iPhone OS 4.0 addresses a lot of complaints

08Apr10

Some people hate the iPhone. And that’s okay; we live in a free society after all, you’re welcome to hate whatever you want. Apple just made justifying your position a lot more difficult with their iPhone OS 4.0 presentation though. When I look at the list of reasons people give for disliking the iPhone, Apple sent a scythe through it today. To wit:

  • Multitasking – This was the big one, the primary functionality complaint. Steve admitted that Apple was a little behind in implementing this (no kidding), but said that the iPhone would do it the best. It looks like iPhone 4.0 will allow only specific services to run in the background, but since those services include the music player, GPS radio, data access, and a bunch of other things, that shouldn’t be an issue. They claim to have a “perfect freeze” implementation too – if an app doesn’t require background services (like most games), the iPhone can do a total freeze of the app’s state (so it uses 0 CPU cycles, and hence, no power), restoring it when the app is opened. I’ve always had my doubts about whether the impact of multitasking on a phone’s battery life is as severe as Apple claims- my Droid seems to handle it just fine- but this is a good thing.
  • Improved e-mail – Previous incarnations of the iPhone just didn’t have the same level of fine-grained control of your e-mail that Blackberries did, which is why the latter has remained the go-to device for serious e-mail addicts. 4.0 improves the situation dramatically though: there is now a “global inbox” to see the mail from all your accounts in one place, faster account switching so you don’t have to tap Back-Back-Back-Back-Back to get from one account to another, threaded mail viewing (finally!), and the ability for third-party apps to open attachments. All in all, this brings mail on the iPhone certainly ahead of that offered by my Droid, and probably on par with a Blackberry.
  • Enterprise features – The iPhone has ever-so-slowly been making inroads into corporate environments, but previous software versions were still lacking some vital features in terms of both usability and security. With 4.0 though, there is dramatically improved encryption capabilities (including allowing 3rd-party software access to the encryption APIs), distributing apps wirelessly with push notification for company updates (this one got huge applause from the audience), and SSL VPN support (VPN stands for virtual private network, and is a means of setting up an encrypted connection between you and a network which could be anywhere else in the world), which is a must in many corporate environments. IT departments are going to be hard-pressed to say no.

There were a few other announcements which were impressive but not earth-shattering. Like everyone else, they’ve tried to get into the “social networking” genre by including a unified gaming platform- perhaps the begging of an iPhone-Xbox-Live?- but what I really would’ve liked to see is the physical-buttons-add-on revealed in a patent a little while ago.

One announcement that’s not much from a usability perspective but huge from a business perspective is iAd, Apple’s unified advertising delivery API. Steve complained about the hodge-podge methods of delivering advertising content on the iPhone today, and thus unveiled a service where you could pay for ads through Apple, who would take care of delivery to apps that request advertising. The interesting thing is that Apple- not some other ad agency- is going to handle selling and targeting the ads… they are seriously moving in on Google’s turf now. Relations between Apple and Google, which have been bad these last few months, just got considerably worse.

There’s still no Flash, and obviously Apple’s stringent app-approval process ain’t going anywhere. But given that companies are rapidly redeploying their websites to work with HTML5, if for no other reason than to work on the iPad, it’s getting harder and harder to complain about the lack of Flash support. And with 150,000 apps to do pretty much anything you want, the second complaint doesn’t seem to be hitting as hard as it used to be either.

As usual, iPhone OS 4.0 is going to spend some time alone with developers, and will probably hit your grubby little paws in a few months… but only if you have an iPhone 3GS. Earlier iPhones and iPod touches either cannot get 4.0 at all, or get a degraded version without multitasking (which is the primary draw). This is probably going to irk a lot of people, although it makes sense from a hardware perspective. Both the original iPhone and the 3G are several years old, after all. The iPad’s getting it too, but not until the fall. This doesn’t make a whole of sense, but neither does buying an iPad without multitasking.

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