Apple finally delivers a degree of multitasking to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch in iPhone OS 4.0 – along with improved email and an online gaming service.
The iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch will enjoy limited but still highly practical multitasking under iPhone OS 4.0, which Apple has previewed to the media overnight.
But not all devices will support an upgrade to the new OS. The first-gen iPod Touch and original iPhone (which was never sold in Australia) can’t be upgraded at all, while the iPhone 3G and second-gen iPod Touch won’t support multitasking.
Only the iPhone 3GS, third-gen iPod Touch and iPad – along with the fourth-gen iPhone due mid-year, of course – will have access to everything on the OS 4.0 menu.
Multitasking is the big ticket, although this will be restricted to applications which require one of a handful of functions which Apple will allow to run in the background.
For other apps it’s more like advanced task switching, or in Apple parlance ‘fast task switching’, which pauses one app when you duck into another and then lets you return to that same point, such as a game.
Multitasking, of sorts, comes to the iPhone with apps like Skype able to run in the background (pic courtesy of Gizmodo)
VoIP services such as Skype will be permitted to run in the background, so you can receive calls even if you’re in another app – the incoming call pops up the same alert notification as a standard phone call – and even when you’re on the call you can move into other apps.
GPS navigation apps which provide turn-by-turn directions will also be able to run in the background. Apps can also provide their own pop-up notifications while you’re in another app, while streaming audio from services such as Pandora will continue to play if you switch to another app, just as if it was a track from your device’s iTunes library
To switch between tasks, users will stab the Home button twice and call up a ‘multitasking tray’ laden with icons for all background apps. The tray appears in the same space as the four shortcut icons for your favourite apps, but can be scrolled sideways to cope with instances where more than four apps are running simultaneously.
On the email front, iPhone OS 4.0 gains a unified inbox which contains email from all your accounts, although users can still access individual per-account inboxes. Emails can be organised by subject and attachments opened using third-party software which will be offered through the App Store.
Email is a big winner in iPhone OS 4.0, with a unified inbox containing email from multiple accounts
and the ability to arrange emails sorted by subject (pic courtesy of Engadget)
Business users also get a boost with support for Exchange 2010 (due for release next month) plus multiple Exchange accounts, while IT administrators can remotely manage their iPhone fleet and install apps directly from their server onto any device via 3G, instead of requiring a USB link-and-sync with iTunes.
Tired of playing with yourself? Meet and match up with fellow iPhone gamers through the new Game Centre
(pic courtesy of Gdgt )
Apple is also playing to its platforms’ gaming strengths with the introduction of the Game Centre – a “social gaming network” similar to XBox Live which lets users challenge others for multiplayer online gaming (including “automatic matchmaking” to find others with a similar skill level to your own), along with supporting a leaderboard and a running tally of each player’s achievements.
Management of apps on the limited screen space is improved through the introduction of folders. Predictably, iPhone OS 4.0 also gains the same ability to customise the wallpaper as seen on the iPad, and will also include the iBook app, which can wirelessly sync your bookmarks and last-read pages between different devices.
Folders are Apple's solution to icon overload on the iPhone's home screen (pic courtesy of Gdgt )
Apple will release iPhone OS 4.0 update for the iPhone and iPod Touch mid-year, most likely when it launches the OS alongside its fourth-gen iPhone at the annual developer conference at the end of June. The update will be free for the iPhone users but come at an undisclosed cost for the iPod Touch. OS 4.0 will also be available for the iPad towards the end of this year.