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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hands-on with iOS 4 update for iPhone, iPod Touch

At last, the latest major update for the iPhone and iPod Touch is available for download via iTunes, bringing with it such long-awaited features as multitasking, a unified e-mail inbox and home-screen app folders. Should you upgrade? Well, yeah, but don't expect all your apps to start working in the background just yet.

The iOS 4 update went live on iTunes at about 1 p.m. Eastern, and upgrading your iPhone or iPod Touch to the new OS is a simple matter of syncing your handset with the iTunes desktop application; you should be prompted to download and install the upgrade a few seconds after attaching your iPhone to the connector cable. The entire process should could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how long it takes to download the installation file (which is anywhere from about 290MB to more than 550MB in size, depending on the device you're updating), so be patient.

OK, so who should upgrade? Anyone with an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 3G, as well as the second- and third-generation iPod Touches. That's the good news. The bad news? Neither the iPhone 3G nor the second-gen iPod Touch will support iOS 4's multitasking features, although most other new features will be supported. And if you've got the original iPhone or the first-generation iPod Touch: Sorry, folks, you're out of luck.

All right, what should you expect the first time you fire up your upgraded iPhone or iPod Touch? Here are some of the highlights.

Home-screen wallpaper
Here's a feature you'll notice right away: When your home-screen app icons slide into place, you'll see your lock-screen wallpaper rather than a boring black background. Want to customize your wallpaper? Tap Settings, then Wallpaper, then tap once more to choose a wallpaper from your image gallery. You'll get the option to set a given image as your lock-screen wallpaper, your home-screen wallpaper or both. (Keep in mind, however, that a busy home screen background plus 16 app icons could make for some serious eye strain.) But if you're an iPhone 3G or second-gen iPod Touch user, bad news: The home-screen wallpaper has been disabled for your devices. Lame.

Integrated e-mail inbox & threaded messaging
iPhone users (including me) have been complaining for years that they haven't been able to get a unified view of their incoming e-mail, but that all changed today. Now, you can tap the All lnboxes inbox to see new messages from all your accounts at once—hallelujah (although I wish you could get a little icon telling you which account your various messages belong to). Also new is threaded messaging, which organizes your e-mail conversations into separate threads, a la Gmail. Don't like threaded messaging? You can turn it off by tapping "Settings," "Mail, Contacts, Calendars," and moving the "Organize by Thread" slider to "off."

The most anticipated iOS 4 feature of all, of course, is multitasking for third-party iPhone and iPod Touchapps, and the new multitasking interface couldn't be easier to use. When you've got an app running, just double-tap the Home button and the screen slides up, revealing a tray of any and all apps running in the background. Tap an icon, and the app that's currently running will twirl away, to be replaced by the app you just tapped. You can also tap and hold an app in the multitasking tray to close it for good once you're done using it.

Pretty nice, but there are a few caveats. No. 1: Just because iOS 4 supports multitasking doesn't mean all your apps can now run riot in the background. Apple already told us that only certain app functions — namely streaming music (such as Pandora), VoIP (think Skype) and location tracking (like Loopt) — will be allowed to work while you're using another app. Other apps will go into a "suspended" state, frozen in place so you can pick up exactly where you left off (via "fast app switching"). Why the limitations? So that apps in the background don't kill your battery and/or slow down your performance, according to Apple.

But here's the catch: A given app must be updated to work with iOS 4 before it'll multitask at all, even in a suspended state. (An app that isn't iOS-4-ready will just restart once you switch back to it.) For now, only a handful of apps have been updated. TechCrunch has listed a few of them, including Pandora, Evernote and the New York Times app. From what we've heard, the process of upgrading an app with iOS 4 multitasking support isn't difficult; it's just a matter of developers going ahead and adding the necessary code. Of course, Apple must also approve the update. Let's hope we start seeing an avalanche of iOS 4-ready apps in the AppStore within the next several days.

Home-screen app folders
The only problem with all those apps on your iPhone is keeping them organized. Personally, I've tried relegating games to one home screen, productivity apps to another, and so on, but it all gets pretty unwieldy. Now, thanks to iOS 4, we're getting home-screen folders, good for storing up to 12 apps. To create a folder, just tap and hold an icon until all your iPhone icons begin to shake; drag the icon onto another, and voila, you've created a folder. Tap the folder icon, and the screen will slide up, revealing all the apps inside. Nice, but I wish you could put more than 12 apps at a time inside a folder.

New camera/imaging features
Now you can tap to focus when shooting video or zoom in on subjects when you're shooting stills. Keep in mind, however, that as with other digital cameras, the iPhone's 5X digital zoom capability doesn't amount to much more than on-device cropping. Meanwhile, the iPhone's camera roll now supports the "Faces" and "Places" features in iPhone, meaning you can browse snapshots by who's in them or where they were taken. (Note: After upgrading your phone, notice that the snapshots in your photo albums look all blurry? Me too. Syncing your iPhone on iTunes again should sharpen your pictures right up — at least, it worked for me.)

Other iOS 4 features
Music lovers can now create playlists on the fly in the iPhone's native iPod app. Also new: support for Bluetooth-enabled keyboards, the ability to "gift" an iPhone app to someone else, a built-in dictionary for on-the-fly spellchecking, and an iBooks app for reading books on the iPhone. Two other important iOS 4 features won't be launching until later in the year: iAds (Apple's new mobile advertising platform, which goes live July 1) and Game Center, a new Xbox Live-style gaming network with support for friends, messaging and achievements (slated for fall).

My iPhone 3GS has always been a pretty peppy handset, and upgrading it to iOS 4.0 hasn't changed anything in that regard — the phone still screams, whether I'm swiping through home screens, firing up the e-mail app, or playing Chaos Rings. That said, some iPhone 3G users have reported painfully sluggish performance at first. But others claim the situation improves dramatically once you restart your handset, so if your 3G is having trouble, give it a try.

Still missing in iOS 4: notifications
Both Palm's WebOS and Google's Android OS feature somewhat evolved, elegant notification services, good for letting you know of incoming e-mail or text messages. In WebOS's case, a little window bubbles up at the bottom of the screen, letting you know who e-mailed/texted you and giving you reply/ignore options; on Android devices, the notifications appear in a bar at the top of the screen. With the iPhone, though, there's no way to quickly check who just e-mailed you without bailing out of an app, and SMS notifications appear as jarring pop-ups that interrupt whatever you're doing. Personally, I'm more than ready for the iPhone (and the iPod Touch too, of course) to get a notification system on the order of those on WebOS and Android handsets. But I guess we'll have to wait for iOS 5 before that happens.

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1 comment:

diriku said...

i like iphone =]

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