A Day With iOS 4

I didn’t upgrade my 3G iPhone when the 3GS became available last year, which was the cause of much grief at behalf of my friends and colleagues. Of course the joke is on them, since I’ll be able to pre-order a subsidized iPhone 4 on Monday. As a result, when I decided to install the iOS 4 final beta 24 hours ago, I knew I would be missing some of the features. For instance, Apple states the iPhone 3G can’t handle multi-tasking (which I find odd because it has worked fine with the jailbreak). So unfortunately, I can’t speak to how great (or not) the new multi-tasking feature is, but below is a recap of the features I found and was able to check out.

I could not wait for Folders after hearing the iPhone iOS 4.0 keynote, and after trying it out, I was not disappointed. I went from eight home screens to only three. It works as simply as Apple claimed — drag one app onto another to create a folder, which is automatically named based on the apps that were grouped. I did accidentally create folders while rearranging my screens before getting used to the feature.

When Steve Jobs announced that the new Mail app would offer a unified inbox, I was rather indifferent. Now that I have it, I don’t think I could use a phone without it. The updated Mail app also allows for threaded messages, which I currently have enabled, but I doubt it will stay on since I disabled that feature in Mac Mail. If you like the threaded messages on the Mac, you’re likely to want this feature enabled for the iPhone.

Notes are now tied to mail accounts. In the Notes app, there is a new button for choosing which notes account you want displayed, with an option to view all of course. (The accounts page in notes looks horrible right now. Hopefully this is fixed before iOS leave beta.) In the Settings app, you can specify which account is the default notes account.

Additionally, there is a toggle in the mail settings for loading remote images. It was enabled by default.

Apple has made no indication that iBooks will not work on older iPhones, however, it did not seem to be included with the iOS download. Some users have reported that they have iBooks on their phones, but I do not. I can’t imagine that the iBooks app is too processor intensive for the 3G phone, but I’ve found no way to install it. While I’ve never been one to read eBooks on my iPhone, I do know several people who do quite frequently, so this is a bit of a disappointment. I’ll admit, I would like the option to save PDFs to the app on my phone.

There is now an option to create playlists, which is simple to do by browsing through your music then tapping the plus icon to add the song. Once created, you can delete tracks, add more, and even reorder songs. This is a real nice inclusion, though until Apple offers an iPhone with more storage I can’t take full advantage of this feature. I just don’t think you can store enough music on a 32GB iPhone.

In the iPod settings, there is now a toggle for displaying lyrics and podcast info. This was enabled by default.

I didn’t expect this to be available for the iPhone 3G, but there is now a 5x digital zoom feature. If you tap on the camera view finder, a slider appears allowing you to control the zoom level.

The video camera is supposed to now feature a “tap to focus” option. Since the iPhone 3G does not have the video camera, I wasn’t able to test this feature.

Faces, Places, and Events in Photos
The Photos app now includes Albums, Events, Faces, and Places. Without iPhoto on the Mac, you will only see the default album and Places. Once syncing the iPhone to iPhoto, the other options become available. Places was my favorite addition. This feature shows a map with pins in all the locations you’ve taken photos. Tapping on a pin reveals the number of photos taken in that area, which then allows you to view only that group of images.

Home screen wallpaper
For some unknown reason the iPhone 3G does not support home screen wallpapers. I’m stumped on this one, but honestly not too disappointed. On my iPad, I use the darkest and most plain background I could find anyway. I guess I’m just that guy.

Gift apps
Perhaps the most boring feature to be added, you can now gift an app from within the app store on the phone. Nice, but not really necessary.

Spell checking
After one day on the iPad, having its spell checking features on my iPhone was something I really longed for. I was happy to see it is now included on all devices. If you’re not aware, spell checking for the iPad works similar to the Mac: misspelled words are now underlined in red and tapping the word provides options for different spellings.

Wireless keyboard support
As the name implies, you can now link a bluetooth keyboard to your iPhone. I don’t see myself ever using this feature, but I’ve known a number of people who have been asking for this feature for some time.

App specific location services
Now when an app asks if it can access the location service, the app will appear in a list under the location services settings pane. This allows you to enable or disable location services per app instead of only globally.

The new Group Messaging feature was disabled by default, but it simply groups incoming messages when you text multiple people. For example, if you text three people at once, when any of the recipients reply their message is listed in the group conversation window.

Character count is also disabled by default. Enabling this provides a count of the characters when typing a text, though I’m not sure why this is desirable.

Passcode lock
There is now an option to enter a pass phrase as opposed to a four-digit number for locking the phone. There is a toggle for which option you prefer, the default is set to the original four-digit lock.

The search page now offers an option to search the web or Wikipedia. Unfortunately, this didn’t appear in the settings for spotlight. The two new options always appear at the bottom. I would have liked the option to move them higher up in the list. Hopefully, since this is still a beta release, this is a change yet to be made.

Speaking of search, as briefly mentioned in the WWDC keynote, Bing is now an option for the search box in MobileSafari… the default is still Google.

A new “birthdays” calendar item has been added to the list, which pulls all of the birthdays that have been added to contacts.

Overall it’s an impressive list of features, even if a few are not available on the 3G model. Apple consistently focuses on the user experience, and this update is no exception. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the new phone later this month (as if I wasn’t before installing iOS 4).

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