Apple offered the first official look at iPhone OS 4.0 today, which is the next generation of its mobile operating system. It's going to include a feature many iPhone users have wanted for years: multitasking.
It's also going to offer a range of other new features, like a unified email inbox, folders to organize application icons and a social network for gamers.
Unlike the current version, iPhone OS 4.0 is going to allow more apps to perform functions in the background. Apple CEO Steve Jobs promises that the feature won't negatively affect the performance of the app running in the foreground or the device's battery life.
OS 4.0 is going to limit the number of features apps can perform when they aren't in the foreground. Streaming audio services like Pandora, or VoIP ones like Skype are going to function in the background. Software is also going to be able to finish tasks like uploading pictures or video to Facebook in a similar fashion. Aside from them, most functions will stop.
Obviously, apps will have to be written to support Apple's background APIs. The ones that don't use them will close when the user switches away.
Users are going to be able to switch between apps that are running by double-clicking the Home button to bring up a screen showing icons for currently running applications. Tapping one of them will bring it to the fore.
Another feature in iPhone OS 4.0 is going to be the addition of folders in the application launcher.
As of now, users who want to organize software on their smartphone, handheld or tablet have to create different screens to put it on, and then move past them to get what they want.
The next version of the OS is going to allow users to create folders where they can store apps. Icons can be moved in and out of folders in the same way they are rearranged in the iPhone user interface: tap and hold, then drag and drop.
Folders will show small versions of the icons for the apps that are stored in them and they can be placed in the dock.
An Improved Inbox
The next version of the operating system is going to have a unified inbox where messages from a variety of services, like Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe and Yahoo, will be stored. Users can switch between messages from different sources.
Unlike the current version, iPhone OS 4.0 is going to support more than one Exchange account and work with Exchange Server 2010.
In addition, the inbox can thread messages together and open attachments using third-party software.
Gaming on the iPhone and iPod Touch has become a major phenomenon. To help foster it, Apple has created a social network for mobile gamers, where users can share their achievements with friends. It is also going to include leaderboards and matchmaking.
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