Apple's iOS 4 beams into unprepared world
Folders? Fine. Multitasking? Meh
First Look Apple's much-vaunted iOS 4 arrived Monday morning a few minutes after 10am Pacific time, and nearly an hour and a half later, we were finally able to complete downloading and installing Cupertino's latest and greatest mobile OS onto our iPhone 3GS.
Yes and no. We first took a look at multitasking and the new folder interface, and the "no" part of our answer has more to do with third-party developers than it does with Apple.
Remember that multitasking — one of, if not the, most anticipated features of iOS 4 — is app-specific, meaning that developers need to add multitasking capability to their apps before users can take advantage of this new feature.
When we accessed the iTunes App Store to find out which apps had updates, we were faced with a dozens of updates to apps we have on our iPhone. Unfortunately, the App Store doesn't date updates, so it was impossible to tell at a glance which were new on Monday and which we simply missed over the past few weeks.
Left: even poorly multitasking apps such as iDisk appear in the multitasking UI
Right: audio controls and a rotation lock are available in the leftmost pane of the side-scrolling UI
So we picked a few of our most-used apps, downloaded their updates, installed them, accessed the multitasking UI by double-pressing the Home button, and chose from recently launched apps in the side-scrolling list at the bottom of the UI. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the app we had most hoped would be ready out of the gate — Pandora — was now quite nicely multitasking-capable. Y! Messenger appears to work just fine as well.
Others were a mixed bag. Kindle relaunched each time we accessed it from the multitasking interface, as did Labyrinth, Fieldrunners, AP, and Mactracker. Bloomberg hopped back to the last feature — search, for example — but not to the most recent search result.
Oddly, it being an Apple app, one would expect that MobileMe iDisk would behave itself, but if you open, say, a Word file in iDisk then switch to another running app, when you go back to the iDisk, that file has disappeared and you're back to the root file list of your iDisk.
As might be expected, the iPod app and Pandora won't play concurrently. And Shazam had the odd effect of turning off Pandora — so it's impossible, for example, to identify a tune being played in Pandora by wrapping your headphones around your iPhone's microphone.
How 'bout them folders?
The new Folders feature works as advertised. It's a simple matter to cram up to a dozen apps into a single icon-based container by holding and dragging them over first one app icon, then the folder that doing so has created. And although the folder is originally named with the category of the first app you drag over another app to form the folder, you can easily rename folders.
Left: folders can be renamed and can contain up to 12 apps
Right: A folder gets the category name of the first app dropped into it, but apps' categories don't need to match
To access any app in a folder, you merely tap on the folder and it opens up on your home screen. Launch an app by tapping it, or remove it from the folder by holding and dragging it onto the home screen. To delete a folder, just remove apps from it — when there's only one left, the folder disappears, and the app regains its original icon.
We'll dig deeper into the iOS 4 for a more-comprehensive review in the future. There's a lot more to explore: a unified mailbox, creating iPod playlists on the fly, iPhoto-based Faces and Places functions, built-in spell-checking, claimed improvements in photos and videos, and more.
And, of course, the iAds  mobile-advertising platform, which is scheduled to go live on July 1.
But for now we'll leave you with one puzzling annoyance: although you now have the capability to choose wallpaper for both your lock screen and your home screen, we discovered that photos that looked just fine and dandy in iPhone OS 3.x now look like fuzzy crap in iOS 4.
We'll try reloading them from iPhoto when we get home, where we store all of our digital memories, and include our results in a future update. ®
One of the reasons that our installation process took so long was that the first 15 minutes or so were wasted on a failed download attempt. As the download continued — as this series of successive progress bars shows — the estimated remaining time steadily increased, then the download simply gave up the ghost.
Apple's servers were hammered by fanbois furiously attempting to score their free copy of iOS 4.