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Highlights and Features of the iPhone OS 4.0 – The 7 Tent Poles

Multitasking, Folders for apps, Enhanced mail, iBooks, Much deeper Enterprise Features, Preview of Game Kit, and iAd are the features which can be expected in the iPhone OS 4.0.


Update – 7th June, 2010 – With over 100 new features, the free iOS 4 Software Update will be available. for the 3GS, 3G — but again, not all features will be supported in the 3G — and iPod touch… upgrades for all these products will be free on June 21st..!

Today a few hours back, Steve Jobs gave a developer preview of the all new iPhone OS 4.0. There was a lot of expectation from Developers/Consumers on this release, as the earlier editions of the Operating System lacked some key features.

In this meet, Apple released a framework called Accelerate with over 2,000 APIs for hardware accelerated math functions. The iPhone OS 4.0 OS delivers over 1500 new APIs and over 100 new user features to play around with. Developers can now do the following through their application, Access calendar and photo library, Can put SMS inside their apps, quick look. You also have options to create playlists, 5x digital zoom, tap to focus, places in photos, home screen wallpaper, file & delete mail search results, Bluetooth keyboards, edit from outbox, calDAV invitations, manage cell data only setting, rotate photos.

Of all these 100 features…Apple talked about 7 significant features in this event,  which Steve calls it “Tent Pole features” 

Tent Pole Feature 1 – Multitasking

Steve started explaining about this saying,

“We weren’t the first to this party but we’re gonna’ be the best. It’s really easy to implement multitasking in a way that really drains battery life, and it’s really easy to implement it in a way that reduces the performance of the foreground application. So if you don’t do it just right, your phone’s gonna feel sluggish and your battery life will go way down. We figured out how to implement this for 3rd party apps and avoid these things. It took us a little longer, but we figured out how to do it. “

For example, looking at a Mail message which has a URL to a website, which takes you to the browser when you click on the button, the window raises up and shows the entire app you’re running across the bottom. It also lets you choose which app to go back to, anytime you want you can go home by clicking the home button. Icons are along the bottom like the home row, and you can flick through them.

After analyzing over tens of thousands of applications, Apple team distilled the services that they need to multitask in the background. In iPhone OS 4, they’re providing those services as APIs to developers. This enables developers to create apps which can multitask while the system preserves battery life

A simple demo was shown of an application Pandora – With iPhone OS 4, Pandora can continue to play music in the background while you switch between apps and you can even use iPod controls on the lock screen to control Pandora. You can listen to Pandora while heading over to Safari; catch up on reading, performance of the browser is good even with Pandora in the background. Double tap on the home button while locked and the iPod controls can let you play/pause, skip, etc.

With VoIP, until today, navigating away from Skype means you go offline. With iPhone OS 4.0 When you’re on Skype now, you can switch to another app and stay on the call; you can still receive calls, texts, etc.

Two classes of apps that want to use your location in the background:

  1. Turn by turn direction applications, like TomTom – Until now, if you left an app like TomTom, it would stop tracking your location and stop giving you directions, but now you can keep tracking your location with GPS in the background while listening to music, etc. GPS uses a fair bit of power but that’s OK for an app like this cuz it’s usually in your car and charging.
  2. Second class of app is social networking applications, like Loopt – IPhone OS 4, provides a great solution for these apps that doesn’t require GPS to be on all the time, using cell towers. Our baseband is always connected to a cell tower, knows when you’ve moved from one to another, when we know you’ve switched between cell towers, we can wake up your app and tell it you’ve moved.

With all these apps, Apple says that, they take privacy very seriously. Taking privacy several steps further in iPhone OS 4, You now have an indicator right on the status bar if any app is asking for your location. also adding fine-grained settings so you can enable or disable location on a per-app basis. if any application has asked for your location in the last 24 hours, there’s an indicator next to that application.

Also, you now have Push Notifications enabled in Iphone OS 4.0; Local notifications can show you when TV shows are going to start. Certain apps take a while to do things, like Flickr uploading photos. These apps can run in Background while you continue to work on your iPhone. You also now have a service for fast-app switching. This will enable the developers to allow apps to move to the background and idle there without using any CPU. If you’re playing a game, it just sits in the background. No need to restore the state, just can start playing again when you switch to it

Tent Pole Feature 2 – Folders

This was one feature which many people requested in various forums. As people are downloading more & more apps, they have to flick from page to page to page to launch an application. There was a need for better way to organize them, Folders exactly fits the need.

Just Push finger on an app, they start to jiggle. Drag one on top of another and it instantly makes a folder. It also automatically names the folder based on the category these apps came from on the app store, but you can rename it if you want. Icon changes as you drag apps in, the folder icon has mini-icons of all the apps that are inside of it. You can have as many folders as you’d like. You can drag your folders to the dock too so you can access the folder wherever. Drag and drop UI is what they call.

You can now have over 2,000 apps on your iPhone if you want.!

Tent Pole Feature 3 – Enhanced Email

IPhone OS 4.0 provides a lot of features to fit the need, The biggest ones are these listed below,

  • Unified inbox – Muitiple emails arrive in a single inbox.
  • Multiple exchange accounts – You can now configure more than one exchange Mailboxes
  • Fast inbox switching
  • Threaded messages – Now has a new notification icon to distinguish this.
  • Open attachments – get an attachment in an e-mail, tap on it, open it with an app from the app store

Tent Pole Feature 4 – Adding iBooks to iPhone OS 4

Pretty much the same concept as introduced in an iPad. Bookshelf looks the same, store looks the same. One cool option is that, you can Buy once and read anywhere. This means, you can buy a book and read it both on iPhone/iPod touch and in an iPad. You also now have an option to wirelessly sync page and bookmarks between devices in iPhone OS 4.

Tent Pole Feature 5 – Enterprise features

Stats say that, more than 80% of fortune 100 companies are using iPhones. You now have

  1. Even better data protection, i.e., encrypt all of your e-mail and attachments with your pin code. Apple is making APIs available so developers can encrypt data inside their apps too
  2. Another huge request was, mobile device management – if you have an enterprise solution to deploy lots of phones within the company, now iPhone OS 4 helps to manage that
  3. Wireless app distribution – if your company has built a custom application, the employee doesn’t need to plug in anymore to get the app the company can wirelessly distribute the app anywhere in the world from their own servers
  4. Multiple exchange accounts on a single phone
  5. Exchange Server 2010 support
  6. SSL VPN support – Supports both Juniper and Cisco VPN Software.

Tent Pole Feature 6 – Game center

Gaming is extremely popular on iPhone and iPod touch, more than 50,000 game & entertainment titles. Now, you can challenge your friends to games, automatic matchmaking can automatically find others of similar ability in a game and put you all into a game. You also have Leaderboards, achievements etc. Summing up, Game Center is a social gaming network.

Tent Pole Feature 7 – iAd

Mobile advertising built right into iPhone OS 4. Today, there are lots of apps on the app store: some are free, some are paid, lots of reasonably priced. Developers need to find ways to make money and Apple likes to help. Some devs are putting advertising in their apps, and for lack of a more elegant way.  iAd is all about helping developers make money from advertising to keep free apps free. This is a pretty serious opportunity. The ads keep you in your application. When you click on ads in an app, it doesn’t yank you out of your app interactive video content without ever taking you out of your application and the user can return anytime they want. Its built right into the iPhone OS, and for developers to add this to their apps is really simple. Apple will sell and host the ads, give developers an “industry standard” 60% of the revenues. In the preview presentation, there was a demo shown of an advertisement which was created for ‘Target’, it’s just an HTML5 animated ad, and the experience is worthwhile. 

Summing up the tent poles – multitasking, folders, enhanced mail, iBooks, much deeper enterprise features, preview of Game Kit, and iAd are the features which can be expected in the iPhone OS 4.0. These are just 7 of the over 100 user features and over 1500 new developer APIs. The Developer preview released today.

Developers can start testing it now and using these new APIs, get them at

The end user can get this for iPhone and iPod touch by around June/July. People who have an iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3rd generation – they will run pretty much everything. For iPhone 3G and iPod touch 2nd generation, they will run “many things” but there are some features which will not run because hardware doesn’t support them, like multitasking.

Courtesy: Special thanks to the ArsTechnica team for the wonderful coverage of the event on their live blog! This was indeed one of the best live coverages I have seen. This helped me to follow the event and write this article.!

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