Apple previews iPhone OS 4

Adds multitasking, folders, iBooks and iAds

WHILE MICROSOFT DECIDED to ditch multitasking support in Windows Phone 7, Apple is getting ready to add it to iPhone OS 4 which is set to launch sometime this summer. However, as always when it comes to Apple, everything isn’t quite what it appears to be and this isn’t your common garden variety of multitasking.

Rather than running the full app in the background, Apple is launching a set of new API’s that allows parts of the apps to stay active. For example if you’re using Skype on your iPhone you can still receive calls while using another app. Another API allows for music to be played back while you’re using other apps. A new “app dock” is accessed by double tapping the home button and this shows you all the apps that are running and you can quickly switch between them.

Multitasking appears to be limited to background audio, VoIP, background location services, push notifications, local notifications and task completion messages. This was at least what Apple demoed, but it’s possible that other things can also be done. This does seem like a rather clever if slightly limited way of allowing users to multitask on the iPhone.

Another clever feature Apple has added is simply called folders; it allows you to group similar apps into a folder. Creating a folder is done in the same way as you’d move an app on the iPhone, except you’d drag one app and place it on top of another app to create a folder. You can drag as many apps as you’d like into one folder and the folder is even named automatically based on the apps contained, but this can of course be edited. Currently you’re limited to 180 apps, but folders add support for up to 2,160 apps.

Apple has also updated the mail client by adding a unified mailbox and emails can now be organized by threads. It will also be possible to open attachments and Apple has also added support for Exchange Server 2010, which is important for corporate iPhone users. Apple’s iBooks is also going to be available on the iPhone, although we can’t see this being a huge hit on what is a relatively small screen device.

For those of you who like to play games on your iPhone the good news is that Apple is adding achievements, leaderboards and matchmaking for online game play, much like Microsoft’s Xbox Live! service. Apple claims to have over 50,700 games and entertainment titles available from the App Store, which is supposedly 10 times more than any competing handheld gaming device.

That takes us on to iAd, yes, the iPhone OS is set to get advertisements, all centrally managed by Apple, as Mr Jobs isn’t happy with the kinds of ads that some iPhone developers have been putting in their apps. iAd is said to combine the interactivity of online ads with the emotion of printed ads, although in reality it appears to be more of an app disguised as an ad. The demo’s shown contained various features that you could add to an iAd, such as videos, free games, downloadable content and location based services. Apple is set to take a 40 percent cut of the ad revenues. This does include Apple selling and hosting the ads as well, but it seems like a fairly large bite.

The new OS will be fully supported on the iPhone 3GS and the third generation iPod Touch, while the second generation iPod Touch and the iPhone 3G won’t support multitasking and possibly a few other things that weren’t specified. It will also arrive for the iPad somewhat later at a yet to be announced date this Fall. As an interesting side note, Steve Jobs also confirmed that the iPhone OS will not get support for Flash or Java, ever. You can find full live-blog coverage of the even over at Engadget.S|A

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