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