Apple's New iOS4

I just upgraded my iPhone to the new version of the operating system. Apple renamed what used to be the iPhone OS to the more generic iOS because it is the system that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The latest version, iOS4, comes with the new iPhone 4 but it is also being made available for free for previous iPhone models. I have an iPhone GS so the upgrade was a really nice surprise, especially for free!

The major enhancements that come with iOS4 include multitasking, folders, integrated and threaded mail, and camera zooming. Let's explore each of these in turn.

Multitasking is a welcomed addition to the iPhone. The method of switching between apps once you know that you have to double-press the button is pretty intuitive and convenient. What isn't so intuitive is what this control actually does. The tray of running apps is obvious enough but what is confusing is the fact that that tray just keeps filling up with apps even if you closed them down by single pressing the button. The only way to remove apps from the actively running tray appears to be to explicitly delete them, which is weird. Apparently, only a few apps are able to actually keep running whereas others simply suspend their state while not in focus. Any difference between these two types of apps in terms of their multitasking ability isn't apparent in the user interface itself.

Folders are not only a nice to have but a necessity if you have a reasonably large collection of apps. The user interface action in this case isn't intuitive but once you've done it once, it does feel natural. You have to simply drag one app icon onto another and a folder is created with the default name of the category of the apps. You can then add up to 12 apps per folder. Rather than having to scroll to the right and left through many pages of apps, the new folders allow you to simply tap on a folder which reveals all the apps within it without having to do any scrolling. I've found this a perfect way of cleaning up the apps on my iPhone and being able to access them in a much more efficient manner.

Mail has been enhanced with the addition of an integrated inbox and threaded conversations. I'm not crazy about the integrated inbox because I personally don't want my work and personal email in a single inbox. I find it jarring. However, others may think it is a great feature. As for the threaded conversations, I can't find them. I don't know if you have to somehow turn this feature on through another hidden user interface action but I don't see any threading in my inboxes. I'm assuming that the feature is essentially the approach that Google introduced into its GMail system where all replies to an initial email are nested together. I use that all the time in GMail and in Lotus Notes but I don't see it in my iPhone inboxes. When I find it, I'll report back here what I think of it.

Camera zooming is an incredibly important addition to the iPhone. I take pretty well all my pictures with the iPhone and the other day I was taking pictures of my daughter and her friends at a pre-prom party we hosted at our house. For some of the pictures, we had the group of friends all line up on the other side of the swimming pool from the parents taking pictures. The parents with actual cameras were able to zoom in to capture the group of friends across the pool but I wasn't able to zoom at all and, as a result, missed some of the detail. I now can with the updates made to the camera which allows you to move a slider on the camera view to set the right level of zoom. Pretty sweet!

While my very early experiences with the enhancements made to iOS4 weren't unqualifiedly positive, I am still very pleased with the update and especially so given the price - free.