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iPhone OS 4: Highlights

April 15, 2010

Apple iPhone

Last Thursday, on Apr 08, Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall presented the plans for the new iPhone operating system, iPhone OS 4. The event itself can be seen on the official site. What are the highlights?

Multi-tasking

The purpose of multitasking is simple – to be able to run several applications concurrently. To be able to play some music, for example, and while listening to it to browse the internet, or write an SMS, or do something else. Or to run Skype and do other stuff until someone writes you a Skype message or initiates a Skype call. In iPhone this is currently impossible – if you start a program, it is the only one running, and in order to start another one, you will have to close the first. If you run Skype, it is the only application running and if you want to google something, for example, you must close Skype and run the browser. That’s it, these are the rules. For everyone. Except for Apple’s applications, of course.

This is a subject Apple’s been criticized about for years (literally) and now, with the release of iPhone OS 4, it is expected to change. From what I saw on Steve Jobs’s presentation, however, it is not likely that the iPhone multitasking will be anywhere close to what we are used to in other platforms (in terms of capabilities it gives the developers), but it is still something. As a matter of fact, the popularity of the iPhone (about 50 million devices sold in around three years time), without multitasking furthermore suggests, that this is not something you can’t live without. And Apple are so concerned that the multitasking could harm the battery life or the performance of the device, that the seven services for multitasking that are available on the iPhone, they implemented themselves (which is not such a bad idea, if you think about it for awhile).

I find Steve Jobs’s comment about the question how iPhone multitasking applications can be stopped interesting – “if you see a task manager… they blew it. Users shouldn’t ever have to think about it.” (you can follow the Q&A section, that took place after the presentation at the end of the Engadget’s live post). He commented in a similar manner the need of a stylus for touch-screen devices on the initial launch of the iPhone – do you recall the last time you noticed a release of a modern smart-phone with a stylus? He might just be right again.

“Multi-marketing”

The purpose of “multimarketing” is simple – to be able to release a product on several “markets” concurrently. To release the iPhone as a mass market mobile phone, for example, and at the same time to release it as a competitive offering for businesses, as a gaming console and as a digital book reader. All at once – in one product, one device. To see what I have in mind, read on.

iPhone as a (BlackBerry?) business phone

There are three characteristics that lead to BlackBerry’s dominance as a most popular mobile platform in the US:

  • Secure (encrypted) communication – Every connection the BlackBerry device initiates to the BlackBerry server is encrypted. This means in practice, that nobody can “spy” your communication while you work on the mobile device. One of the new features of the iPhone OS 4, is that all incoming/outgoing iPhone email messages are encrypted, similarly to what BlackBerry/RIM are doing.
  • Push email – Means that you receive your email messages on your BlackBerry device the moment they arrive in your Inbox. No delays, everything happens instantly. Additionally, the technology allows to improve the performance of the mobile device, because it doesn’t need to check if there is a new email message every 5 minutes (for example). iPhone has push email support for more than a year (I am not sure if it requires MS Exchange or not, though).
  • Centralized device management - Likewise to what BlackBerry devices have, Apple will allow remote, centralized mobile device management. In the BlackBerry world this means the company administrators could, for example, install applications on company handsets without any user interaction. Another possibility is to disallow application installations for programs that the company did not authorize for use.

Keeping in mind the growth of revenue RIM are enjoying during the last couple of years, this might be a good attempt to attract at least some of the BlackBerry business users.

iPhone as a (XBox?) gaming console

There are games for iPhone since the very beginning, like in almost all mobile devices. New in iPhone OS 4, however, is the social gaming network, called Game Center. According to people who are familiar with the subject (I am not one of those), the good implementation of the XBox Live platform for online gaming is the main reason for the success of XBox 360. Well, apparently Apple are trying to do the same. And it is definitely not accidental that Steve Jobs compared the iPhone with another two popular, portable gaming consoles like Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

iPhone as a (Kindle?) digital book reader

Apple released iBooks with iPad, and now the application (iBooks) will also be available for the iPhone. This is a direct attack towards the users of Kindle from Amazon, which by the way, already has an iPhone application.

iPhone as a (Google Ads?) platform for online advertising

According to Steve Jobs the online advertising, which is currently mostly effective for internet search engines (yes, Google) will transform in advertising for mobile applications (but not for mobile search). Currently a leader in this segment is AdMob, who were recently acquired by Google. And although the demo of the capabilities of iAd seems quite impressive, I seriously doubt that this will be the case with the regular adverts in iAd. They will probably look like the ones on AdMob/Google.

The new operating system will be available for the users of iPhone in the summer, and for iPad users in the fall. Not all new features will be available for the 1st and 2nd generation iPhones – multitasking will be missing, for example, “due to hardware limitations”.

Author: Stefan Buynov

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