Apple unveils multi-tasking, app organisation and universal mailbox in iPhone OS 4.0 update

Apple iPhone users will finally receive multi-tasking support when the iPhone OS 4.0 is released in a few months, along with several other major updates, the company announced overnight in a special keynote address to developers.

But some iPhone owners are set to be disappointed, as the full update will only be available for the iPhone 3GS and the third generation of the iPod Touch. Users of the original and 3G iPhone models, along with the second generation of the iPod Touch, will only receive some of the features in the OS 4.0 update.

The OS 4.0 is the first major update to the iPhone’s software since the 3.0 announcement last year, which brought the cut, copy and paste feature. However, this year’s announcement is certainly a more comprehensive upgrade, featuring several major changes to the iPhone’s user interface.

Developers are certainly impressed. Keith Ahern of MoGeneration says the update is “fantastic”.

“There’s not much you can’t do with the iPhone OS – in fact we may need to go back and review all the times we told potential clients ‘you can’t do that on an iPhone.’.

Marc Edwards of Bjango says he is similarly impressed, and says that the update is the one he and his development team have been hoping for.

“iPhone OS 4 looks brilliant. The multi-tasking is exactly what I was expecting: a set of APIs that allow apps to do specific things, but stops them from killing the battery. There are quite a few features we’ll be integrating into our current and new apps.”

The update itself is considerably large, and contains over 1,000 new APIs for developers to work with. However, here are the major updates:

Multi-tasking

After years of waiting, iPhone users now have the ability to switch between apps. All you have to do is double-press the home button, and you’re provided with a list of apps currently running in the background. Switch to the app you want to open, press, and it’s all done.

This allows a number of different apps to work simultaneously. You can open the iPod app while using navigation software, and it will continue to give directions while you’re browsing the web or emailing someone. Skype can now run in the background, so you can receive calls while playing a game. Notifications will be given from different apps if something important happens, so you can immediately switch back.

The multi-tasking feature isn’t actually full multi-tasking, as only certain functions of apps will be running in the background such as audio streams and GPS directions. However, all apps will be frozen when you switch to another, allowing you to pick up a game, or another app, where you left off.

Folders

As the App Store continues to grow, iPhone users and developers have repeatedly said Apple must deal with the issue of app management – and now they have. Users now move one app over another on the screen, and a new category is created. Each category can be named by the user, with the iPhone now having room for over 2,000 apps.

Mail

The new universal mailbox is receiving a major overhaul, with support for a unified mailbox containing all accounts, fast inbox switching and one major update – multiple exchange accounts.

iBooks

The bookstore first launched on the Apple iPad will be coming to the iPhone and iPod Touch, with both to receive access to the iBooks Store. However, it is still not yet known whether Australian users will have access to this.

Custom backgrounds

While jailbroken users have been able to customise their iPhone’s appearance for some time, now users of the official iPhone software can decorate their iPhone’s background with their own wallpaper. Previously users could only pick a personal wallpaper for the lock screen.

Game center

This was a surprise announcement, and also a sign that Apple is beginning to take gaming on its portable platforms more seriously. The centralised gaming service will act as a social network between iPhone and iPod Touch users for games. You can connect with “Friends”, join new games and view ladders and score boards. With the rise of gaming on the iPod and iPhone, it’s no surprise Apple has decided to introduce some more support for the now huge community of developers.

iAds

This is a major update. Developers can now use tools to keep people within applications while showing them different types of advertising, similar to those browser windows you see which pop over existing content on a page. The model is designed to replace external links, which take a user out of an app. It comes after Apple acquired mobile advertising company Quattro earlier this year.

Bluetooth keyboards

Similar to the iPad, users can now connect a Bluetooth keyboard to the iPhone.

The update also comes with hundreds of new application possibilities for developers, so expect to see some new, advanced apps on the App Store when the OS update launches this winter.

But while iPhone 3GS users will be given multi-tasking at that time, (which is also expected to come in conjunction with new iPhone hardware), iPad users won’t receive the update until the Australian spring. However, not even an Australian release date for the iPad has even been announced by the company.

While Apple did not announce any pricing, previous releases suggest the update will be free for iPhone users and cost about $US10 for iPod Touch users.

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