What’s in the iPhoneOS 4.0 update?

It had to happen, didn’t it? The week I was away on holiday there was an announcement from Apple about new software for the iPhone. In case you missed the news, here are the points I think are particularly exciting:

Multitasking

Switching between apps on the iPhone has always been a little bit clunky, requiring a visit to the home screen and then reopening the app in question. Now, though, if you’ve had an app open you can double-tap the home key and you’ll get a list of all the apps that are running in the background. It makes the process of switching apps slicker, and it’s something users have been keen to see included for a while. The nice thing is that audio streaming apps will still run if you decide to check your mail or open your browser.

Apple say they have been careful to implement multitasking in a way that preserves battery life and performance, essentially providing the services required for apps to run in the background as core APIs. That will allow the phone to manage performance and battery usage without the developers having to worry about it.

Location Privacy

I remember when I got my first iPhone I was a little nervous about sharing my location with some apps. I got over that, but Apple are adding a new feature that will allow you to have more control over which apps are using your location. If anything is using location information there will be an icon in the status bar to let you know. You will also be able to set location permissions on an app-by-app basis in the iPhone‘s settings.

Folders

Scrolling through screens of icons is a pain in the neck, so iPhoneOS 4.0 will allow you to drop one icon on top of another and they’ll create a folder. This will let you group your apps together, making it easier to find your games or social media apps quickly.

The folders can be renamed if you like, or they’ll be automatically named based on which category in the app store the apps within came from.

Enhanced Mail App

At the moment there’s a separate mailbox for each address within the mail app. That’s a little annoying if you want to quickly check two mail accounts, so 4.0 brings a unified mailbox which includes messages from all accounts in Mail. Fast inbox switching will still allow you focus on a single address if you want to, but I can definitely see myself using the unified option a lot. There will also be the ability to view e-mails in threads and keep track of the conversation instead of having them appear in the inbox in the order they arrived. I would have found that very useful when running some of the competitions we’ve had here recently. On my Mac all the entries were grouped together in one thread… but not on my iPhone. This is a very welcome feature.

iBooks

If you were jealous that iPad users got the iBooks bookstore and reader, be jealous no more! It’s coming to the iPhone and, while obviously on a smaller screen than the iPad, looks pretty nice! You’ll even get a free Winnie the Pooh ebook to get you started :)

Game Center

Yes, I know it’s “centre” but the presentation was in America so I’ve stuck with their spelling! The iPhone and iPod Touch are wonderful gaming platforms and 4.0 will include a preview of a new feature that works as a social gaming network.  You will be able to invite friends to play with you, be matched with players of similar skill, view leaderboards and earn achievements. Kind of like Xbox LIVE but on a mobile device (and probably not full of people screaming obscenities into their communicators either).

The Gaming Center will be available later this year.

iAd

Mobile advertising. Hmm. OK, here’s the deal – lots of iPhone apps are supported by advertising and Mr Jobs expressed the opinion that a lot of this advertising really sucks. So Apple will step in and provide a built-in advertising platform that’s part of the apps users are, well, using. There’s the opportunity to place 1 billion ads in front of users every day, but also to improve the quality of the ads, provide interaction and emotion. That’s really going to upset some of the mobile advertising networks that have sprung up.

Importantly, iAd will keep you within the app you were using rather than dragging you out to a browser for more information. iAd is looking like a decent option for that reason alone!

If you develop an application with iAd you will receive 60% of the revenues from advertising, with Apple (who will sell and host the ads) receiving the other 40%. From a developer point of view this does look good. We’ll reserve judgment on how it works from a user point of view until we’ve seen it in the wild. iAd uses HTML 5, by the way, continuing Apple’s non-use of Flash.

Anything else?

Those are the main points I think you’ll find interesting, but there are a few other things that may pique your interest: a 5x digital zoom on the camera and the ability to gift apps to a friend without having to just give them the money are among the updates coming soon.

iPhoneOS 4 will be out in the summer and runs on iPhone 3GS and 3rd Gen iPod Touch. The 3G and 2nd Gen iPod Touch will run many of the features but not all (not multitasking, for instance). At the time of writing there is no firm information about new iPhone hardware, although rumours say there may be an iPhone HD announcement on 22nd June. More on that if and when we get it.

Are you looking forward to iPhoneOS 4.0? Is there anything you think should have been included but wasn’t? Anything that’s particularly exciting to you? As ever, let us know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I've been umming and ahhhing for months about my new phone, and whether to switch to iPhone from Blackberry. In the end my provider Vodafone España, still doesn't offer iPhone and rather than wait, I've ordered a new BB.

    I've had BB's for years now and have never suffered any problems – they just seem to keep working and never crash. My current Curve has lasted through two years of my abuse!

    I'll let you know what the new one is like with a review.

  2. Boo hiss etc. ;)

    Actually, I was really tempted by the BB Bold when it came time to upgrade my iPhone. My dad is a BB user and I know how rock solid his has been, and just how good a smartphone it is. Looking forward to reading your review when you get hold of your new handset.

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