“We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.” That’s a quote from Steve Jobs about their lawsuit against HTC (i.e., against Android, really), but I think it applies pretty well to iPhone OS4, as announced today. Innovation definitely wasn’t the focus of the event.
The majority of the added features are already available in other mobile operating systems, but Steve does an excellent job of getting crowds excited about features they should have had long ago. Let’s take a look at the announcements (credit to Engadget’s coverage).
1 – Multitasking
Steve at least acknowledges that this has been available for other phones for years, but it looks like the multitasking will be pretty limited. The majority of apps will just do state-saving, similar to the current experience. Applications can be modified to have specific background services, such as Pandora playing in the background. I love this quote: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the iPhone has changed the future of Pandora.” I’d say iPhone has been holding back Pandora by not allowing it to run while you check email or whatever else. Finally, this will change for iPhone 3GS and the newest iPod Touch devices this summer (and iPads in the fall). iPhone 3G… sorry.
It doesn’t sound to me like there will be support for background tasks that aren’t initiated by the user (e.g., having a news app download the latest news in the background based on a time interval). Widgets would have also been a nice announcement, but they’re absent as well.
2 – Folders (and Wallpapers)
Now you can create folders and change your background image.
3 – Enhanced Mail
Unified inboxes, multiple Exchange accounts, and thread-based organization… I didn’t realize they didn’t have thread-based organization, so that’s a nice change for Apple users.
4 – iBooks
This app is now included in the OS.
5 – Enterprise
This point included re-mentioning of multiple exchange accounts, so that’s clearly important to some people. Better data protection, mobile device management, wireless app distribution … minimal details on this. Hopefully the wireless app distribution means you don’t have to deal with any of the certificate hassle, but I doubt it.
6 – Game Center
Basically this is Xbox Live/PSN, which isn’t innovative, but it definitely has a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
7 – iAd
Apparently Steve thinks that current advertising in applications sucks, so they’ve created iAd. This adds potential for interaction (sweet, “punch the monkey” can finally come to iPhone!). iAd actually has the potential to be really effective; unfortunately Apple is being extremely greedy and taking 40% of the revenue. In theory, that leaves 60% to the developer, but there are many cases when ad revenue is shared. Say a developer earns 50% of ad revenue and 50% goes to company XYZ. That 50% is now really 30%, so the developer earns less than 1/3 of the profit of the app, pre-taxes.
Play with the numbers some more: a developer who would have earned 33% will drop to 20% (from 1/3 revenue to 1/5). Apple is going to make more money for their shareholders and developers are going to have a bigger challenge (when they’re already facing an over-saturated market).
Uh, that’s it. For most people (well, people who have an Apple device that is less than a year old), this boils down to multitasking and some minor improvements (e.g., folders). As far as innovation, that is pretty much just iAd. Other devices have had multitasking, folders, custom wallpapers, thread-based mail organization, book readers, wireless distribution, etc. If nothing else, this shows that competition is good. Even if you’re an Apple fan who dislikes Android, WebOS, etc., you can still acknowledge that their presence is forcing Apple to finally make some improvements, and you don’t have to make as many excuses as to why your phone doesn’t have X feature.
Also, some additional (very limited) details are available on Apple’s site.