Apple Details iPhone OS 4: Multi-Tasking, App Folders, And More Coming This Summer

Wow, what a week it has been for Apple. Last Saturday, the company's first tablet launched and sold over 300,000 units on the first day. On Monday, they announced that iPhone OS 4.0 would be explained in detail later in the week. And now, those details are live, and they're substantial to say the least. Apple's CEO Steve Jobs took the stage in California in order to lay out the next generation of the company's iPhone operating system, going on and on about seven "tentpoles" that would boost up a seriously overhauled system.

The keynote began with Jobs boasting about the iPad's success; as of today, another 150,000 have been sold, with many Best Buy's out of stock completely. Jobs said that Apple can't make these tablets quickly enough, and if you think they have a supply problem now, just imagine what would have happened if iPhone OS 4.0 were included from the start on these devices. The amount of iPad apps available is also growing; there are already over 3000 apps made specifically for the iPad, and we kind of doubt that growth rate will slow anytime soon.

Once that was covered, he dug into iPhone OS 4, the next generation version of the OS that powers the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone. Today, iPhone OS 4 beta was released to developers, enabling them to spend the next few months poking around and building/updating apps to work while other apps work in the background. Yes, we're not kidding. Apple has finally decided to enable native multi-tasking on the iPhone OS, something that has been sorely absent for months. Google's Android and Palm's webOS have been multi-tasking since last year, and Apple once held the crown in smartphone OS innovation, they have been seen as laggards for their reluctant to openly accept that multi-tasking was badly needed. With iPhone OS 4, that huge limitation is being addressed. What's unique about Apple's implementation is that users will supposedly suffer no huge hit in battery life or performance, and they won't even have to worry about properly shutting down one app before moving to another. There's still some secrecy around it, but it sounds like a fairly well thought-out implementation that just might put the others to shame. We know iPhone users will agree that it's better late than never here, but a really smart instance of multi-tasking might just make users forget about how painful the wait was (and still is).

Speaking of "still is," the bad news is that average consumers won't see iPhone OS 4 until the summer...or later. The system will be rolled out to iPhone 3GS users in the summer, but iPad users won't get it until the fall. That's a very strange move in our opinion, but obviously Apple thinks they know best. What's unfortunate is that the original iPhone and even the iPhone 3G will not be eligible for OS 4 updates. The hardware is simply too slow to really run the advanced features of OS 4 with any level of speed, so users of those phones will be forced to upgrade in the summer. Thankfully, the summer is also when Apple's next generation iPhone is anticipated, so that should line up nicely if you've been looking forward to upgrading anyway.

As for more new features? Over 100 will be included, with highlights being multi-tasking, Folders (to place all Games in a Games folder, for instance), an improved Mail with unified inbox, threaded message support, enhanced Enterprise support, mobile device management and support for Apple's new iAd mobile ad platform. iBooks will also make its iPod touch/iPhone debut in the summer, and the real kicker with a new online social network for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch gamers. It's like Xbox Live, but for games in the App Store. There will be milestones, contacts, multi-player, the works. Whoever thought Apple wasn't serious about the gaming market should really check themselves right about now.

So, iPhone OS 4 is real, and it's coming sort of soon. Best of all, it's adding something that has been needed for years in multi-tasking. We still wish we knew more about hardware plans (a Verizon iPhone? a new iPhone in the summer?), but this should tide us over. We bet you can already imagine how fun using Pandora and Google Maps at the same time will be.

iPhone OS 4’s new multitasking offers users a new way to quickly move between apps, and provides developers seven new multitasking services to easily add multitasking features to their apps. These services include background audio, so apps like Pandora can play music in the background, and VoIP, so VoIP apps can receive a VoIP call even when the iPhone is asleep or the user is running other apps. iPhone OS 4 provides multitasking to third party apps while preserving battery life and foreground app performance, which has until now proved elusive on mobile devices.

Folders help users better organize and quickly access their apps. Simply drag one app icon onto another, and a new folder is automatically created. The folder is automatically given a name based on the App Store category of that app, such as “Games,” which the user can easily rename. Using folders, users can now organize and access over 2,000 apps on their iPhone. Users can also create and manage iPhone folders on their Mac® or PC using iTunes® 9.2.

iPhone OS 4 delivers the best mail experience on a mobile phone with its new Unified Inbox, allowing users to see messages from all their email accounts displayed together in a single inbox. With just a few taps, users can quickly switch between inboxes to see messages from any single account. In addition, users can now thread their messages by conversation, making it easier to stay on top of email discussions, as well as open email attachments with compatible apps from the App Store.  

iAd, Apple’s new mobile advertising platform, combines the emotion of TV ads with the interactivity of web ads. Today, when users click on mobile ads they are almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser’s webpage. Users must then navigate back to their app, and it is often difficult or impossible to return to exactly where they left. iAd solves this problem by displaying full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose. iPhone OS 4 lets developers easily embed iAd opportunities within their apps, and the ads are dynamically and wirelessly delivered to the device. Apple will sell and serve the ads, and developers will receive an industry-standard 60 percent of iAd revenue.

The iPhone OS 4 beta release includes a developer preview of Game Center, which contains a set of APIs that allows developers to create apps with the ability to invite friends to play a game, start a multiplayer game through matchmaking and track achievements and compare high scores on a leader board. Apps created with GameKit APIs will work with Game Center, Apple’s new social gaming network available to iPhone and iPod touch users later this year.

New enterprise features in iPhone OS 4 include improvements in security, scalability and compatibility. The new Mobile Device Management service can be integrated with third party servers to wirelessly configure, query and even wipe or lock managed iPhones, and iPhone OS 4 enables enterprises to securely host and wirelessly distribute their own in-house developed apps to employees. The new Data Protection feature uses a user’s passcode as an encryption key to protect mail messages and attachments stored on the iPhone. iPhone OS 4 now provides the option to set a longer, more complex passcode, making iPhone and its data even more secure. iPhone OS 4 allows IT managers to set up multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts, is compatible with Exchange Server 2010 and includes support for forthcoming SSL VPN applications from Juniper Networks and Cisco.