iOS4’s release from Apple is upon us and is the fourth version (4.0) of the Apple iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch operating system. Back on April 8 at a preview event, Apple showed off 7 new major features added to iOS4 and promised a total of over 100 new features in total. Some of the major new features include multitasking, home screen customization, and application folder creation.
This review of iOS4 is meant to show you the features added to iOS4 that we consider to be “major” and ones that most users will notice with casual use. These screenshots (and the basic content of the review) were based off the iOS4 Gold Master (GM) release from WWDC 2010, but it should be almost identical to the final version which will release on June 21. If anything changes or differs, we will be sure to update this review.
Spell Check & Replace
Spell check has finally been brought to the iPhone & iPod Touch (the iPad already has it) with iOS4. When iOS4 thinks you have misspelled a word, it underlines it with red just like a word processor and tapping on that word will give a popup with recommended correctly spelled words. Tapping on the word you want will replace it automatically. iOS4 continues to include Apple’s powerful predictive auto-correct text suggestions and corrections as well.
The familiar cut, copy, paste popup also gets a new addition in iOS4, the “replace…” button. This will allow you to replace an auto-corrected word with the original word if it isn’t what you originally intended. This is useful when you’re typing something that isn’t in the OS’s database and it changes it when it really shouldn’t.
Devices can now stay connected to a Wi-Fi network while in sleep mode, which means any applications that require an Internet connection will continue to work even with the device in sleep mode.
Bluetooth Keyboard Support
iOS4 allows users to wirelessly connect a hardware keyboard via Bluetooth, which will make for easy input of lengthy text or Web chatting.
The Home Screen
Users have been complaining for a while now about not being able to change the default gray background of their home screen. Jailbroken device users have enjoyed this ability for some time, but now legit users can do it too. The new default background in iOS4 is waterdrops on a gray gradient background, but you can change it to one of the many new included backgrounds or one of your own in your camera roll.
The gridded background for the bottom dock on previous iPhone OS versions has been replaced with a more pretty-looking Mac OS X-like reflective dock. In addition to that, the top bar is now translucent to show your background image when on the home screen. While in applications, it becomes plain black like usual.
The top bar’s status area in the upper left corner now shows more status icons, including a northeast-pointing arrow when you’re using location-based services (GPS), orientation lock (more on this later), and the usual Bluetooth, clock, and battery icon (and percentage if you choose).
Also, a colored bar will appear underneath the top status bar when you’re engaged in active voice or data connections. The color green indications an active voice call, blue for Internet tethering (more on that this later), and red for a voice memo or VoIP connection.
Multitasking has been brought to iOS4 for the iPhone 4, 3GS, and 3rd Generation iPod Touch. Only these devices are supported because Apple has deemed their hardware capable of the “power” required for multitasking. Apple designed iOS4 multitasking very carefully and didn’t just choose to allow full applications running in the background as this would reduce performance and battery life. Rather they took a more refined approach and allowed a more restricted application of multitasking that falls into seven categories.
- Task Oriented: This allows an application that is current performing a task, like uploading a picture to Facebook, to run in the background and close completely once the task is complete.
- Local Notifications: These notifications allow a popup alert to hide in the background and appear at the pre-set time, which would remove the need of a connection to a server to store and prompt the alert. This means local notifications can work without any type of Internet or cellular connection.
- Application Switching: With previous iPhone OS versions, if you closed out of an application, the whole app would close completely and you would have to start back at the beginning of an app if you restarted it. Think of a time where you’ve been playing a game an you receive a text message and try to reply to it and the OS kicks you completely out of the game you were playing and forces you to restart at the beginning. Now Apple has included the ability for applications to save their state, meaning if you switch to a different application, the app you were previously in will remember where you left off and resume at that point when you return.
To aid in this, Apple has implemented a multitasking bar at the bottom of that screen that appears when you double-press the home button. This “multitasking dock” shows all of the applications that you’ve accessed that are residing in the background in their saved state waiting for you to reopen them. Several pages of background-running applications can be accessed by just sliding the multitasking dock to the right. Clicking on an application will reopen it and let you resume your work. Switching between applications triggers a sliding carousel animation to show that you’ve switched applications and the previous one will sit in the background.
If you want to remove an application from this multitasking dock, just tap and hold on one of the icons and they will wiggle and a red delete badge appears in the upper left corner of the icon. Pressing on the badge will remove it from this dock, but Apple says that it doesn’t really “stop” the application from running in the background (as only the OS itself manages that), but rather makes the multitasking dock more manageable for the user.
- Widgets: Sliding to the left while on the first page of running apps in the multitasking dock will show the new widgets pane. Here you can lock the screen orientation to portrait, which will not allow the screen to rotate to landscape mode. When the screen is locked, a lock icon will appear in the top status bar. From the widgets pane you can control the music that is currently playing on your device, with the playback controls (skip ahead, skip backward, and play/pause) and the ability to pull up the application that’s playing music (ie: iTunes, iPod App, Pandora, etc.). The current song title (if content is playing) appears under these controls as well.
iPhone 1.0 had only one home screen that didn’t allow for much room for applications, but there wasn’t any App Store back then. iPhone 3.0 allowed for 11 pages of apps and a maximum of 180 viewable applications. iOS4 now allows for the creation of folders right on the home screen. Each folder can now hold up to 12 applications, which means a device can now hold up to 2016 applications.
To create a folder, just tap and hold an icon to make them wiggle, then drag it over top of another icon and it will create a folder. The OS will then take a look at the category data for the applications and try to come up with an appropriate name. It does a fairly decent job of making names, but sometimes it doesn’t. If the name it made doesn’t work, you can edit it to whatever you want.
To open a folder, just tap it on the home screen and the background (and other icons) become translucent and gray, leaving your open folder front and center. To remove an application from a folder, make them wiggle like before and just drag them out. A folder will delete itself when there is only one application left inside.
The new iPhone 4’s will come with a folder named “Utilities” and will contain the Clock, Calculator, Compass, and Voice Memos applications, but any iPhone user can simply make the same folder if you want to hide these less frequently used Apple applications (as you still cannot remove them).
The SMS Messaging application in iOS4 now has built-in Spotlight search along the top. There is also a character counter that appears when you’ve hit a second line of text during an SMS message to see how many of the 160 characters you’ve used and if additional texts will be required. This feature has to be turned on from the Messages area of the Settings application.
Nothing much has changed here in terms of functionality and features, but there is a new icon for activating location-based services (aka: GPS and/or cellular triangulation) that matches the one that shows in the top status area.
In iPhone 3.0, Apple introduced Tap to Focus for taking photos, but in iOS4, it now applies to video recording as well (for the iPhone 3GS & 4). Also now in both iPhone models is the ability to zoom using a 5x digital zoom. Activating the zoom is simple, just tap the screen and a slider appears along the bottom allowing you to drag the slider to zoom in and out. The zoom quality isn’t too bad actually, but does require a steady hand for any decently-sharp picture to be taken.
If you’re using the iPhone 4, there is a button to allow you to switch from the 5 megapixel backside camera to the frontside VGA camera. There is also an icon to enable/disable the flash.
The Mail application now features a unified inbox, meaning all of your connected e-mail accounts will show in one window, so you don’t have to go between accounts to check your e-mail separately.
The iPad gained the ability for the set search provider to provide search suggestions as you typed in the search field, and now iOS4 brings that feature to the iPhone & iPod Touch. The search button text now remains just that, Search, and not the name of the set search provider.
The iPod application gets a few face lifts and upgrades here, including the addition of Album Art to album views to make it look a little more spiffy.
On-the-Go playlists are now gone (thank heavens!) and you’re left with just the regular playlists. You can add them directly from the Playlists screen in the iPod app. It will ask you for a name and then you just tap any songs that you wish to add to it. To delete a playlist, just swipe to the left over it and a delete button appears. Any added playlists also appear in iTunes when you sync your device.
Another new feature that is rather strange in our mind, is the metadata display, which is shown when you tap the album art in the Now Playing view. It shows the text against the dimmed gray background of the album art and it just feels rather unsightly as some metadata is jumbled and disorganized. This feature can be turned off in the iPod settings area.
Game Center is Apple’s new social gaming application that lets you interact with friends to play via challenges, matchmaker, and other ways to collaborative play. You can gain achievements for games and compare your stats to other players. Scores that you’ve earned will also display on a leader board that is shown across the Game Center platform.
Game Center is scheduled for release “later this year” and won’t be included in the final version of iOS4. (It is shown here because it comes with the developer preview for testing purposes only, it doesn’t work beyond a simple sign in).
iBooks will be available soon from the App Store for free when Apple releases it, but it will be just like the iPad version. It does have a few new features, like notes & bookmarks, which will be synced across all your iBook-compatible devices (ex: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch). iBooks will also be able to open PDF eBooks and display them in the same reading interface.
There are many new changes and additions to the Settings application in both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3G/3GS.
In the Network panel, you can chose shut off all cellular data (both 3G and Edge), where previously you could only turn off 3G. Also, you can turn on and configure Internet Tethering as well (a big FINALLY for U.S. customers!).
Location Services has been made an option here, by allowing you to completely turn them off or by individually allowing applications access to your location. This follows from some user’s privacy concerns and from the promises Apple made at the iOS4 preview event about being able to control this data.
Security has been beefed up a little bit by allowing longer than the old 4 digit security PINs. Also, you can set them to be required immediately or for certain tasks. You may also choose to erase all data on the iPhone after 10 failed passcode attempts.
The settings for Safari haven’t changes much, except for the ability to set Microsoft Bing as the default search engine in addition to the usual Google and Yahoo. (Google is still the automatic default)
iOS4 Update Compatibility & Availability
iOS4 will be available as a free update for users of the iPhone, iPod Touch (yes, free), and the iPad. The iPhone & iPod Touch version of iOS4 will be available starting June 21 and the iPad version later this fall.
Not all devices, however, will have access to all of iOS4’s features, which is mostly due to hardware constraints. The iPhone 4 will have 100% of iOS4 features enabled. The iPhone 3GS & iPod Touch 3rd Generation will have all features except anything that requires iPhone 4 hardware, like the frontside camera. The iPhone 3G & iPod Touch 2nd Generation will not have multitasking, but will have custom wallpaper and Bluetooth keyboard support. The original 2G iPhone and original iPod Touch will be left out of this update completely as Apple now considers these devices as obsolete.