Apple offered iOS 4 to iPhone users today. Here are five things about the new software that rock, and five things that, well, don't.
The latest version of the iPhone operating system became available via iTunes today. After downloading it, installing it, and playing with it for a few hours, here are my initial impressions.
The Good Stuff
1. Improved camera performance. The camera on the iPhone 3G3 performs an order of magnitude faster than it did with software 3.1.3. It is quicker to focus, quicker to take pictures, and quicker to get back to the capture screen. It also now has a digital zoom feature.
2. Folders. Other smartphone platforms have had folder support from Day 1. Now, in its fourth generation software, so does the iPhone. It is visually pleasing, and I like the way they work. I especially like to be able to reduce the number of home screens I am using by stuffing apps into the folders.
3. Spell check. When composing messages, the iPhone now goes beyond the predictive software it had been using to aid typing. It now has a spell check that lets you select the word you really mean to type instead of arbitrarily choosing one for you.
4. Unified inbox. I have a lot of email accounts. One thing I've always liked about BlackBerries is their support for a unified inbox -- all the emails go to a single master inbox rather than separate inboxes. iOS 4 now supports this, too. For the serial email addict who has way too many email accounts, this makes checking them all just a bit easier from the iPhone.
5. Multitasking. It's not a perfect implementation, and I have yet to put it through any real battery tests, but it is nice to have multitasking that works on the iPhone. Switching between apps is faster and more seamless. It also preserves the "state" of each app. If you're in the middle of composing an email, it doesn't lose or delete the email if you switch over to the browser, etc. I expect as more apps are enabled with background support, multitasking's true benefits will become clearer.
The Not So Good Stuff
1. Semi-threaded email. Apple has brought threaded email to the iPhone's email inbox, but it doesn't quite go far enough. In Gmail, for example, every email that has the same subject is lumped together in a threaded conversation so it is easier to see all the messages. The iPhone attempts to do this, but falls short. The threaded feature will show users all the messages in a conversation that they've received, but not the ones they've sent. That means you're really only seeing half the conversation.
2. No real iPod improvements. Access to the iPod has been improved somewhat from the home screen, but the player itself is pretty much identical to what's been available on the iPhone for three years. The biggest missing feature? A user-adjustable graphic equalizer. It does, however, have better support for creating playlists.
3. No new additional ringers/alerts. This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. iOS4 has all the exact same (lame) ringtones and alert tones that the original iPhone had three years ago. Sure, you could choose to pay for ringtones from the iTunes Music Store, or even create your own. But seriously, Apple, couldn't you add a few new ones into the mix?
4. No lock screen improvements. Apple has done nothing to change the lock screen of the iPhone. You still have to fully unlock the device to interact with missed messages, calls, voicemails, etc.
5. Still no attachment support in email. One of the email app's biggest failings is the inability to attach something to the message after you've started composing it. Instead, you have to go to your photo library, for example, choose the photo you want, and then choose to attach it to an email. It limits the iPhone's abilities in the enterprise, if you ask me, which often require files be passed back and forth. It's a weird bug that I hope garners Apple's attention at some point in the future.
Overall, the improvements in iOS 4 are incremental. Sure, Apple hasn't addressed everything, but it has addressed a lot. The software can only get better, but the competition isn't as far behind as it used to be.
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