Apple iPhone OS 4.0: A look at the seven tentpole apps

At the iPhone OS 4.0 press event, Steve Jobs referenced a laundry list of 100 new user features for the operating system. He focused on what he called seven "tentpole" apps, which include the multitasking feature.

On April 8, 2010, Steve Jobs unveiled details about the much-anticipated update to the iPhone operating system during a press event at Apple's Cupertino, CA campus. There was a lot of speculation regarding just what features we might see from iPhone OS 4.0 and, for the most part, Apple delivered.

Seven tentpole apps

Jobs referenced a laundry list of 100 new user features for the iPhone operating system, but chose to focus on what he referred to as seven "tentpole" apps.

1. Multitasking

This is the one iPhone users have been requesting for years. It seems like a pretty basic feature, but the current iPhone OS doesn't support running more than one app at a time. Jobs acknowledged that Apple was late to the multitasking party, but said, "Now we weren't the first to this party, but we're gonna be the best. Just like cut and paste."

According to Jobs, Apple has figured out a way to provide multitasking without draining the battery or degrading performance.

During a demo, Jobs outlined the process for accessing other apps that you have running in the background. Clicking the home button on the iPhone twice will bring up a taskbar that displays icons for the other apps. Pressing the icon for one of those apps will maximize that app while minimizing the other. Again, this is pretty basic functionality, but it was nice to see how well it worked in the iPhone 4.0 OS.

Within the multitasking feature, Apple demoed seven services:

  • Background audio (Pandora)
  • Voice over IP (Skype)
  • Background location (Mapping, Loopt)
  • Push notifications
  • Local notifications
  • Task completion
  • Fast app switching
2. Folders

The second tentpole feature is Folders. Again, leave it to Apple to hype a feature that most mobile operating systems already have (remember the hype around copy and paste?).

Folders is just what the name suggests: You can now arrange apps into folders. If you have a tons of apps installed on your iPhone, this is another welcome addition.

Jobs demoed how Apple has made the folder creation process simpler. Press down on an icon until it starts to vibrate, then drag that icon over another icon that you want to group with it. The iPhone 4.0 OS will automatically make a folder containing the two apps; it will even name the folder based on the category of the app. You can rename the folder, but if you are grouping your games together, there is a pretty good chance you'll want to call them "Games."

3. Enhanced email

The third tentpole feature was enhanced email. In addition to a unified inbox that allows you to merge all of your email accounts into a single inbox, enhanced email also supports the ability to organize email messages by thread and the ability to open email attachments in other apps.

In this ZDNet video, Jobs talks about these new iPhone mailbox features.

4. iBooks

This tentpole feature didn't really seem as interesting as some of the others. Even Jobs' explanation of it lacked some of the enthusiasm of the other features. Basically, you have a "delightful" ebook reader and an iBookstore that allows you to buy a book once and read it across multiple devices. For some reason, Apple is throwing in a free iBook of Winnie the Pooh.

5. Enterprise

The fifth tentpole is where things started to get more interesting for business users. Apple outlined some "great features for the enterprise," including:

  • Even better data protection
  • Mobile Device Management
  • Wireless app distribution
  • Multiple Exchange accounts
  • Exchange Server 2010
  • SSL VPN support

There weren't a ton of details around each of these items, but I think tentpole number five shows that Apple is serious about moving more iPhones into the enterprise.

6. Game Center

The Game Center was one of the more surprising announcements for iPhone 4.0. In a nutshell, Apple is providing an XBOX Live-like experience for the iPhone. You will be able to invite friends to play games, find random players to compete against with Matchmaking, compare your performance with Leaderboards, and earn street cred with Achievements.

7. iAd

While the first six tentpoles were geared toward end users, iAd is aimed squarely at Google's AdMob and other mobile advertising networks.

While iAd has been rumored to be in the works since Apple acquired Quattro Wireless earlier this year, this was the first official confirmation of the platform.

Jobs shared that the average iPhone user spends 30 minutes per day using apps. He said, "If we said we wanted to put an ad up every 3 minutes, that's 10 ads per device per day. That would be 1 billion ad opportunities per day."

In addition to taking advantage of that "serious opportunity," Job wants to improve the quality of the ads. With iAd, Apple wants to marry interaction with emotion. Also, he claims that iAd advertisements will be interactive while keeping you in the app (unlike other mobile ads that take you somewhere else after you click).

Some key takeaways from iAd are:

  • Emotion + interactivity
  • Ads keep you in your app
  • Built into iPhone OS
  • Apple sells and hosts the ads
  • 60% revenues go to the app developer

If Apple can deliver this functionality, it can be a game changer in the mobile ad space. It will also allow Apple to monetize the tens of thousands of free apps in the iTunes App Store.

The bottom line

The iPhone 4.0 announcement delivered highly anticipated features such as multitasking, a potentially powerful advertising platform, and a few surprises (Game Center).

The iPhone OS 4.0 will be arriving in the summer. Some devices, including iPhone 3G and older iPod touches, will not be able to support multitasking, so if you want all of the iPhone 4.0, you'll have to upgrade. iPad users will receive the new OS in the fall.

Most of the features highlighted, including multitasking and unified inbox, are geared at making an existing iPhone owner's life easier. Those on other mobile platforms already have many of these features. There was very little here (other than Game Center, maybe) that would convince someone to switch to iPhone if they were on the fence. What do you think of iPhone 4.0?

Additional Apple iPhone 4.0 coverage

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