Apple previewed its iPhone OS 4 software and released a beta version of the software to iPhone Developer Program members.
The iPhone OS 4 beta release includes an updated SDK with over 1,500 new APIs and over 100 new features that will be available to iPhone and iPod touch users this summer.
New features include Multitasking for third party apps; Folders to better organize and access apps; improved Mail with a unified inbox, fast inbox switching and threaded messages; enhanced Enterprise support with better data protection, mobile device management and wireless app distribution.
It also comes with a new iAd mobile advertising platform and iBooks, the new ebook reader and online bookstore recently debuted on the iPad.
iPhone OS 4’s multitasking allows us not only to quickly move between apps but also provides developers seven new multitasking services to add multitasking features to their apps. These services include background audio, so apps like Pandora can play music in the background, and VoIP, so VoIP apps can receive a VoIP call even when the iPhone is asleep or the user is running other apps.
“iPhone OS 4 provides multitasking to third party apps while preserving battery life and foreground app performance, which has until now proved elusive on mobile devices,” as the Apple claims.
Folders help us better organize and quickly access the apps. We simply drag one app icon onto another, and a new folder is automatically created. The folder is automatically given a name based on the App Store category of that app, such as “Games,” which we can easily rename. We can also create and manage iPhone folders on our Mac or PC using iTunes 9.2.
Unified Inbox allows users to see messages from all their email accounts displayed together in a single inbox. We can quickly switch between inboxes to see messages from any single account. We can also thread our messages by conversation, as well as open email attachments with compatible apps from the App Store.
Apple says that iAd, their new mobile advertising platform, “combines the emotion of TV ads with the interactivity of web ads.” Today, when users click on mobile ads they are almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser’s webpage. Users must then navigate back to their app, and it is often difficult or impossible to return to exactly where they left.
According to Apple, iAd solves this problem by displaying full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose. iPhone OS 4 lets developers easily embed iAd opportunities within their apps, and the ads are dynamically and wirelessly delivered to the device. Apple will sell and serve the ads, and developers will receive an “industry-standard” 60 percent of iAd revenue.
The iPhone OS 4 beta release includes a developer preview of Game Center, which contains a set of APIs that allows developers to create apps with the ability to invite friends to play a game, start a multiplayer game through matchmaking and track achievements and compare high scores on a leader board. Apps created with GameKit APIs will work with Game Center, Apple’s new social gaming network available to iPhone and iPod touch users later this year.
New enterprise features in iPhone OS 4 include improvements in security, scalability and compatibility. The new Mobile Device Management service can be integrated with third party servers to wirelessly configure, query and wipe or lock managed iPhones, and iPhone OS 4 enables enterprises to host and wirelessly distribute their own in-house developed apps to employees.
The new Data Protection feature uses a user’s passcode as an encryption key to protect mail messages and attachments stored on the iPhone. New iPhone OS provides the option to set a longer and more complex passcode. It also allows IT managers to set up multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts, is compatible with Exchange Server 2010 and includes support for forthcoming SSL VPN applications from Juniper Networks and Cisco.
iPhone OS 4 will be available as a software update to iPhone and iPod touch users this summer. A version of iPhone OS 4 will be coming to iPad this fall.
Unfortunately, some features may not be available on all products. For example, Multitasking requires iPhone 3GS or third generation iPod touch (late 2009 models with 32GB or 64GB).