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iPhone OS 4.0: Pros and Cons

Earlier this afternoon, we watched with interest as Apple finally released details on the long-awaited iPhone OS 4.0. While there are some definite cons associated with this major upgrade to the iPhone OS, there are plenty of pros: It looks like Steve Jobs and company will unleash lots of new features and APIs that will redefine iPhone and iPod Touch users’ experience when OS 4 is released this summer.

There was quite a bit of information packed into the nearly two-hour-long double announcement and press conference. Here, distilled down to the essentials, are iPhone OS 4.0’s pros and cons, as well as a few additional things to consider in the run up to its release:

Pros:

  • Multitasking – The big one, and what users have been clamouring for since the beginning, Apple has devised a way to allow programs to run as background processes in a way that doesn’t harm the CPU and battery. Really, their solution comes just short of true multitasking, allowing key processes for certain apps to run in the background while resources can be directed to apps in the foreground. So now you can finally run Pandora while checking your mail, or take calls from Skype while browsing while your phone’s performance won’t take a hit. Other implementations include backgrounded location for GPS and social media programs, Push notifications, and local notifications.
  • Folders – A common niggling complaint among iPhone and iPod Touch users is that their devices just don’t have a great way to organize apps on the homescreen. In iPhone OS 4.0, Apple has created Folders as a way to organize apps that correspond to their respective App Store categories, or whatever the user wants them to be. Just drag an icon and hover it over another to make a folder on the fly.
  • Wallpapers – Took them long enough.
  • Enhanced Mail – In OS 4.0’s Mail app, you’ll now have a unified inbox that can handle multiple accounts, as well as threaded messages and attachments for third-party apps. Combined with multitasking, you can open an attachment in Mail that opens another app in what will hopefully be a seamless experience. Very cool.
  • Enterprise – Deploying multiple iPhones over a business network is made easier and with security as a focus. Also, company-developed apps can be downloaded right from the jump, bypassing the App Store.

In just those five points, Apple has covered its bases pretty well: Again, multitasking is the biggie, but these address some of the biggest and most widespread user complaints about iPhone OS 3. However, not all is as rosy as seen through Steve Jobs’ glasses.

Cons:

  • Support – OS 4.0 will be available in all it’s proposed glory for the iPhone 3GS and 3rd Generation iPod Touches. 3G and 2nd gen models of the respective devices will only have “many” features, with multitasking conspicuously absent from them. Jobs explained that the decision was a non-issue as older models simply don’t support these new features, but was vague as to what exactly might be missing. And if you’re an iPhone 2G or 1st gen iPod Touch user, you’re pretty much out of luck. This also begs the question of how OS 3.2 will be handled after this release. So, if you can’t pony up the dough for the new tech, you may have to keep on jailbreaking keep on dutifully abiding by Apple’s TOS.
  • Unsigned Apps – During the Q&A session after the event, one audience member asked if users can expect a future app store that didn’t hinge on Apple’s approval, citing Android and WebOS’s offerings. Jobs’ response was a flat and unsurprising no. Apple’s control over the App Store hinges on their not wanting porn apps that might be downloaded by children, although it should be noted Mobile Safari already accesses plenty of porn sites optimized for the iPhone. Not a blemish on the OS itself, but yet more fuel to the App Store management fire.
  • No Flash. Period. – Apple has made it clear that it will not budge on the HTML5 vs. Flash debate. How this will turn out is anyone’s guess, but what can be considered a con now might be a pro in coming years as sites slowlly embrace the new standard.

Other points of interest:

  • No clear release date or pricing, though we might be safe to guess at a similar scheme to previous iterations: Free for the iPhone, $10 for the iPod Touch. The developer copy, however, went live today.
  • OS 4.0 for the iPad will be released this fall. Presumably to work out the kinks?
  • iBooks – Jobs made a big deal about the iBookstore when the iPad was unveiled, and, with over 600k iBooks downloaded to date, it has been successful. iPhone OS 4.0 supports the iBookstore, which looks just as it did on the iPad. Only smaller.
  • No mention made of the rumoured iPhone 4G.
  • Game Center – A social gaming platform that will include achievements and leaderboards similar to Xbox Live. It will likely replace existing platforms like ngmoco plus+, but Jobs assured those in attendance that the same people who would potentially be in competition with them have worked with them on it.
  • iAd – This is Apple’s foray into advertising, and Jobs wasn’t shy about saying they’re “babes in the woods.” However, this seemed to excite him a great deal. Going so far to say that mobile advertising “really sucks” right now (It kind of does), Apple has attempted to combine the interactivity of web-based ads with the emotionality of televised one. What this translates to is highly interactive, app-like ads that make use of HTML5 video and that hover over the app the user might be using. Simply click on an ad within an app, play around with it or even make a purchase, and then go right back to what you were doing. Apple plans on selling and hosting these ads, with 60% of the revenue going to developers. Pro? Con? App developers will surely like some extra cashflow, but it could still go either way from a user’s perspective, depending on how it’s actually used.

So: straight on the heels of the iPad’s worldwide premiere, Apple managed to whip up its iPhone OS 4 presser into another big event with big news. Naturally, we’ll continue to follow the story for more details as the summer draws ever closer.

(Title photo via Geek.com)

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