iPhone OS 4.0 in depth walkthrough

With the release of the iPhone OS 4.0 beta mere hours ago, many are keen to get their hands on a copy. Unfortunately, not everybody that wants to can do so due to a number of reasons, but thankfully, some developers are willing to provide screenshots of all the new features and additions. We've obtained a bunch of said screenshots, and will annotate them as appropriate below, showing off some of the things you can expect from your iPhone come the middle of the year.

Multitasking:

The big one is, of course, multitasking. It isn't a new feature by any stretch of the imagination but it's one that has been a long time coming to the iPhone OS. Multitasking in iPhone OS 4.0 works by double-tapping the Home button, which will then bring up a view of the currently running apps. You can leave as many as you want open for as long as you want yet (we haven't seen any battery life tests yet so it's hard to tell how it'll affect performance), though you can close them by holding your finger over a currently running one. This'll bring up a red icon to close whichever one you've chosen, stopping it from running altogether.

So, how well does it work? Not bad. It's not fantastic, but not bad. It can be pretty hard to navigate once you have a bunch of applications running, though currently, with third-party apps, it works more like an app switcher. This will be remedied once developers have had some time to work on their software, but in the mean time, it's not reaching its full potential (it's only beta one, after all). There are a couple screenshots in the gallery to help illustrate things a bit better, for those still confused.

Folders:

This one doesn't take much explaining. Interestingly, a lot of people had issues creating a Folder for the first time – there isn't any indicator that you can do it aside from being told by somebody else that you can – which goes against Apple's trend of making things as usable as can be. In order to set a Folder up, you tap and hold an app until they're in editing mode (that is, you can move them around and delete them), then drag an app on top of another one. That'll set them up into a new group which can then be renamed and organized as you see fit. There's a limit of 12 apps per Folder, so if you have a ton of a certain type of application (such as games), we expect you'll have to create numbered folders as appropriate. Aside from the limit, it works well. It's animated smoothly, looks nice, and functions as advertised, which is all you can ask of it, really. Again, there are screenshots in the gallery.

Game Center:

The Game Center app is already included with beta one though it runs in a sandbox mode which obviously doesn't have all the functionality, so we can't really comment on how well it goes just yet. Once a number of apps support it, we'll be able to play around with it and test out how it performs and works as a platform. Interestingly, Apple's service goes against third party ones already created, such as Plus+ from ngmoco, though of course, they all have slightly different features catering for different needs.

Camera:

The camera application has undergone a couple of changes, most importantly being the fact that it now features a 5x zoom (though it's only software based, of course). It works pretty much as one would expect, with the highest level of zoom looking not particularly great. There are screenshots of this in action in the gallery, though keep in mind that they're not usually that blurry. In addition to the camera zoom, you can now rotate photos with ease within the Camera or Photos applications, which is a small but welcome feature. As Apple have introduced a camera zoom in this OS, it provides a pretty good suggestion that the next iteration of the iPhone will have a hardware zoom; having it implemented in software is nice and all, but it just doesn't compare.

Location:

The Maps application has only very, very slightly changed, in that it has one different icon and it now features the location icon in the status bar, signaling that it has accessed the user's location within the last 24 hours. This is reflected in the Location Services view, under General in the Settings app, where it features a list of applications that utilize location framework and whether or not they have accessed the feature recently. Aside from that, not much has changed – however, it's worth pointing out that the GPS managed to pinpoint our phone's location much quicker and with greater accuracy than before. Whether this was just a one-off or Apple has made improvements has yet to be seen, so remain skeptical.

Various other changes:

The entire operating system is littered with small, but appreciated, new features or changes. One such change is that a user can now easily use an alphanumeric password of greater length, instead of being stuck with a 4-digit pin code. This obviously increases security and is just a good feature to have around in general.

The Calculator app has seen a new icon for whatever reason (some say it's so you don't confuse it with a Folder), and now the Messages app has a character counter so you can see how many more characters you can fit into an SMS before you run out. Mail has, of course, been given a unified inbox as well as threaded emails which will definitely help those who do a lot of emailing on their device. Safari will offer you suggestions when using the embedded search bar, much like the iPad does, in addition to autocompleting based on bookmarks and history when typing in the URL bar.

YouTube, Stocks, the Calculator, Contacts and Weather all seem exactly the same to the previous versions, though they're definitely open to changes before the final version of the OS. The iPod app on the iPhone has undergone small changes which can be seen in the gallery, though nothing particularly groundbreaking (you can finally create your own playlist directly within the app, a feature which should really have been in there from day one). It's also worth pointing out that the iPhone will now be able to support Bluetooth keyboards, with pretty much an identical implementation to the iPad.

The Notes application can now be synced over the air with MobileMe, whereas previously it would require a USB connection; it works well enough and hasn't gone wrong so far.

Beta one of the iPhone OS 4.0 is relatively stable but still has a couple of issues here and there, with two application crashes so far and a tiny bit of lag when scrolling through a table view, plus the inability to change the Home and Lock screen wallpapers. Never-the-less, it's much nicer than iPhone OS 3.0 beta 1, and for that, we are thankful. Beta two will hopefully address these issues, but for now, all works well.

Overall, it's a nice upgrade with some cool features (at the moment it just feels like Apple's filling in the gaps), but the real goodness will come once developers have had some time to get to know it, and pump out some updates to their software. Apple has included a ton of new, very useful APIs for those very people, who are already hard at working coding up the next iterations of their apps. If you ARE a developer for the iPhone, you will be pleased to know that both GCD and blocks have been implemented in this iteration of the OS, which will greatly help with threading and performance in general. If there are any questions you have, leave them in the comments and we'll do our best to get them answered.

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