Remember The iPhone?

By Sam Machkovech April 8, 2010

Minutes ago, the iPhone's next operating system (OS) took center stage at a press event near Apple's HQ in Cupertino, CA.

You know, the iPhone? That junior-sized iPad you might've forgotten about? Set for release this summer, the OS 4.0 software upgrade includes an iPhone first: multitasking.

Well, sort of. Once the update rolls out, a double-tap of the iPhone's home button will bring up a toolbar of open apps, meaning you won't have to completely exit one app to bring up another. Also, according to today's demo, apps like Pandora Radio and Skype will still work in the background of other iPhone tasks.

I applaud Apple for those basic upgrades. Still, from all appearances, Apple has implemented a clever "app-switching" interface, not true multitasking. Nothing released today makes me believe that third-party apps will smoothly interact with another the way I'd hoped the iPad would—copying and pasting handwriting between apps, for example. If an app maker could designate any code to run in the iPhone's background—the true, technical definition of multitasking, as far as I'm concerned—then Apple would've touted that fact today. Pandora as a background music app is a good start, but I expect developers to see a lot of limits as they explore the "multitasking" side of OS 4.0.

Of particular interest to me is the "social gaming network" that Steve Jobs casually announced. From what he said, iPhone users can expect something similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live: "matchmaking," in which the iPhone automatically finds you some online opponents in the games you play, and "achievements," which award valueless points for doing certain tasks in games. This part of the presentation flew by so quickly, with no screenshots or live demos, that I can only assume it's still half-baked. Even if it turns out well, this is a rare example of Apple ripping off Microsoft, not the other way around.

Other updates: the e-mail app will be more like Gmail, combining messages as single "threads." The iPad will receive this OS upgrade in the fall, and no iPad-specific features were announced. The iBook store, as I'd assumed, is on its way to the tiny iPhone screen. Lastly, Apple unveiled the iAd framework for advertising. (That looks like "ee-yad" to me.)

Certainly, advertising is a big deal on the iPhone, since most free apps depend entirely on ad revenue. But nothing from Apple has ever looked so cooked up by a marketing team. Essentially, you're looking at miniature, ad-related apps inside normal apps. "Advertorial" content. Might be a high-res video from Nike, might be a Toy Story 3-themed mini-game. "The ads keep you in your app," Jobs said this morning.

Sure, the new framework no longer shuts an app down to bring up an ad in a web browser, so the ad-viewing experience will be more elegant. But in principle, this doesn't really keep users in their app; the ads shown this morning filled the iPhone's entire tiny screen with an advertiser's content, rather than creatively splitting the screen space. Apple, we're not downloading free apps just to be interrupted by Toy Story come-ons.

Oh, and for the benefit of joining this advertising experiment, Apple only asks for 40% of ad revenue from developers.

Worst of all, Apple buried the lead by closing the press conference with a doozy: These 4.0 changes won't work on anything older than an iPhone 3GS. It may be a necessary evil to implement baby's-first-multitasking, but is Apple doing enough with this upgrade to abandon its older user base? I think not.

(H/t to for its full take on the Apple press conference.)
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