Apple iPhone OS 4.0: What's New

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Apple iPhone OS 4.0 vs. the Competition: How Does it Compare?

Cupertino, Calif. -- At today's announcement of iPhone OS 4.0, Apple unveiled seven major features in the latest version of its OS.

Most of these additions came as no surprise--in fact, many were what we wanted when iPhone 3.0 debuted last year. And the majority of these new additions aren't exactly revolutionary, like multitasking, for example; most of the features announced today already exist in various forms in other mobile operating systems. This raises the question: Is Apple pushing its mobile OS into the lead once again, or is it merely catching up with the level of innovation now being offered by challengers like Android and Windows Phone 7?

And will Apple implement these features into its phone better than its competitors did into theirs? The answer to that last question might be Yes: I was impressed with how intuitive and tightly integrated the new features are in the OS. Of course, we won't know who does what better until we actually take iPhone 4.0 for a spin (same for Windows Phone 7, for that matter).

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on how the iPhone 4.0 operating system compares to the various flavors of Android and what we know about the Windows Phone 7.

Click on the image (left) to view a chart that compares the features in the iPhone, Android, Palm WebOS and Windows Phone 7 mobile operating systems.

Multitasking

At last, the iPhone gets multitasking (well, not the iPhone 3G and 2G, unfortunately). iPhone 4.0's multitasking system is incredibly simple and clean, and according to Apple it won't drain your iPhone's battery. That's because it isn't quite full multitasking; the apps aren't running at full performance simultaneously. Apple's multitasking is a combination of background processing and quick app switching. This might disappoint some users, but I think most iPhone owners will be pleased with this updated. And yes, this means you can stream music from Pandora while checking your e-mail.

To see your open apps, you simply double-click the home button, and a "dock" showing all of your open apps will pop up at the bottom of the screen.

All of the other mobile platforms have some kind of multitasking system. Android, Symbian, and WebOS all have full true multitasking. Windows Phone 7 uses quick app switching and some background processing. Some OSs handle multitasking more elegantly than others, as well. Visually, I like the Leap feature in HTC's Sense interface for Android, which lets you pinch to view seven thumbnail versions of your open pages. From there, you can go to any of those open applications.

Palm Pre Plus smartphone
I also love Palm WebOS's deck of cards system of multitasking as it is visually striking and easy to use.

Customization

Predictably, there's no support for live widgets (à la Android or Symbian) in the new OS. Nor is there a homepage you can customize with said widgets. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though it does limit the level of customization on the phone.

I was very pleased, however, by folder support in Apple's new phone OS: You can organize your apps into folders by category by dragging and dropping them into each other. The iPhone will automatically assign a category name for them.

The iPhone also gets personalized wallpaper with OS 4, but that's another feature (like multitasking) that should have been there a long time ago.

Notifications

I was disappointed that Apple made only a slight tweak to the notifications system. I find the current system a bit disruptive, and I don't like the fact that there's no place to save or store your notifications. Both Palm and Android have fairly unobtrusive notification systems, and both let you see all of your older notifications.

On the other hand, iPhone 4.0's new service, called "local notifications," won't rely on a third-party server. So if you have a TV Guide app and you want to be reminded of when a show comes on, you can have it send you a notification.

Universal Inbox

Apple finally jumped on board with universal inbox support, so you can now view your Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, etc., accounts in one seamless view. The interface appears to be pretty straightforward and clean and more or less on a par with the Android, BlackBerry, and WebOS universal inboxes.

iPhone 4 will also join Android and WebOS in supporting multiple Exchange accounts.

Next: Gaming, GPS, and Social Networking Features

Gaming

While Android and WebOS have made some significant steps toward gaming in the last year by adding support for 3D graphics, the iPhone is still king.

And with the new Game Center coming later this year to iPhone 4, the iPhone will become the ultimate social gaming mobile platform. With Game Center, you can easily challenge your friends to games, find and play against players with a similar abilities, and display your achievements to your network.

One platform to keep an eye on, however, is Windows Phone 7, which will ship with a mobile version of XBox Live support. Like the iPhone Game Center, you'll be able to connect with other gamers, keep tabs on their achievements, and communicate with them in game play. Users will also be able to purchase games and apps easily from the Windows Marketplace as well.

Turn-by-Turn Navigation and Maps

When Apple acquired mapping company Placebase last summer, rumors swirled that the company was developing its own maps and navigation application for the iPhone.

Right now, you have to pay big bucks for a turn-by-turn GPS third-party application (the Tom Tom app is a cool $100).

Tom Tom GPS
While the TomTom app is quite good (as are other navigation apps in the App Store), it just doesn't make sense that Apple wouldn't develop its own Maps application.

Google Navigation is free and available to all Android phones, as is Ovi Maps for Nokia Symbian phones. And all Windows Phone 7 devices will come with Bing Maps.

Perhaps there's an iPhone Maps app coming down the pipeline later this year--or perhaps it is one of those 100 new features in iPhone OS 4 that Jobs didn't highlight--but as of right now, you'll have to rely on Google Maps or a third-party app.

Social Networking and Flash Support

Motorola Cliq phone with Motoblur
Another feature Apple seemed to turn a blind eye at is an aggregated social networking app. This is a hot feature across the phone OSs, particularly on the various flavors of Android like Motorola MotoBlur and HTC Sense.

These apps essentially list all activity on your various social networks in a seamless, integrated view. I have mixed feelings about these apps; I find them a bit annoying. Heavy social networkers, on the other hand, probably find them pretty useful though. But unless there's a third-party solution, there's no social networking aggregator on iPhone 4.0.

Naturally, the F word came up during the Q&A after the event--Flash, that is. Flash Player 10 is coming to all of the other mobile platforms. When asked if we could expect Flash or Java support on the iPhone, Jobs gave a one-word answer: "No."

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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