So the highly anticipated, newly renamed iOS 4 arrived Monday morning in iTunes 9.2 for millions of expectant iPhone and iPod touch users. Predictably, Apple’s update servers were no doubt slammed by the incredible demand, as users clicked their Update buttons in iTunes over and over again to get in line to receive the upgrade.
If you’re using an original iPhone or iPod touch, forget about iOS 4 or just prepare to buy a new iPhone when version 4 comes out later this week. The new iOS won’t support those models. Those of you with an iPhone 3G can get most of the update, except for the long-awaited multitasking feature, which is probably the biggest enticement to install the upgrade.
On a 3GS, the update works well enough, and all features are supported. I didn’t notice any material change in performance, although I’m sure some of you will grade it snappier. But during several hours of routine app switching and Internet surfing, I didn’t notice much change. But you can tell there’s a lot of extra stuff going on in the background. The newly installed Pandora Internet radio software, for example, played reliably in the background as I accessed different iPhone apps.
The overall impact of multitasking is fairly seamless. You can use your iPhone is before and you probably won’t notice anything different, other than the interface updates of course, until you actually call up apps and functions that do call up one of Apple’s seven multitasking APIs.
The new Folder feature is particularly useful. Just drag and drop a couple of apps to build a folder, which will be labeled with the category in which those apps fit. In a case where the apps apply to different categories, the iOS appears to choose the source app for the category. So take IMDB, the Internet Movie Database, an entertainment app that lets you seek out information about the people involved in films and TV, and Opera, a Web browser. Dragging the former atop the larger created a folder in the Entertainment category, which you can easily change to whatever you want. I renamed it “Miscellaneous Stuff,” although the final version might be a tad more descriptive. It’s still a work in progress for me.
Among the highly-touted features is a unified Inbox for your email. That’s something that may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your workflow.
In my particular setup, I have seven active email accounts. But some of them also use custom folders and rules established in Mail to handle messages from specific senders or which fit into certain categories, such as friends and family. Unfortunately, the new design forces me to scroll down below the list of Inboxes to a category labeled Accounts, where I can then navigate through the folder hierarchy to see those emails. With previous versions of the iPhone software, the Accounts list would be the only top-level listing.
Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off the universal Inbox that I can locate. It’s not in Settings, nor is it mentioned in any of the online information I’ve consulted so far. I’ll grant I might be missing some sort of secret salute that will resolve this dilemma for me, but for now, I’m not so happy with the new arrangement. But maybe 99% of iOS 4 users will disagree, so there you go.
In any case, the threaded discussions feature ought to help you keep tabs of your ongoing communications and business users will appreciate the ability to add multiple Microsoft Exchange accounts.
It would be nice, however, to be able to apply a custom signature for each account. You’re still saddled with just one, and despite the addition of spell checking when crafting your messages, there’s still no support for spam filtering or rules. For that, you have to depend on your desktop or Web-based email clients for both, or a server-side spam filter for the former.
Apple, however, seems to have remembered to fix the problem with Safari bookmarks, where, when returning from a site selected from that list, you automatically return to the place in that listing where you originally found the bookmark. This wasn’t so big an issue unless you had a long list of bookmarks, and were forced to constantly scroll to where you left off.
This oh-so-obvious fix is nothing original, however. The feature was present in iPhone 1.0, but dropped unaccountably in subsequent releases. Maybe nobody else cared, but I’m glad it’s back.
Another feature that may require some attention is the revised Wallpaper feature, where Home can have the same backdrop as the Lock screen, or you can make separate selections. The standard Phone background, however, may obscure some of your app icons on your Home page, so you’ll want to change it. This new feature affords a desktop-like motif similar in concept to that of the iPad, although the app icons are much closer together. Too bad you can’t adjust icon spacing on an iPad — at least not yet.
Since downgrading your iPhone software isn’t a trivial process, unless you happen to have an older version around from a previous installation or you successfully locate a copy online, you may want to hold off a day or two to make sure there aren’t any show-stopper bugs. But I jumped at the chance, and, aside from a few quibbles, I’m quite pleased with iOS 4. At least so far.