Apple held its iPhone OS 4.0 Sneak Peek event today and previewed some interesting features. Apple says the next major iPhone OS upgrade will offer over 100 new users features and 1500 new APIs for developers. Let’s see what’s new and most interesting:
- GUI You can now set a wallpaper for the homescreen. This is the least interesting news to me and somewhat expected as the iPad already offers this. The iPhone dock will look like the iPod touch glass dock.
- App folders Apps can be put into folders. Apple’s love to detail manifests itself in the fact that new folders are named after the App Store category the folder’s apps are in.
- Mail.app Several new features including an unified inbox and threads.
- Calendar access via API Great feature if used right by productivity apps.
- MobileMe Notes syncing Finally MobileMe notes syncing will be included. No longer only available through iTunes.
- Bluetooth keyboard iPhone becomes iPad nano.
- iBooks Uhm… yeah. Saw that one coming. Synchronizes bookmarks and reading position between iBooks small and iBooks medium. When will we see iBooks large for Mac? Winnie the Pooh will also be free on iPhone iBooks.
- Game Center Apple’s take on in-game social networks like OpenFeint, Plus+, etc. Bad for those companies/services but good for the user as it is built-in and many games will support it which means you’ll actually find your real life friends online. Maybe.
For many (3rd party) multitasking will be the most important addition to the iPhone OS platform. I think multitasking is not essential on mobile devices like the iPhone (the iPad is another story), especially multitasking which requires the user to manage processes and kill applications running in the background and sucking the battery empty. Apple’s approach promises the flexibility of multitasking while sparing the user the ugly face of it. Developers can access these multitasking features through new APIs:
- Limited multitasking This is a good thing as no app can bring the whole device down (in theory). Developers have different APIs to benefit from multitasking.
- Fast switching Press the home button and the whole view slides up, revealing a row of icons which is flickable to select the app you want to switch to.
- Task completion Certain tasks are allowed to finish in the background (e.g. picture upload).
- Background sound Apps can play music in the background and use the lock screen iPod controls. (Lock iPhone and double-press the home button.) Skype can also run in the background just like iPhone’s phone app.
- Background location Allows an app to access your location while not the front-most app. Great for running/hiking and navigation apps.
- Push notifications While lacking a cosmetic overhaul (admit it, those blue popups are ugly) the new local notifications are part of the best new features. Not requiring a server, apps can notify the user directly from the device. Task managers can now remind you of deadlines, etc. without using an internet connection.
Steven Jobs: mobile advertising “really sucks”. iAd is interactive HTML5-only ads, built-in. A tab on an ad doesn’t leave the app and allows the user to return to where (s)he were.
A slap in Google’s and Adobe’s faces.
Google, the ad-company, will have a hard time competing against a system-wide solution should the revenue for developers be the same or better. The developer will receive 60% of the revenues which Jobs says is industry standard. I think it will be more important how the ads perform. I can live with 10% revenue if I make more money per month because the displayed ads get more clicks (or taps). If I tap on an ad and the app quits and opens Safari I’ve done this for the first and last time. Should I see a nice looking, HTML5 ad which doesn’t quit the app and which is — dare I say it — entertaining because it is interactive and even informative (Apple demonstrated some ads with games and maps), I will certainly tap on interesting ads again.
In the end, it all comes down to the revenue developers get by including Apple’s iAds and not Google’s. We’ll have to see who wins.
Another great thing about the iPhone OS 4.0 upgrade will be its availability on older generation devices (iPhone 3G and 2nd generation iPod touch). The users of those devices will miss some features (multitasking, etc.) but they get the update. It’s not a given that you get software updates for your phone or music player two years after you bought it. The original iPod touch and iPhone are not strong enough to run the update, though. I was surprised they got the OS 3.0 treatment in the first place.
iPhone and iPod touch will get the update this summer, iPad owners will have to wait till fall. (I’m already practicing waiting: still two weeks until the iPad arrives in Germany.)
I have high hopes for iPhone OS 4.0 with the slew of new features and especially Apple’s implementation of multitasking. During the Q&A after the keynote Jobs said “If a user has to use a task manager to manage [multitasking], [the device maker] blew it. Users shouldn’t have to think about that stuff.” (source) This way of thinking is a great starting point to do something as delicate as a good implementation of multitasking right.
Asked about new iPad features, a device that shipped five days ago, Steve replied “We just shipped it on Saturday, and we rested on Sunday”. I’m still waiting for the iPad to be released in Germany, so I can also wait a few months for software updates. Give them some well deserved rest.