7 Features to Get Excited About in iPhone OS 4

Every year, Apple invite a few select developers and media contacts to an iPhone OS event, where the new features to be included in the next iPhone release are unveiled. In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the 7 major additions and changes to the iPhone OS this year, and asking for your opinion!

There’s quite a bit to get excited about, so read on for the full details of what to expect in the next release of the iPhone operating system!

1. Multitasking



Apple has avoided going down this route for a while due to the limitations it puts on processing power and battery life. They’ve finally figured out a way to achieve this hotly-requested functionality without putting strain on performance. It’s done by not allowing an application to run fully in the background, but letting it keep a particular service running (e.g. audio, VoIP, or just saving the application’s current status).

The system works by double tapping the home button, which raises a virtual “dock”. This shows all the currently running applications and allows you to switch between them. It’s simple, but it sounds as though the system will work well – solving, arguably, the number one complaint about the platform.

It means that it’s possible to play music in the background from any application, and makes apps such as Pandora and Spotify far more useful. You can also leave Skype running in the background for receiving VoIP calls, or have a social network app automatically keep track of where you are (as you’d expect, privacy settings are available!)

2. Folders



If you’re the type of iPhone user that has a huge number of apps scattered across multiple home screens, folders may sound really appealing. Just drag and drop one app over another to create a folder which will, by default, take the name of the category of apps you’re merging. This can then be changed to anything you’d like.

It’s also possible to add folders to the dock area. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “You used to be able to see 180 apps on your phone, now it’s over 2000”. If anyone has 2,000 apps on their iPhone, I’d have some serious questions to ask!

3. Improved Mail

One feature that I’ve longed for on the iPhone is a unified email inbox. This was announced as a new feature today, along with others such as support for multiple exchange accounts, the ability to organize messages by thread, and being able to open attachments relating to a particular application on your device (e.g. opening an OmniGraffle file in, you guessed it, the OmniGraffle app).

Mail Improvements

Mail Improvements

These enhancements to the email client are a welcome addition, and will probably form one of the most useful changes in the forthcoming update. Mail is one of the iPhone features I use the most, and these extra features will make my life a great deal easier.

4. iBooks

This doesn’t come as a major surprise, but Apple are bringing the iBooks app to the iPhone, allowing you to keep your reading in sync across both your iPhone and iPad. Any book you purchase will work across all devices, and your current position within the book (and bookmarks) will be kept in sync.

5. Business and Exchange Features

Continuing their push into the business market, a few new features for enterprise users were unveiled today. These include support for multiple Exchange accounts, better data protection, and “mobile device management”- something that sounds typically vague and “enterprise-y”.

Needless to say, the iPhone is gaining increasing traction in the workplace, and it’s a market that Apple are wise to gradually be focusing more upon.

6. Social Gaming Network

With over 50,000 games available on the iPhone, it seems logical for Apple to leverage this through some form of social network. This is exactly what they’re doing with the launch of “Game Center”, a way to centrally track achievements, meet other players for a particular game, and maintain leaderboards.

Social Gaming

Social Gaming

I like the idea of having an Xbox Live type service for Apple devices – the “matchmaking” procedure used on Xbox live has always impressed me, and a similar service for the iPhone and iPad would make online gaming a far more compelling experience.

7. iAd Advertising Network

In their seemingly ongoing battle against Google, Apple are now edging towards their advertising territory with the launch of an interactive ad service for applications in the App Store. Jobs made the observation that where search has been the prominent advertising field on the desktop, Apps are the prominent field on mobile devices. They’ve calculated that the have a platform capable of servicing 1 billion ad impressions per day – nothing to be laughed at.

The advertising system proposed by Apple involves showcasing interactive, emotive ads within an application. Clicking the ad keeps you within the app, and can offer interesting functionality that makes the ad experience fun. It’s certainly a great concept, as is the business model – 60% of revenue goes to the developer, with 40% retained by Apple.

iAd Network

iAd Network

When questioned at the end of the event, Jobs didn’t seem to have a clear cut answer surrounding how the advertisement approval process will work – something that seems paramount for ads to remain relevant and high-quality. It is this highly tailored approval process that has lead to advertising networks such as Fusion becoming so highly regarded.

Kyle Baxter notes that “at this point, they’re still delivering ads, whereas Fusion and the Deck are more delivering recommendations than they are ads. There’s a big difference, and I suspect many developers would rather use ad services like them rather than iAds.” I agree with this sentiment, and feel that iAds will certainly offer one solution – but not necessarily the ideal, or sole, solution – for advertising within iPhone Apps.


The new version of the iPhone operating system is available for developer testing today, and it will be reaching your iPhone 3GS or iPod touch in Summer this year. Certain features such as multitasking won’t work on older devices (the iPhone 3G and 2nd gen iPod touch), and if you own an even older device (the original iPhone or iPod touch), it seems you’ll be stuck without OS 4.

The operating system will be making its way onto the iPad this Autumn, and you can read a little more about OS 4 over at Apple’s OS 4 Preview page.

Share Your Thoughts

So, what do you think of this year’s changes to the iPhone software? Do they go a long way towards fixing any gripes you have with the device, or do you still feel like the iPhone software is missing key features that are yet to be added?

I’d love to hear your opinion!