Finally. iPhone 4.0, unveiled today, has a feature that business users have needed and wanted since Apple first launched its wildly popular smartphone: multitasking.
There are also big improvements to email and other features designed to make Apple’s mobile devices better tools for business users.
The new operating system is compatible with the iPad and newer versions of the iPhone and Touch. But it appears that older versions of the devices won’t support it. Users of the iPhone 3GS and the Touch can download the software this summer; iPad users in the fall.
Multitasking is here
The new operating system, set to ship this summer, lets multiple applications run at the same time and gives the user quick access to them via a dock at the bottom of the screen. The current version of the operating system creates headaches for developers because applications can’t send or receive information unless they are active. That’s no longer the case.
One big advantage is the ability to move from one app to another without losing your place in either application, a real problem when using today’s task switching function.
Pandora, the popular Web-based music service, will be able to play in the background while other applications are active in the foreground. Pandora CEO Tim Westergren says the company added multitasking to its applications in about a day.
Background music is welcome, of course, but being able to use multiple productivity apps at the same time as receiving a Skype call when it is not in the foreground is much more significant.
There is a potential catch, however. Active applications use significant amounts of power, and it is not immediately clear what changes, if any, Apple will make in upcoming hardware to solve, or at least mitigate, the problem. Steve Jobs downplays the issue, claiming that apps running in the background usually aren’t using very much power.
Still, business users will be very unhappy if their iPhones, which now last about a day on a single charge, need to be plugged in more frequently.
A unified email box
There are big improvements to email as well. Users will have a unified inbox, a feature that allows you to see mail from more than one account, and switch rapidly from one to another, a big plus during the work day. You’ll also be able to organize message by threads as well.
Apple has added APIs for encryption, a must for many security-conscious businesses and added more support for products from Cisco and Juniper.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at email@example.com.