For fans of Apple’s iPhone, the unveiling of the new iPhone OS 4.0 is a big deal. It’s the first time, after all, iPhone users will be able to do basic things like multitasking, setting their own wallpapers, and placing folders on their home screens.
For the rest of the smartphone world, however, these features are old news. The truth about Apple’s iPhone 4.0 update is that — despite Steve Jobs’ tendency to describe it with words like “amazing,” “wonderful,” and “delightful” — it doesn’t offer anything substantial that Android-powered devices haven’t offered for quite some time.
Let’s face it: Multitasking, the flagship feature of the new iPhone OS, is a key component of the Android experience. While Jobs may claim the iPhone OS 4.0’s multitasking interface is the “best,” it’d be surprising if its existence made much of a dent in Android’s momentum — especially when you consider that Apple will allow multitasking only in carefully defined and limited circumstances. This may be done in the name of improving the user experience, but it still accomplishes that by restricting what the user can do — something Android goes to great lengths to avoid.
Moving down the list, the wallpaper and folder settings introduced in Apple’s iPhone OS 4.0 are a tiny slice of the home screen customization options available on Android devices. And the iPhone’s new unified mailbox is already a core element of the Android OS, too.
The iPhone 4’s iBooks integration and Game Center network, then, are really the update’s two features that could offer unique commercial appeal. But these are both closed, proprietary systems that limit your life to Apple’s ecosystem — and that tends to be something the type of person who veers to Android doesn’t appreciate.
iPhone OS 4.0 in the Mobile Market
Where Apple’s iPhone OS 4.0 could succeed is in encouraging owners of the iPhone 3G and the original iPhone to upgrade in order to reap the software’s full benefits (the iPhone 3G will support some of the 4.0 update’s features, while the original iPhone will not be compatible at all). In terms of any large-scale market impact, however, I’d be surprised if the software alone does much to dampen Android’s growth; put simply, the update feels more like Apple trying to catch up than Apple fighting to pull ahead.