Apple’s Thursday morning rollout of iPhone 4.0 was more about meeting expectations than necessarily beating them. For long months, the iPhone, the iPod touch — and now the iPad — have been severely criticized for the lack of certain features. Most prominent in this list is expanded multitasking, which had, up till now, only supported Apple’s own apps.
If you take Apple’s excuse at face value, multitasking wasn’t extended to third-party apps because of the potential to severely hurt performance and battery life. But Apple’s developers threw us a bone, in the form of Push Notification. This allows an app to silently send you a message using Apple’s own servers.
For most people, the lack of multitasking wasn’t an issue. Apple’s mobile platform is so responsive, apps can be quit and launched again with practically zero delay. But there are situations where running more than a single third-party app is critical, such as using the Pandora music software rather than iTunes. Right now, you can’t play a track via Pandora while doing something else, such as answering a call, but that’s going to change this summer when iPhone 4.0 is released.
In their presentation, Steve Jobs and crew said that developers would get a lucky seven APIs that they can use to multitask. The end result appears, from the onscreen demonstration at any rate, to be a near-perfect solution to the multitasking dilemma. Double click on the Home button and you’ll see a dock containing open apps that are a click away from accessing. If an app starts a task, such as downloading a file, and you switch to another, the previous app will finish the download before shutting down. Although some apps do this already, Apple’s updated tools will allow for a saved state, meaning that you can resume when you were doing previously when you launch an app again.
There will also be a local version of Push Notification, so a third-party app can communicate with you in the same way as Apple’s own calendar and alarm clock.
There’s a lot more, such as allowing a navigation app to continue operating and directing you to your destination while you take a phone call or send someone a message, perhaps to notify them about your impending arrival.
All told, it appears Apple has carefully examined the reasons iPhone, iPod touch and iPad users might require multitasking and they have addressed just about every one, with the promise that performance won’t be seriously impaired. Of course, if you use a battery hogging app in the background while doing something else, you will still have to expect a trip to the charger a lot sooner.
The rest of the features listed by Apple are probably no less significant, but since multitasking has been given such a high level of prominence, it takes first place. During the presentation, Apple referred to the seven major enhancements in iPhone 4.0 as “tentpoles.” For example, you’ll also have an enhanced version of Mail with a global Inbox, same as the desktop version, and speedier access to your email folders. There’s expanded enterprise support, including encryption and the ability to set up multiple Microsoft Exchange accounts, the ability to create folders by dragging and dropping apps one upon another, and a whole lot more.
Devoted gamers will get the Game Station, a social networking scheme that is probably meant to put Apple’s mobile platform on a par with other gaming systems. You wonder, in passing, when the Mac will support this setup, so that dedicated gamers will have a complete solution. Then again, Mac OS 10.7 has yet to be revealed, so you never know. I still think you’ll see a demonstration at this summer’s WWDC.
Rather than cover all the features, which mostly involves repeating Apple’s own information on the subject, check out the iPhone preview site for regular updates as the new OS is fleshed out. Meantime, developers are poring through the iPhone 4.0 SDK and they will soon begin to reveal more of the fine details.
In a short press meeting after the session, Steve Jobs said, to nobody’s surprise, that iPhone 4.0 wouldn’t have Flash. Did you expect otherwise? And nothing was mentioned about native printing support, although I suppose there’s still hope.
Now if you have an older iPhone, you might want to take pause. You see, the enhanced multitasking capability requires an iPhone 3GS, a current model iPod touch and, of course, an iPad. Older iPhones and iPod touches aren’t powerful enough to manage this and other power-robbing features, so maybe you want to consider upgrading when the next model refresh arrives.
Oh sure, you can probably suggest that Apple is omitting some features from older models in order to sell you new gear. That is probably true, in part, but Apple is also concerned about the end-user experience. You wouldn’t want multitasking if your Apple mobile gadget bogged down under the load of a few apps, right?
As I said, the new release will arrive this summer, no doubt coinciding with the next generation iPhone. The iPad’s update will come this fall, perhaps to flesh out certain features and customize them for a more powerful device.
Of course, some people will suggest that Apple can never do enough to satisfy their needs and desires. But with 100 new features, some of which we don’t really know about yet, I’m sure there’s plenty of meat and potatoes for most of you.
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