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iPhone OS 4.0: Multi-tasking, Folder Support, iBooks & an Xbox Live Rival

Gordon Kelly


iPhone OS 4.0 Adds Multi-tasking, Folders, iBooks & an Xbox Live Rival

I've never been a particularly big fan of Apple, but while the company can drive you to despair at times they also have moments like this when the ill will fades away...

Today the company unveiled iPhone OS 4.0 to developers. Would we get multi-tasking? Perhaps Folders? Maybe iBooks? Even a mail experience that no longer resembles something out of the 1990s? For once, we got all of them - and more.

The big one: multi-tasking. With iPhone OS 4.0 you will be able to run multiple applications at the same time, including the likes of streaming music apps such as Spotify, VoIP such as Skype and sat nav programmes like TomTom and CoPilot. These can be switched between by double tapping the home button which brings up the icons of all the apps currently in use (above).

Importantly, multi-tasking also includes 'task completion' - in other words: actions can be left running in the background such as uploading a photo to Flickr, twitpic to Twitter, etc.

As you might expect Apple didn't delve into the technical details of how it has achieved multi-tasking having previously cited battery life and performance concerns, but it did say GPS in particular is power intensive so when running in the background a GPS icon will show up beside the battery life.

Next another biggie: folders. iPhone apps are getting out of control with pages and pages of them filling up most user's handsets, so now you can group them together. In iPhone OS 4.0 simply drag one app onto another and it automatically creates a folder. This folder can then be renamed: games, travel, gadgets, etc. How many apps can you put in one folder? This wasn't spelt out, but the example given was whereas you could currently fit 180 apps over 11 pages, with folders that can reach 2,160.You do the maths.

iBooks! Yep, these have been ported over from the iPad - same bookshelf style presentation and your progress can be synced over the Cloud between computer, iPad and iPhone. Important, simple - though questions remain about just how readable books are on that tiny, non-AMOLED display (expect this to be fixed by a 4th gen iPhone in June).

The last of the major features: 'Game Center'. No screenshots of this were shown off, but it is essentially Apple's counter strike to Xbox Live which will feature on Windows Phone 7. Consequently automatic opponent matchmaking, in game rewards and a profile to record achievements will all be in there. I'd expect Apple to expand this to Mac OS X in the future.

As for productivity, we at last get support for multiple Exchange accounts, SSL VPN, and a unified mail inbox which can sort mail by conversation thread (think Gmail). Fast switching between accounts will be introduced for those who wish to keep their different email addresses separate and attachments can be opened with apps. For corporations there will be enhanced email encryption options and the ability to distribution apps wireless over multiple devices.

Finally we get 'iAd' which a new form of in app advertising. Admitting that in its current state "most of this advertising sucks", iAd will enable dynamic, full screen ads with music, video and even rudimentary gaming integration which can be displayed within the app (the example of Toy Story is shown above and below). It works like an overlay and can be closed at any time. Will it work? It looks impressive, doesn't close your app as ads do now and (quite frankly) can't be any worse.

Interestingly, all iAd content is done using HTML5 with Jobs reiterating that Apple's position on both Flash and Java has not changed (ie: none).

So what are the caveats? iPhone OS 4.0 won't be available until 'the summer' which isn't a surprise and will likely be in June to tie-in with a new fourth generation iPhone. Amusingly, the iPad won't get iPhone OS 4.0 until "the Fall" (Autumn) - which means a comical period where it has even less functionality compared to an iPhone than it does now.

Additionally, there will be no multi-tasking in iPhone OS 4.0 for the iPhone 3G and second generation iPod touch with Jobs citing a fundamental lack of processing power. Sadly first generation iPhone and iPod touches won't be compatible at all which marks the first time Apple has cut off a generation of its hardware. Oh and we still didn't get that dynamic weather icon!

All in, however, given Apple's run of disappointing announcements iPhone OS 4.0 is a bold and important step in the right direction which once again brings it to the forefront of the industry's mobile operating systems.

Note: since Apple continues not to show its press conferences outside the US all images are courtesy of gdgt

Update: A number of other features are leaking out:

  • 5x digital zoom in the camera

  • touch to focus in video recording

  • the ability to gift apps from the phone

  • a spell checker (potentially incorrect words are underlined, tapping them will bring up a list of suggestions)

  • a birthday calendar

  • SMS text search

  • Web search suggestions as you type in Safari

  • the ability to check Wikipedia from Spolight

  • 'Places' and 'Faces' synchronisation from iPhoto in your Photos (like the iPad)

  • the option to enlarge fonts in mail, SMS & alerts

  • support for Bluetooth keyboards (the newest add-on craze for cases?)

  • playlist creation inside the iPod app

  • Custom homepage wallpapers
Apple has now made the full keynote available online here.

Update 2:

Let's clear up these multi-tasking queries from your comments:

In essence, what we have with iPhone OS 4.0 is indeed glorified task switching with apps such as games frozen in their current state when switching between one process and another. In a sense this is what we would want though, because open apps use resources and drain battery life.

Where the difference lies is in what functionality Apple allows to run in the background through its new API and these are divided into seven key areas: background audio (for Last.fm, Spotify, radio streaming etc), VoIP (Skype and others), background location (for GPS), push notifications (incoming information from online), local notifications (you're app wants to tell you something), task completion (web browser continues loading, pictures/videos uploading) and fast app switching (this continually monitors app states so users can quickly move between them).

Ultimately then no this isn't multitasking in the truest sense of the word, but these seven areas should cover 99 per cent of what people do want from multitasking and it means this can be pulled off with considerably less battery and performance impact than if the full app was running in the background.

I think it's a decent trade off, especially for the mobile sector.


iPhone OS 4.0


April 9, 2010, 12:35 am

"This wasn't spelt out, but the example given was whereas you could currently fit 180 apps over 11 pages, with folders that can reach 2,160.You do the maths."

I've done the maths. :) It's 12 apps per folder in a maximum of 180 folders for a total of 2,160 apps.

"The last of the major features: 'Game Center'." ... "I'd expect Apple to expand this to Mac OS X in the future."

I'd be very surprised to see this on the desktop, especially now that Steam is coming to the Mac. On the iPad and iPhone you'll be able to see what your friends are playing and buy the same games if you want (giving Apple their 30% cut) - but on the desktop OS there's no App Store and no benefit for Apple.

I was thinking of upgrading my iPhone 3G this summer anyway, but it looks like I now have a few more reasons to. :)


April 9, 2010, 12:45 am

Gordon don't loose heart on no mention of mutating weather or clock icons, Steve mentioned there will over 100 new user features and he only demonstrated 7 tentpoles. All in all it is looking pretty good, can't complain.


April 9, 2010, 1:00 am

No surprise to hear you admit your dislike of Apple as it has been so apparent (but denied) in all your Apple-related articles.

What is surprising is not seeing yet another headline trying to bait people into arguments. Nor seeing a mocking article, twisting any positive developments into something negative with a sprinkling of subtle Apple-hate.

Yes, as your article quite accurately states, Apple seems to have gone above and beyond what was expected of them, and delivered a surprisingly rich feature list. I think it will please a much larger majority than ever before.

My 3G iPhone won't benefit from multitasking but I'm long overdue an upgrade anyway and the next hardware release will come just in time.

John Wards

April 9, 2010, 1:10 am

Something of interest that is in the new TOS:


No 3rd party compilers? WTF?


April 9, 2010, 1:40 am

These seem to be the highlights of the updates which will make my 3GS actually relevant and as up to date as the competition - once they arrive of course.

I guess the focus will now turn to what will be released with the 4th generation iPhone. Faster hardware, and that superior screen almost certainly.

A better camera? Flash (an actual Flash, not 'that' Flash :) )? Better battery life? External storage? HD video recording?

A good start would be updating iTunes as well...


April 9, 2010, 1:59 am

This is great news! I have had my 3GS for about 8 months and love it despite never owning a Mac. I have jailbroken it for running apps in the background and fitting more stuff per screen (5 rows of icons). I will be perfectly content to switch back to an official firmware once multi-tasking/icon grouping is available.

I don't know if I will need to bother reversing the jailbreak before the 4.0 upgrade?


April 9, 2010, 2:06 am

Well better then, will just wait until Windows 7 Mobile announcements.

Although i think i will probably just get the HTC Desire in April those T-Mobile contracts are really good.

I was waiting on these announcment to make a decision but it's only updates to what it should of had in the beginning and no flash is a instant killer for me, i spend a lot of time on the internet so flash and java are quite important to how i view the web.

Combined with the atrocious contracts i can't say i will get one, pity i did want one purely for the collection of apps but i can't say i will pay a premium on contracts for such a low amount of minutes and texts. Yes there a lot better than they used to be but at £30 - £35 and took 3 years to be like this.

Desire seems a good deal for me 100 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited internet £15 a month


April 9, 2010, 2:16 am


What are you on about? Gordon uses an iPhone FFS!! I'm waiting for Android to tempt him away :-)

A solid update from Apple although I do think that these additions were required to stop the iPhone from falling behind the competition. With the latest hardware multi-tasking is no longer a performance issue.

They didn't really show anything new though that we haven't seen on other OSs. Are mobile platforms already starting to reach maturity?


April 9, 2010, 2:32 am


That's the deal I got but it's £10 a month!


April 9, 2010, 2:41 am

@Shaka - Gordon't, to me, has always come across as firm but fair on Apple related issues. Okay, he's not the biggest fan of Apple, but as ravmania pointed out, he uses an iPhone so can't be all that opposed to them.

I think you're right that nearly every time you read an Apple comment thread, it almost always ends arguments, but it's no worse then what you get on other sites. In fact just look at the comments on an Engadget Apple article to see how much worse it could be.

Rightly or wrongly, Apple products seem to rub some people up the wrong way for various reasons. It does make for hard reading sometimes, but I'd rather people were discussing Apple products, then a world in which their products generated no debate.


April 9, 2010, 2:44 am

@Shaka - I think you'll find you're being a bit of a prat.

As ravmania mentions I'm an iPhone user. I've owned the first gen iPhone (which I got for the US), the iPhone 3G and now I use the iPhone 3GS. I like it very much, though I recognise the flaws. I'm also excited about iPhone OS 4.0, it looks like the firmware we've all been waiting for (minus Flash support).

What you don't seem to understand is that it is possible to own Apple products, enjoy them and not be blindly pro them. For me the iPhone is still the best handset on the market, but it is an extremely close run thing with the Desire and Nexus One. I like Macs too, though I prefer Windows 7 to Snow Leopard.

There's no love in and no hatred going on here. It's simple objectivity, something you seem to have lost completely.

Ala Miah

April 9, 2010, 3:06 am

So the only 2 things that Apple have bought out in this update which I could do anyway are multti-tasking and folders. they are welcome upgrades though as they will be better then jailbroken implementations.


April 9, 2010, 3:13 am


Yeh there exactly the same just mine being £15 a month means its only a 18month contract rather than 24 so I can get a new phone quicker :p (well i say mine but it will be a couple of weeks until I get one)


April 9, 2010, 3:50 am

At last, multi-tasking. Welcome to the 21st Century Apple ;)

I still have an inbuilt distrust & dislike of Apple Inc. They come across like a mini U.S. corporate version of the P.R.C. - in a semi dictatorship head with a capitalist heart, way.

Nothing short of revolutionary hardware would get this Apple back on that wagon. Still, I'm glad to see a few hurdles fall today. Whatever next? Freedom from iTunes?!


April 9, 2010, 3:52 am

I'm not sure the multitasking actually does anything in the background. From what I can gather this is an app switcher so it freezes the task and then moves to the next one - there was a video on Engadget showing it loading a Safari page, switching to a few other apps then coming back to the Safari page which hadn't continued to load in the background. I could be wrong though.

Mind you, I still think multitasking is a bit overrated anyway. The big one for me is the folders. That's been needed for a while. The other stuff keeps the iPhone competitive.


April 9, 2010, 3:55 am

With iPhone OS 4.0 update I don't feel the need to upgrade from iphone 3GS to any upcoming fourth generation iphone in June/July 2010, I can wait till 2011.

More pixel camera, LED flash, high resolution screen, nominal increment in processor speed, etc none would entice me except if battery usage can be doubled in the new hardware.   


April 9, 2010, 4:08 am

looking here http://www.macstories.net/i... I am really glad they have done this as I have wanted android to include an option to close the open apps when you tap and hold the home button, but I was a bit worried when in the Q&A one of the people said there is no way to close multitasked programs and that if a phone OS has a task killer then they have blown it, I was a bit baffled because it can be usefull to fully close the apps you have had open, like a location aware app to stop it sending where you are or if you just like knowing that everythng is nicely closed and not using any resorces up


April 9, 2010, 5:04 am

So it looks like the Skype app is useful now.


April 9, 2010, 5:40 am

Looks nice but one thing they missed is getting rid of obtrusive notifications.

These things really fustrate me


April 9, 2010, 11:53 am

I do fancy an ipad - but does anyone know if it will stream video and music over DLNA on my LAN ?

I know ( think ) I can't do it with my iphone or my nexus - but i'd love to be able to sit in the lounge with a larger device like this and watch video from the NAS server

Any takers ?

thx in advance :)


April 9, 2010, 12:46 pm

Sleeper has already judged their multitasking solution but what do others think?

I actually think it's quite clever - more of a sophisticated pause function where individual tasks rather than whole applications are carried over and dealt with at the App Store level rather than the whole hardware getting bogged down having to manage the traffic. It's still Apple being Apple by exhibiting control, but with the seven tasks they're allowing developers access to, is that really so much more 'true' multitasking offers? My only concern is that it probably means developers have to put even more trust in the somewhat bats*** crazy approval process with its increased powers.


April 9, 2010, 12:56 pm

I am very happy with the progress Apple has made with the iPhone over the years (my wife and I have had every one and look forward to getting an iPad). iPhone os4 looks great and really keeps Apple ahead of Android etc.

{no I'm not an Apple fanboy. I've never owned a Mac but I am tech fanboy}

Apple's approach is absolutely right - bring features to the phone that enhance the experience without impacting simplicity and function eg. multitasking with no battery trade off or task manager.

I was hoping to see the next iPhone last night but alas they kept us hanging. I have a sneaky suspicion they may stall a new iPhone for a while as most 3gs owners (esp USA) will only be halfway though airtime contracts by June so users will not be looking to upgrade&#8230but I hope I am wrong.

The only software feature I think still needs considerable improvement are the parental control features. Why does setting app restrictions actually remove app icons from my devices...crazy.

Xbox360 is a great example of how Parental Controls should be done and it is something Apple needs to seriously consider especially as they are launching a gaming service similar to 'xbox live'.

I take controls for technology and media seriously and as a tech loving household I need the tools to help me.


April 9, 2010, 1:14 pm

@WestHej - Notifications are dealt with on a per application basis. Under Settings > Notifications you can turn them off for individual apps.

Great show, all in all. It was quite likely already but it's cemented my decision to get a fourth gen iPhone when it's released.

Games Centre was the highlight for me; having disperate accounts with Plus+, OpenFeint, Crystal, and another unmemorable service was irritating.


April 9, 2010, 1:22 pm


Leave Gordon alone - if you want just the bare bones then read the press release instead. I like to read flavoured opinions. Even if I disagree with Gordon (which I don't in this case) hearing opinionated comment helps me to distil my own views.


Totally agree with you. The differences between the platforms are becoming marginal as the platforms all mature. Rightly or wrongly though, Apple control the OS and the hardware for their devices, which means they pretty much control the price too. Consequently, as long as they can maintain the cool image of their products, they are going to be more expensive. I have just ordered an HTC Desire. Total cost of handset + contract over 24 months is £575. The equivalent iphone contract (ie same minutes + contract length) would have cost me £849! Even taking into account the cost of a 32gb memory stick that's a ridiculous difference between devices which do pretty much the same thing.


April 9, 2010, 2:29 pm

will this new update let you have custom meassage tones and text meassage tones as i am sick of looking at my phone thinking i just got a meassage when in fact my friend next to me has as he has the same phone i hope this updtae lets you do that as this is a basic feature on phones now

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