcasing some rather nifty example ads for Toy Story 3, Nike, and Target. Make sure you check them out at 49 minutes into the Keynote lecture.

Platform Compatibility

iPhone OS 4.0 will be fully compatible with iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3rd generation. However not all features will be functional on iPhone 3G, iPod touch 2nd generation and older devices. This is due to the hardware not supporting tasks such as multi-tasking. It is also rumoured that older models won’t support camera app zoom and wallpapers.

A Few Final Thoughts…

Looks like the OS 4.0 update will be highly anticipated by users and developers alike. It will be interesting to see what advertising agencies will make of iAd and it will certainly guarantee jobs for those fluent in HTML5. Apple’s shunning of Flash is still rather a contentious issue and what with Adobe announcing CS5 last week, it leaves me wondering in who’s best interests it is that the two go head to head? Aside from that it was a very successful Keynote and I’m looking forward to June 22nd, which is rumoured to be the date that the iPhone 4G is announced.

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