Five ways Apple's iOS 4 'breathes new life' into iPhone

Like clockwork, Apple has once again offered up numerous improvements to the iPhone's software in a June release

Better application management

It's amazing how the addition of folders in iOS 4 can make the difference between a frustrating user experience and a pleasant one. Until now, users have been forced to launch applications by either swiping through pages of apps, or by resorting to a Spotlight search.

For my own part, I had 11 pages full of applications -- the natural limit of apps that can be displayed on the iPhone. Sometimes, different apps that did much the same thing each had a feature or two I really liked, but I had no way to group them together. As a result, they filled up all 11 pages -- crowding out other apps I might want.

With iOS 4, I've gone from 11 home screens to two, since I can now organize applications in folders, each of which can hold 12 apps. According to Apple, you can now house 2160 apps if you utilize all of the folder space. Now that the home screen is much more manageable, I have room to grow -- and I'm interested again in exploring new iPhone apps. And given that the App store now has more than 200,000 individual applications, the change is good for users and developers alike.

Apple's implementation of this feature is slick, yet obvious. To create a folder, tap and hold on an app icon until the apps begin to wiggle. Once in this state, drag and drop an app on top of another app, and a folder is instantly created, the iPhone background sliding away to reveal a storage area. Folders are automatically named using app genres, which you can modify.

One addition that would make this even better: an option to password protect folders. As much as I enjoy sharing my iPhone with curious passers-by or over-excited goddaughters, I would appreciate it even more if I knew certain data on the device couldn't be readily accessed by anyone poking around. Just sayin'.

Better Enterprise support

Apple continues to improve enterprise support with this update. Exchange 2010 now works with iOS 4, and the iPhone now can sync calendar, contacts and e-mail with more than one Exchange account.

Security has improved as well, as the iPhone now uses the device's passcode as an encryption key, and Apple has introduced new APIs developers can use that focus specifically on making sure private data stays private.

Also of note, iOS 4 allows enterprises to securely host and distribute in-house apps over the air without forcing users to connect with iTunes on their host computers. Another notable feature for enterprise users: support for SSL VPN security.

While iOS 4 still does not support FIPS 140-2-certified encryption (a standard some government agencies require), or over-the-air software updates (for better IT management), the iOS 4 enhancements will definitely be appreciated by IT departments. It's another step by Apple that could convince holdouts using the entrenched Blackberry platform that it's time to open up their systems to the iPhone.

The little things

iOS 4 is filled to the brim with small enhancements to the interface and built-in applications that will delight users. For instance, with iOS 4, the iPhone 3GS can now refocus video -- while recording -- with a simple tap on the screen. Tap-to-focus has been around for still photos since version 3, but the ability to refocus on the fly for video is a new feature for the iPhone.

Speaking of camera improvements, digital zoom has been enabled for use when snapping photos on older models, such as the 3GS. While a digital zoom is no substitute for optical zoom -- go too far and your pictures can get pixelated -- I'm willing to bet many users will find this truly useful.

The Photos app now supports Faces and Places, two features found in Apple's iPhoto software. Faces can track photos based on an person's facial features, while Places supports geo-tagging information, grouping photos by location on a map. Both will help iPhone users better organize and sift through their photos.

The iPod music software has also gotten some minor tweaks. For instance, in iPhone OS 3.x, the Album view listed a Shuffle option first, and then featured a simple song list. iOS 4, on the other hand, displays more information when a specific album is selected, including album art, release date, song count and overall length, plus a Shuffle button -- all at the top of an album's song list. The list of songs in the Album view displays more information, too, including a subtle gray coloring behind song titles; a track number; a speaker icon indicating which song is playing; and track length in minutes.

Mail now supports e-mail threads, storing e-mails with similar subject lines in a unified list, allowing for better conversation tracking. And the Mail app now supports a Unified Inbox, allowing you to keep track of all of your e-mail inboxes in a central location.

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Michael deAgonia

Computerworld (US)
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