Apple iPhone OS 4 Offers Multitasking, iAd

Apple unveiled its next-generation iPhone OS 4 during an April 8 presentation at its Cupertino, Calif. headquarters. The iPhone OS 4, which is available in developer preview, will roll out to consumers this summer, and includes several changes to the traditional iPhone interface, including multitasking. In addition, iPhone OS 4 will include additional enterprise functionality, a hub for social gaming, and "iAd," which will allow third-party developers to embed mobile advertisements directly into their apps. With regard to multitasking, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, "We weren't the first to this party, but we're going to be the best."

Apple announced during an April 8 presentation at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters that its next-generation iPhone OS 4 would include several radical changes to the traditional iPhone interface, including a new ability to multitask and an advertising platform, dubbed "iAd," which will allow developers to deliver mobile advertisements within apps themselves.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage to announce that the iPhone OS 4 developer preview would launch on April 8, with the operating system itself due to arrive on Apple mobile devices at an as-yet-unannounced point this summer. The iPhone OS 4 SDK (software development kit) will include automated testing, in-app SMS, photo library access, and full access to still and video camera data-for a total of around 1,500 new APIs.

Jobs also stated that some 50 million iPhones have been sold so far, with more than 4 billion apps downloaded to date. From there, he moved on to discussing some of the user features of the new operating system, including tap-to-focus for video, 5x digital zoom for the camera module, sync IMAP notes, Bluetooth keyboard support, the ability to gift apps, and changeable home screen wallpaper. But many of those seemed minor compared to Jobs' next announcement, that iPhone OS 4 would support multitasking.

"We weren't the first to this party, but we're going to be the best," Jobs told the audience.

Rumors have abounded in the past few days that Apple would include multitasking for third-party applications in its new version of the iPhone operating system, with the blog Apple Insider suggesting on March 31 that users would be able to hit the "Home" button twice in order to bring up a special screen for switching between running apps. Rival smartphone platforms, notably Google Android, have been trumpeting their own ability to multitask as a competitive differentiator in the increasingly vicious battle for mobile-device market share, perhaps leading Apple to devise a response.

In actuality, Apple's method for handling multitasking is roughly in line with those previous rumors: users tap the "Home" button twice, raising a multitasking tray that allows for switching between apps. In this update, Apple is also including folders for arranging apps.

The iPhone OS 4 will also support background audio and voice over IP, background location, push notifications, local notifications, and task completion, which will continue running a particular task in the background until finished. For the enterprise, iPhone OS 4 will support multiple Exchange accounts, as well as offer Exchange Server 2010 and SSL VPN support.

On the play side of things, Apple is rolling out Game Center, a social-gaming network that will allow people to play against either their friends or other random players-the latter thanks to a feature called Matchmaking-in multiplayer games.

One addition that may draw some controversy, though, is Apple's new iAd platform, which in theory will allow developers to embed advertising directly into their apps. During his presentation, Jobs displayed a slide stating a theory, "1 Billion Ad impressions per day," based on the amount of time the sum total of iPhone owners spend using apps per day.

"The iAd is a big step for Apple--their way to stick a finger in the eye of Google, and even Microsoft (Bing)," Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates, wrote in an April 8 research note. "Sounds like the only ads going to iPhone and iPad ultimately will be through Apple's ad-equivalent of iTunes monopoly for music. This is a game changer, and I'll bet someone legally challenges this monopoly position (probably in Europe, where iTunes is being heavily challenged)."

Apple's announcement comes a few days after the April 3 release of the iPad, which reportedly sold 300,000 units to customers and channel partner Best Buy by midnight on that date. In an April 5 statement, the company suggested that more than 1 million apps for the iPad had already been downloaded, along with 250,000 ebooks. Developers have been encouraged to build applications for the iPad with the iPhone OS 3.2 SDK, which includes an iPhone Reference Library, Sample Code, iPad Programming Guide and Human Interface Guidelines.

Gold sees Apple's new multitasking initiative as possibly a mixed bag for some users.

"Apple seems to have added multitasking--but only partially," Gold wrote in his April 8 note. "You can't write your own multi-tasking capabilities into a program. So there are limits to multitasking available. This may be an issue for companies that do a lot of background processing, like say, running a database or reporting on a device in the background."

Between the iPad's release and this new announcement of the iPhone OS 4, it seems that Apple is trying to make good on COO Tim Cook's February statement that it is first and foremost "a mobile-device company."

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with commentary by an analyst.