Apple (s aapl) introduced the next major revision of it’s mobile operating system today, with a press event to highlight the changes in its iPhone OS 4.0. The developer preview of iPhone OS 4.0 will be released today, with the OS proper seeing a summer ship time.
First up — and possibly demanded the most — is a method of multitasking without a significant hit on the battery life. Apple is offering seven multitasking APIs that developers can utilize, so an app like Pandora, for example, can run in the background, much like Apple’s native apps do today. The APIs include support for audio apps, VoIP (think Skype) (s ebay), location by cell-tower triangulation for directions and LBS apps, local push notifications and task completion in the background.
In typical Apple fashion, the implementation to switch apps is reminiscent of existing design. Tapping the home button twice on an iPhone OS 4.0 device brings a dock-like interface up from the bottom of the screen. Simply tap and switch. From the early sounds of the functionality, the implementation doesn’t appear to be multitasking in the traditional “run multiple apps all the time” vein. Instead, as I read it so far, it’s a very controlled form of task switching, APIs and saving the state of closed apps to reopen them as they were left. Some may find it amusing that the iPhone gets multitasking as Windows Phone 7 loses it.
Now that you can run more apps, how about installing more apps? iPhone OS 4.0 bumps up the allowable number of apps from 180 to 2,160 titles. Well, that would be a mess to muddle through, so Cupertino is providing Folder functionality for organizational purposes. These folders can even be on the Dock, making it easy to get at the most used app groups.
I didn’t call for Folders in the six features I expected to see out of iPhone OS 4.0, but I did mention a unified inbox. Thankfully, I called it correctly. Apple adds multiple inboxes in a single view as well as support for multiple Microsoft (s msft) Exchange accounts — that’s useful to me because I use Exchange to sync my Google (s goog) contacts and calendars. Up to now I could only do that for work or personal accounts, but with the new OS, that limitation appears to be gone. Also in the mail app is support for threaded conversations and opening attachments in other installed applications. That should be pretty handy if I was say, trying to open an iPad document attachment for editing in Google Docs with a third-party app.
I’m not surprised that Apple brings iBooks to the new operating system. The company makes money on every paid iBooks content purchase, so why not bring that business model to all iPhone OS devices? Similar to Amazon’s (s amzn) Whispersync functionality, iBooks will pick up where you left off on different devices.
The support for multiple Exchange email accounts will appeal to the enterprise, and that goes hand in hand with new features focused squarely on the corporate environment. The new iPhone OS brings mobile device management and data protection improvements, which will please IT departments with iPhones deployed.
There are already 50,000 games in the App Store according to Apple, and the introduction of the new Game Center puts Microsoft squarely in Apple’s sights. The Game Center is a social gaming network that is similar to Xbox Live from Microsoft. It will be possible for Game Center members to interact with each other to share leaderboards, achievements and play in matches. The Game Center will go live later this year.
Perhaps the biggest announcement today is the launch of the iAd mobile advertising service. Apple demonstrated fully interactive ads that are placed inside apps to engage the consumer. The ads can stream video, audio and even have full games within the apps that contain the ads. We might see a lot more free apps in the App Store, with iAd content onboard used to generate revenue for the developers in place of app sales. The iAd service takes direct aim at Google’s intent to dominate mobile advertising with the purchase of AdMob. Apple will make a 60/40 split with developers for ad revenues generated by iAd.
The ads will leverage existing capabilities of the iPhone OS. Apple demonstrated a movie ad that interactively showed where the movie was playing locally using the Maps API. This opens up a broad realm of hyper-local ads for products. The ads are like separate apps that live within other apps with the sole intent of selling something to the user. Apple redefines mobile advertising with iAd.
The new OS will appear in the summer, so that is likely when we will see the next generation of iPhone hardware. Apple did not discuss the new phone at the press event. Surprisingly, the new OS will not appear on the iPad until the fall. It is fair to say that most of the new features of iPhone OS 4.0 are particularly applicable to the iPad. Multitasking, app folders and the email improvements will be very welcome on the larger screen.
Older iPhones may not get to upgrade to OS 4.0; they can’t handle it according to a statement from Apple. When asked how multitasking might further impact AT&T’s data network problems, Steve Jobs indicated it might happen, but Apple didn’t foresee multitasking causing greater data usage. That might be wishful thinking.