Apple iPhone OS 4 Event – The Good, The Bad, and the Meh
Today’s Yesterday’s iPhone OS 4 preview was chock full of announcements, and I’d wager to say there was at least something for everyone to like (assuming you don’t run an iPhone advertising or social community). As always when there is a big Apple event, we like to go over the key points of the day, and rate them as either good, bad, or meh. So sit back, relax, and prepare to have your opinions formed for you.
In a rare turn of events, just about everything we saw today was good, quite frankly, at least from an end-user POV.
- Multi-tasking: This appears to rock. As many of you know, the lack of ability to listen to internet radio while doing ANYTHING else (web surfing, email, twitter, etc) has long been the biggest iPhone “bug” up my arse. I previously jailbroke my iPhone in order to get this capability, and I would have kept doing it if it wasn’t such a pain in the aforementioned arse to keep up with the updates. Apple’s solution looks like it works far more elegantly than the jailbroken solutions, and I really can’t think of any better way Apple could have gone about doing this. My only problem with this, and most of the new changes, is they each add a new layer of complexity to the iPhone OS. Sure, they may not seem like brain surgery to those of us who have been growing with the iPhone all along, but these new multi-tasking behaviors are going to be something first-time iPhone users are actually going to have to read the manual to use.
- Game Center: Personally, I don’t really care about global leader boards. I’ve never been good enough at any game to be ranked at the top, and all these boards do is rub my face in just how bad I am. I suppose the best one of these I’ve found is Flight Control’s, where coincidentally my 3000+ score is good enough to have a top score locally. But I can definitely see how having a unified ranking system would be a benefit to players. I have signed up for at least three of these systems in the past (with three different usernames) and had to re-sign up at least 9-10 times over various devices and such. So the idea of having only one username and password to forget is appealing. If Apple does this correctly I assume there is no reason for anyone to use the current ranking systems out there, so I feel a little bad for anyone who was making money on their system, but hey, when you deal with Apple, you know the risks.
- The new Mail Apple is adding the ability to have a unified inbox, which when you run a couple websites and have to check 8 or more different e-mail addresses a day, is a great blessing. For business customers Apple’s created a new Mobile Device Management system to make it easier for companies to manage large fleets of iPhones, and enhanced Exchange support to allow for multiple accounts. Odds are I’ll never care about any professional features, as I doubt I will ever act professional in my entire life, but I like that they’re there if for no other reason than it means less iPhone bashing and more iPhone buying.
- Folders Being able to group apps into folders is great, and it means I will now be able to load all 1000+ apps onto my iPhone and actually be able to see them. Of course, I’ll still probably only use the same 12 I always do, but just like I like to carry around music I don’t particularly ever want to hear, I like the idea of having all the bad games and apps I’ve bought with me at all times.
- Customizable backgrounds Customization was probably the other major reason I jailbroke my iPhone, and the ability to add your own home screen backgrounds is great. Of course, odds are you will discover, as did I, that icons over straight black actually looks better than icons over a picture of your kids’ face or a Bugatti Veyron. But hey, at least you got the chance to try it.
- iBooks for iPhone I personally don’t plan to do much reading on my iPad, so the thought of doing it on the iPhone’s much smaller screen is somewhat… Meh. But again, Apple’s implementation is quite nice, with synced bookmarks between the iPad and iPhone, and the need to only buy a book once and be able to read it on either device is nice. So if you are into the whole eBook thing, this is pretty sweet, I suppose.
-iAds Well, no one loves ads, and while these look nicer than other ads, they’re still ads, and odds are interactive ads will just waste more of my time than regular ads. It will be interesting to see how these ads work though, as they appear to take a hell of a lot more time and thought to make than a standard text banner, so I would wager not every advertiser is going to want to spring for one of these ads over the traditional AdMob types.
- 5x Digital camera zoom: I never understood the allure of digital camera zooms. I suppose this is for people who want to ruin their photographs while taking them instead of getting home and blowing them up in Photoshop. Aside from taking a grainy pic to proove you saw Big Foot 500 yards away, digital zooms are useless.
- No multi-tasking for anything but the latest gadgets: I’m not going to get too angry about this one for 2 reasons. First, I would assume that while multi-tasking something like an internet radio station and surfing the web at the same time isn’t too taxing on an older iPhone (and in fact, I used to do this just fine on a jailbroken 1st gen iPhone), things like making Skype calls and playing a game might be, so it was likely easier to just not support the whole thing than to figure out what specifically it could handle. And Second, and more importantly, it doesn’t bother me because I have the latest gadgets. Also, by the time OS 4 comes out, the latest gadgets will not be the latest gadgets, so multi-tasking will technically work on the last TWO generations of gadgets by then.
Well, for once I can’t think of anything outright BAD to say about the announcements. And I’ve tried. I’m sure if I were a mobile ad agency or leader board developer I would have something bad to say, but as a consumer I am more or less thrilled with this update, especially given the last one’s more or less lackluster offerings. I suppose if anything I can still complain about missing features, although there are now fewer and fewer that I really care about.
- Still no custom SMS alert sounds. I haven’t played with the new OS myself, but reports are that you still can’t choose a custom alert sound for a text message. Back in my jailbreaking days I made an AWESOME Kim Possible beeper sound and was able to use that as my alert, and it is more or less criminal that Apple still doesn’t let you add your own text alert tone. We had to fight for a couple years to get ringtones and we finally did. Maybe once Apple figures out a way to make money from them we will have the honor. But the least they could have done is add a couple new sounds to the library, as I think only 2 of the current alert sounds are anything you would not be embarrassed to hear go off in a meeting.
- Still no tethering on AT&T?: WTF?
No useful Lock Screen: These days adding a bunch of widgets, alerts and such to the lock screen seems to be all the rage in iPhone clones, so let’s steal a little something back and add the ability to put Weather, Facebook/Twitter updates, stocks etc. on the lock screen.
- No Disk mode: I’m really not sure what the problem is with enabling a disk mode, like in other iPods. Maybe Apple fears it would be easier to hack if we could drag and drop files to the iPhone, but let’s face it, the iPhone has been hacked, and will be hacked.
- Ability to remove Apple apps Well, at least now I can make a folder called USELESS and throw the stocks, contacts, and weather apps in there.
As much as I enjoy, or PLAN to enjoy all these new features, I do think Apple is beginning to run out of things you can do with a 1-button + touch interface. Soon all the necessary swipes and “hit the home button 4 times and make a diagonal slash from the bottom left to the top right” type of video parodies may actually begin to come true. While these new features are powerful and will no doubt spur even more innovation from developers, the iPhone now appears to be a bit more complicated to use, especially for the non-tech savvy. I can certainly see a segment of the population (those people over 55,mainly) wondering where their apps went when they accidentally dropped on on another and made a folder. These people might get scared into reaching for something with a bunch of ugly, easy to use physical buttons over an iPhone, mainly because as the OS advances, there is going to be more and more to remember just to be able to make a phone call.
But all that being said, my young children love their iPod touches, can use my iPhone to make a call, and knew exactly what to do with the iPad 2 seconds after picking it up. So perhaps Apple’s evil plan of indoctrinating the young with iPod touches will work and the iPhone OS will become second nature to a whole generation of mult-tasking, multi-touching 8-year-olds who are (unfortunately) about 2 years away from owning an iPhone. God I really hope a carrier with a better family text plan is carrying the iPhone by then.