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The smartphone operating system upgrade adds more than 100 features, including multitasking, enhanced enterprise security, and a unified e-mail inbox.

Antone Gonsalves

April 8, 2010

4 Min Read

Apple on Thursday introduced iPhone OS 4, offering more than 100 new features, including the ability to easily switch between multiple applications running in the background.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled the latest version of the next-generation smartphone OS at a news conference held at the company's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. Apple plans to release the OS this summer for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and for the iPad in the fall. A beta version of the OS is available for developers on Apple's Web site.

OS 4 will include more than 100 new user features. Among the most important improvements is the addition of multitasking, which is the ability to switch between applications running simultaneously. The feature has been at the top of iPhone users' wish lists.

In adding the capability, Apple is catching up with competitors. Palm's WebOS, Nokia's S60, Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS, and Google's Android OS offer multitasking to some degree.

On the iPhone, users will be able to switch between running software from any application or the home screen by calling up a multitasking tray. Apple claims the feature has been added without degrading the smartphone's performance.

iPhone developers will get access to seven multitasking services, each covering a different scenario. One such scenario involves letting a streaming music application play in the background while another application is in use.

Other multitasking services would enable an Internet telephony app to receive calls and a location-based app to calculate an iPhone's whereabouts from cellular sites, rather than through constantly polling the GPS, which is a drain on the battery.

Other enhancements involve Apple's push notification service and a new local notifications service that developers can tap into to deliver reminders from servers other than Apple's.

Finally, the remaining services include making it possible for an application to complete a task while another is running in the forefront and being able to switch off an application and then restore it to its previous state.

Other major improvements in OS 4 include the ability to drag-and-drop applications into folders and to browse and manage up to 2,160 apps. In addition, Apple has enhanced the iPhone's mail client by making it possible to see messages from multiple e-mail accounts in a single unified inbox, to organize messages by threads, and to open attachments in third-party apps.

Apple also has added its iBooks software for reading digital books purchased and downloaded from the company's iBookstore. Besides making consumer-focused improvements, Apple also enhanced OS 4 for businesses. Better security features include using the smartphone's pass code as an encryption key for accessing e-mail message and attachments. New data protection application programming interfaces are available for integration with customer and commercial applications.

OS 4 also allows businesses to synchronize mail with multiple Microsoft Exchange accounts, using the new unified inbox feature. In addition, the OS supports Exchange Server 2010.

Other improvements for business include an API for integration with third-party software that provides mobile device management. Apple also has added the ability to connect to a company's virtual private network using the secure sockets layers communications protocol.

iPhone OS 4 will work on the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3GS, and the second- and third-generation iPod Touch. However, not all the features will be available on older hardware. Multitasking, for example, will only be available on the iPhone 3GS and the third-generation iPod Touch, which includes the 32-GB and 64-GB models from late 2009.

Along with OS 4, Apple also introduced a mobile advertising platform called iAd. The platform enables media ads that the company said combine "the emotion of TV with the interactivity of the Web." For advertisers, Apple is promising an outlet for delivering highly targeted information to consumers.

Apple is releasing iPhone OS 4 before it faces what industry observes believe will be one of its biggest challengers, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. Microsoft is expected to release the overhaul of its mobile phone OS before the holiday shopping season.

Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, and Qualcomm are expected to release phones based on the new Microsoft OS. AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and Telstra are among the wireless network providers.

AT&T is the only carrier for the iPhone in the U.S. Verizon Wireless is reportedly in talks to carry the iPhone, but no formal announcements have been made.

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