Apple yesterday released information about the upcoming revision to its iPhone operating system - iPhone OS 4.0, which is due for release in June. It offers major enhancements like multitasking, the iBooks eBook reader app, a centralized gaming service, performance and battery life improvements. But while the new software will be a boon for iPhone 3GS and iPad owners, as well as buyers of the next-gen iPhone HD expected to debut sometime this year, it seems that iPhone 2G, 3G and older iPod Touch owners might be left behind on the upgrade trail. Oh - and the new developer kit contains another nasty surprise for Adobe.
Apple previewed its iPhone OS 4.0 yesterday and released a beta developer's version. Some of the key enhancements you can expect when iPhone OS 4.0 lands in June include:
The fact that previous iPhone OS versions haven't allowed multitasking beyond alarm and music-playing abilities has long been a source of frustration for many users. iPhone OS 4.0 addresses this with a limited expansion of the platform's multitasking engine.
True multitasking is limited to audio streaming, VoIP and GPS apps - you simply double-click the home button for the list of running applications and switch between them. There's a limited ability for apps to complete important tasks in the background while others are running, and applications can send important notifications that pop up in other apps when they require attention.
Even though true multitasking is limited to a handful of applications, all other applications can be frozen, so you can shut them down and then open them up exactly where you left them, which is a reasonable way of getting around the problem.
Mail application overhauled
Those of us with multiple in-boxes will be happy to learn that iPhone OS 4.0's new Mail app allows the option of viewing all messages together in a unified in-box, so you don't have to constantly jump in and out of mail accounts.
Messages can also be shown in a threaded format, which Gmail users will appreciate, and there's a new fast in-box switching feature and the ability to handle multiple MS Exchange accounts.
The new Apple eBook reader has come to the iPhone platform as well as the iPad.
Apple is putting together a central multiplayer gaming service along the lines of Xbox Live. It will allow you to invite friends to play a game, keep centralized leaderboards for high scores, and track in-game achievements.
Advertising-supported apps will benefit from the Apple iAd platform, which allows interactive video and interactive advertising content to be shown within applications. Developers can put advertising space into their apps, and Apple will sell and serve ad content into the spaces. Good news for developers, but better news for Apple, who will take 40 percent of all advertising revenues.
Other baubles and trinkets thrown in with iPhone OS 4.0 will include the ability to put applications into folders on your home screens, custom backgrounds, Bluetooth keyboard support, spell checking, tap to focus video, the ability to search SMS and MMS messages, CalDAV invitations, and some improvements in the security, scalability and compatibility areas.
And now the bad news ...
Not all OS 4.0 compatibility is coming to all handsets. Multitasking, for instance, will only run if you've got a 3GS iPhone or 3rd generation iPod touch. So it seems handsets that are only a couple of years old are starting to get dropped off the list.
Worse news for Adobe and Google
Apple's dislike for Adobe's Flash platform has long been known and understood. With Flash completely unsupported by the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad's Web browsers, Adobe spent significant development time building a Flash to iPhone app converter into its upcoming Creative Suite 5 software bundle.
This converter would allow developers to write software in Flash and effectively export an iPhone app ready for the app store.
But part of the new App Store terms and conditions, released concurrently with OS 4.0, expressly forbids the use of "an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool," requiring that all apps must be originally created in native code. This, of course, instantly renders Adobe's new converter (and a number of similar converters) useless, and those with a stake in Adobe's new toolset are up in arms.
The new terms and conditions are a hardline move from Apple, a glimpse into the company's ruthless competitive streak and a clear statement that Apple expects to maintain absolute control over the iPhone app development cycle. And with the App Store still far and away the most popular of all mobile application markets, the company is still in a position to call the shots.
Furthermore, for those who have been following Apple's slowly brewing rift with its former partner Google, they might notice that the "Google" button seems to have been replaced by a more generic "Search" in the new OS - flagging that Apple might make a move to switch default search engines in the iPhone browser.
iPhone OS 4.0 will be released "this summer" for iPhones, and sometime in fall for the iPad. Learn more at the official Apple iPhone OS 4.0 preview site.