My 5 minute iOS 4 review

There has been far too much iPhone related news lately but I feel as though I should at least weigh in with my thoughts on the new iPhone OS. I have been running iOS 4 on my iPhone 3GS since it was officially released about a week ago. Rather than write a lengthy review I figured I would simply add my short comments about the major new features. This should, hopefully, result in a very quick and informative review.

Multitasking


This is the big new feature and honestly the one that you’ll forget about the quickest. What do I mean by this? The multitasking implementation in iOS 4 is so seamless that the new double-tap on the home button paradigm works far better as a quick app switcher than as a task manager. Don’t read this as a negative however; all user interfaces should strive to do as good of a job at ‘hiding’ such a fundamental change to the OS by building it into a user-centric design. Do all the apps on my phone multitask? Heck no, but I couldn’t even tell you which do and which don’t and that right there is the real genius behind this design.

Folders


Far from perfect, folders are a welcome change to the iPhone experience. I was able to cut down the number of app screens on my device from about 10 to only 2. My only real complaint about folders is the fixed limit to the number of apps you can put in each, a maximum of 12 per folder. I would almost prefer to have the option to put all of my games in a single folder and then scroll through them as a list instead.

Wallpaper


The background wallpaper is a nice addition. It’s obviously nothing groundbreaking but it does add a nice personalized feel to the phone. This ‘feature’ will not work on the older 3G model because of the slower hardware. If that statement sounds ridiculous to you then you obviously haven’t played with the update enough to notice the new animations. iOS 4 literally vomits animation at you every chance it gets.

Mail


By far the best part of the upgrade, mail saw the addition of a unified inbox (where all of your accounts can filter into one place) and e-mail threading. I have four e-mail accounts on my device and switching between their individual inboxes was always a pain. But now with the unified inbox I can quickly get all of my updates and respond to all of the messages very quickly. Threaded e-mail is also awesome and is something sorely missing from many other phones and even desktop clients. Once you start using a threaded e-mail client, like Gmail or Thunderbird, it is very hard to go back to the old way of doing things. Now I don’t have to! I only encountered one issue with the new mail app. The first time I ran the app it seemed liked it was indexing all my stored mail which really slowed the app down. Since then however it works like a charm.

Photo and Camera

On an unrelated note I REALLY need to clean my phone's camera lens

There is now a 5x digital zoom for the camera which is so easy to operate a child could use it. Simply tap on the screen and the control appears as a slider at the bottom. Sliding it to the right zooms in, to the left zooms out. Simple, easy, elegant. It’s just a shame that digital zoom sucks too much to be really useful.

Adding focus to the video camera is also nice but this feature might be put to better use on the new iPhone 4G hardware where the video camera is actually worth using.

A new tab for a geo-tagged map overlay has also been added to the photo app which will show you where you took each picture. It’s neat but not really something I think I’ll be using often.

iPod

The iPod app user interface got a bit of an overhaul and it now shows more information in a much more streamlined and effective way. It also lets you manage playlists (beyond the simple ‘on-the-go’ ones) right on the device itself. Music playback has always been one of the great strengths of this platform and its nice to see Apple hasn’t forgotten where their success has come from.

Others

E-mail attachments can now be set up to be opened by any application, third-party or otherwise. This should make the e-mail experience far more flexible and help enterprise deployments open home-grown data sources. I’m also hoping to see a PGP application take advantage of this soon.

Calendar has had a couple of improvements but the biggest change is the addition of full support for .ics calendar entries. This has been a missing feature from day one and it is nice to see that the ability is finally here.

iBooks has been added the the iPhone which should help people who want to read a page or two on the bus to school or work. Other than that I just don’t see this as such a big deal. Afterall who would want to read a whole book on a device as small as a phone?

In both Spotlight (the device wide search) and Safari Wikipedia and your selected search engine will offer suggestions for what you are trying to find. While this feature is nice it does slow down the search results slightly as it tries to retrieve suggestions from the web in real time. If it becomes too annoying you can turn it off.

iOS 4 also brought some much needed security improvements including the option for a full text password (no longer just a 4-digit one) and full device encryption. Again this is a feature that was missing since the launch of the iPhone for no really good reason.

Spellcheck has also been added which offers some nice suggestions when the auto-complete isn’t quite sure what you meant to type. It works in a similar way to copy & paste which makes it instantly accessible to anyone used to the phone.

A slew of enterprise features were added as well but seeing as I’m not in charge of any enterprise deployments most of these additions were lost on me.

Overall

Overall the iOS 4 feels faster in general but not without some slowdown in specific cases, such as mail above. Even with these oddities the update allows you to be much more productive than ever before and so on the whole it is still faster in almost every practical use case. As a computer science graduate I am far more interested in the addition of APIs and tweaks under the hood and from everything I have read or experienced it all looks very good.

Conclusion

The iOS 4, while not completely revolutionary in any way, is a strong evolutionary upgrade and well worth your time. Just be warned that if you are upgrading your 3G it may take a while.

Update size: 378MiB
Time to install: about 10 minutes to update + phone restart + 10KiB carrier update + phone backup ~= 15 minutes total