updated 02:30 pm EDT, Thu April 8, 2010
Over 100 new user features
Presenting from an event at its Cupertino headquarters, Apple has formally unveiled iPhone 4.0, the next iteration of firmware for its portable devices. The major emphasis of the code is on multitasking, allowing third-party apps to run simultaneously for the first time. People can double-tap a Home button on their device to bring up a switching interface, similar to the iPhone's homescreen dock. They then scroll through a list to load one of the running apps.
Extensions of multitasking will allow people to interact with background apps, for instance controlling Pandora music streams from the lock screen, or conducting Skype VoIP calls accepted via a pop-up. A background location service will allow people to run GPS and other positioning-based apps while handling other tasks. Similarly, apps can now send local push notifications, rather than just rely on Apple's servers.
The firmware includes over 100 new user-end features in total, such as gift apps, geotagging, playlist creation, a spellchecker, 5x digital zoom and tap-to-focus for video. iPad features carrying over include support for Bluetooth keyboards, and a separate homescreen wallpaper that persists behind icons. Privacy controls have been made more fine-grained, with the ability to disable location data per-app and see what requests have been made in the last 24 hours.
The Mail app has been improved with a unified inbox, fast inbox switching, and message threads. Users can now also connect to multiple Exchange accounts, and open attachments using outside apps. Enterprise enhancements include device management, better data security, wireless app distribution and support for Exchange Server 2010 as well as SSL VPNs.
An important interface change is the ability to create homescreen folders by dragging icons on top of each other. Folders are automatically named to match their shared categories, but manual names can be assigned as well. Apple notes that folders can be moved into the dock, and that as a consequence of the feature, the maximum number of apps has been expanded to 2,160.
A developer preview of the firmware is being made available today, giving programmers access to more than 1,500 new APIs. The actual iPhone and iPod touch firmware is set to release this summer, with some features being limited exclusively to the iPhone 3GS and third-gen Touch, including multitasking. An iPad distribution is due in the fall for reasons unknown.