Apple's next iPhone software adds multitasking, more or less
Apple introduced the next version of the iPhone's operating system--also used on the iPod Touch and the iPad--at an event on its Cupertino, Calif., campus Thursday morning.
(Note: I've updated this post.)
The big news: This update will bring something that resembles multitasking to some of those devices. While iPhone OS 4.0 won't keep multiple third-party programs open at the same time--what people usually mean when they throw this term around, and what you get in Google's Android, Palm's webOS and even on "jailbroken" iPhones--Apple says this update will offer many of multitasking's benefits at a lower cost in battery life.
(Since Apple did not provide a video stream of the presentation--
per its usual practice, I expect that to show up tomorrow it posted a QuickTime stream Thursday evening--I'm relying on liveblog reporting from such sites as Gearlog and MobileCrunch, as well as the company's just-issued press release.)
The new iPhone operating system will do that by providing system services that applications can call upon to work in the background. One will handle audio (demonstrated with a version of Pandora's Web-radio program), while a second will support Internet calling (seen in a demo of Skype's software). Others will allow applications to check your location (helpful for navigation programs), send notifications to the screen, complete such tasks as file uploads or downloads in the background, and save your work and their status before pausing their activity.
(Update: For more technical details about how iPhone OS 4 does this and how that compares to Android's multitasking, see Android developer and Google employee Robert Love's fair-minded evaluation of the two platforms' approaches, then read his earlier post explaining why neither can afford to offer the same multitasking you'd get in Windows or OS X. Mac users with enough gray hair may then recall that Apple once proposed a similar multitasking-esque solution for Mac OS itself.)
But only some iGadgets will support this feature when iPhone OS 4 arrives this summer. To quote Apple's release: "Multitasking requires iPhone 3GS or third generation iPod touch (late 2009 models with 32GB or 64GB)."
What about the iPad? I've got a query into Apple PR and will update that when I hear back. The iPad won't see the new software until this fall; although Apple's release doesn't spell out that it will support multitasking, in the last minute of the video Jobs says it will get "all these features." Older devices are definitely out of luck--and it seems that the first-generation iPhone and iPod Touch can't run OS 4 at all.
The iPhone 3G and iPod Touch 2G will, however, gain access to some other new features. This upgrade will let you group applications in folders; provide better e-mail software with the option of a universal inbox to show all your new messages; include a version of the iBooks program included on the iPad; add various security features on many corporate users' shopping lists; bundle a Game Center with some social-gaming features; and let programmers make money off free programs using a new "iAd" service.
During the presentation, Apple briefly alluded to other upcoming features, such as support for Bluetooth keyboards, customizable home-screen wallpaper and a digital zoom for the iPhone's camera, but offered fewer details on them.
Apple left out other items on some users' wish lists, such as integrating social-networking sites like Facebook or adding Bluetooth file transfer and data synchronization. And we'll have to wait to see if some of the promised new OS 4 goodies get held up by AT&T Wireless; remember, that carrier took months to support multimedia messaging and still hasn't implemented the "tethering" option Apple delivered in last year's iPhone OS 3 release.
And if you want to run applications that Apple hasn't approved, you'll still have to jailbreak an iPhone; Jobs specifically ruled out allowing "unsigned" applications in a Q&A after the session. (He cited the possibilty of users downloading pornographic applications; I hate to break this to Mr. Jobs, but I'm pretty sure the Safari browser on the iPhone can display plenty of porn already, inasmuch as the Internet has no lack of smut in general.)
That's what I know; what do you think of the news? If you own an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, did Apple's campaign promises meet your expectations? If not, what else were you hoping to see?
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