Steve Jobs has spoken, and the fourth iteration of the iPhone OS is finally here. Except it’s no longer the “iPhone OS.” Instead it’s called, succinctly enough, iOS4.
Naturally, iOS4 brings more than just a name change. There’s a slew of new stuff that you can do with iOS4, and we’re going to explore most of it here in this article. Hopefully by the end of it, you’ll be salivating and anxiously awaiting June 21st, iOS4’s release date.
A word of warning before we begin: iOS4 will only work fully for the iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and third-generation iPod Touch. Second-generation iPod Touch and iPhone 3G users will still be able to use OS 4, but will not benefit from multitasking. If your device is older, sorry, but you’re out of luck; if you want the new firmware, you’ll have to upgrade. But for those of you who are eligible, the upgrade will be free, even for the iPod Touch.
We’ve been begging for this for a long time, and finally, Apple has delivered…for some devices, at least. According to Apple, they had refrained from implementing multitasking due to concerns about reduced battery life and performance, but this system seems like an elegant solution.
When you double-click the home button, a slider will pop up with the icons of currently running applications. From there, you’ll be able to quickly launch those applications. When not running, applications are frozen in a suspended state; though they won’t be running, they’ll be preserved.
But while they won’t be completely active, applications can still perform certain activities in the background. Applications like Pandora can stream music; you can receive VoIP calls even when Skype or a similar app is closed. Apps can work on tasks like uploading files in the background; location data is also accessible in the background, which is useful for apps like Foursquare.
Also, you can now receive notifications from an actual app—as it stands now, push notifications are sent from servers, so when it’s my turn in Words With Friends, their servers tell me, not the app on my iPod. Now apps can send you notifications, telling you that a task is complete, for example. And because of the way apps are frozen in their current state when you switch out of them, you can easily jump between different applications.
Hallelujah! Finally, we can organize our apps. Drag one app icon onto another, and your iPhone will automatically create a folder. Then you can edit the folder’s name (up to 13 characters) and the apps within it from either your iPhone (drag ‘em in!) or from iTunes on your PC/Mac. So, now you can group all of your eBook apps or your puzzle games together, for example.
We’ve been waiting for a better way to organize our apps for a long time, and folders are a welcome addition. Apple says that you can now have up to 2,160 visible apps thanks to folders—up from the 180 possible with OS 3. Gee, 148 apps seems like so long ago…
iOS4 introduces a unified inbox, which will pull messages from your various accounts into a single inbox. Also, conversations will now be grouped together, or “threaded,” much like Gmail does. Yes! Additionally, you can open email attachments with compatible apps, quickly switch between inboxes, and have multiple Exchange accounts. (Currently, you’re limited to one Exchange account.)
As an avid reader, I am personally excited by this development. iBooks for the iPhone / iPod Touch is the same gorgeous eReader app that we’ve seen on the iPad. Your purchases from the iBookstore will carry over between devices, of course, and notes and bookmarks will sync as well. Additionally, iBooks now supports PDFs, giving them a separate section within the app.
HD Video & iMovie
This mostly applies to iPhone 4 users. The iPhone 4 will be able to shoot HD video. Better yet, you’ll also be able to download iMovie from the App Store for $4.99 and edit that HD video straight from your iPhone. Yup, you read that right; mobile movie editing just got a lot more serious.
This one is only for iPhone 4’s. FaceTime is a WiFi-based video-calling feature. It’s pretty neat and uses the iPhone 4’s front-facing or rear camera, allowing you to make and receive video calls using your iPhone. Unfortunately, it only works between two iPhone 4 devices right now, and only when both are on WiFi. Apple says it’s in talks with its cellular carriers to bring FaceTime to cell networks, too, but that won't be in 2010.
You can now change your background wallpaper from the boring ol’ black screen, if you want. Pretty self-explanatory, no?
Netflix & Farmville
During Jobs’ keynote speech, we also learned of a few other apps that are coming to the iPhone. One of them is Netflix. Another is Farmville. Farewell, productivity; it was nice knowing you…
Did Someone Say Bing?
You can know chose your default search engine in the Settings app: Google (the default), Bing, or Yahoo.
That covers most, though certainly not all, of the major new features in iOS4. Multitasking, improved email, iBooks, folders, video calling, Netflix streaming movies…it’s one awesome update with a lot of new stuff to digest. Happily, we’ll have all this at our disposal shortly—iOS4 hits on June 21st! Don’t forget to update!
(Pictures taken from apple.com.)