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Saturday, June 26, 2010

iPhone iOS4: Review of new features

Well, the new iPhone 4 has been out for a few days. As of now, only a few diligent people from a few selected countries have been able to get it. But many people with an existing iPhone can already try out the latest Operating system that runs the new model. 
That's right, iOS4, the driving force behind iPhone 4, has been available for download to iPhone 3G and 3GS users as well.
So if you have an iPhone 3G or 3GS, don't get left out, try out iOS4 for yourself.
I've been able to test it out on my 3GS for a few days now, and here is my full review of the new OS and its features:

iOS4: The biggest upgrade to the iPhone operating system. What are the best new features that you should try from iOS4?

Task Management - This is the BIGGEST and most touted feature to be added to the iPhone. Critics in the past laughed at Apple's best selling smart phone because it couldn't do something as simple as multi-task, when many other competitors could do it. Well, Apple has responded and added the multi-tasking feature. And in true Apple style, it is very easy and intuitive to use. All the user needs to do is double click the home button and a task manager will appear at the bottom of the screen while everything else will dim. On this task manager tab, we can see the open and running applications. If we click on one, we automatically switch to it. So no need anymore to go back to the home screen like we used to do before to switch between apps. Also if we want to kill a running app, it's as simple as holding the App icon on the task manager tab until it shakes, then click the "-" icon. If the number of running Apps exceed the task manager tab, it's as easy as scrolling to the right side to see the rest of the list. If you scroll to the left, you will see the new "Lock orientation" icon, another new feature. This icon, once selected, will prevent the iPhone screen for using the accelerometer to change between landscape and portrait. A VERY useful feature that many have been waiting for since the iPhone 3G. It prevents the screen from switching about when you are viewing the iPhone lying down (which was very inconvenient).
If the shortcut for Task Manager is double-clicking the home button, what happened to the iPod shortcut, which used to be accessible that way? You can now find the iPod controls shortcut by scrolling left from the Task manage tab, beside the Lock orientation button. 
Overall, I find the Task manager addition a must-have feature in all my smart phones, and was one of the most compelling reasons for a user to jailbreak (hack) their iPhone previously. This addition now greatly adds to the experience of using an iPhone. I also find Apple's implementation to be more streamlined and less battery-draining than in other smart-phones.

However it is it really true Multi-tasking?  There is one drawback to Task manager on iOS4 (and it's a big one!). The Apps that are running on the background, the ones you see on the Task manager......aren't always running....
I mean that for true multi-tasking to work, the Apps that you minimize should still continue to do what they're doing right? Unfortunately I have found a lot of Apps (particularly games) that will freeze what they were running or loading, until you go back to them. And even in some cases, Apps will reset to their start condition again, when you switch back to them from the Task manager. I don't know if this an issue with the Apps themselves or with Apple's implementation. Is it as simple as Apps need to be redesigned for iOS4? Or did Apple really intend it this way to save on the RAM and battery life. Only time will tell. But for now I am satisfied with how the Task manager works (note: I call it Task manager rather than "Multi-tasking" on purpose), and it's a feature that seems like something essential to the user experience of the iPhone. A great addition that could do with some further improvement down the road.

Home screen customization - This is the 2nd Biggest improvement form iOS4. I always hated how i had to stick with the same wallpapers on my iPhone home and lock screen. I couldn't even change it to a different picture aside from the stock wallpapers, unless I got a 3rd party app. Now all that has changed. Under settings, i can assign a different picture for the lock and home screen, which I can select from my camera roll. This works similar to the settings on the iPad. Since I can choose from my camera roll, I literally have the option to choose any picture I want, since I can take it myself with the camera or copy screen (for those who don;t know yet how, the 'secret' command to copy screen on the iPhone is to hold the sleep button then click home, this will copy the current screen onto the camera roll). Secondly, and equally as important to home screen customization, is the addition of Folders. Previously, many of us had cluttered screens on our iPhones. Apps were scattered al over the place. Now there is a very easy and intuitive way of grouping them into custom folders, to save space on the Home page and also to have a more organized set-up. Simply hold the icon of an App until it shakes, then drag it on top of another App. This will put both inside a folder, which you can then rename to your choosing. From the home screen, if you tap on that folder, it will reveal all the apps you placed in it. Also if there is a notification from one of the Apps in a folder, it will display it outside the folder, so you can easily see it on the Home screen. If you would like to delete or move an App out of a folder, it's again as easy as holding it until it shakes, or just dragging it out.
These are fantastic new features, and greatly boosts the User interface of the iPhone. I can't even imagine how we lived without them for all this time :)

E-mail - The iPhone now has a combined mailbox. When you open the mail app, you can choose to go into any of your registered email accounts or into the unified inbox, which has all the mail from all your accounts. This is useful if you are weary switching to and fro your different accounts. Another new feature I found to be useful is the email thread. You can now see your mails organized by the conversation, similar to Gmail's thread viewing, so you don't have to keep going back to see the other messages on a particular conversation. Attachments can now be opened with your preferred application (like quick office). Finally on the list of email additions, once you search for an email, you can delete it directly from the search results. Good changes overall in the Mail application. I now find this to be vastly superior to the Mail application on Android.

Camera - Some good improvements in the camera application. No, it's not the 5MP 720p huge upgrade on the iPhone 4 (that's hardware based after all), but it does have some added features. The still camera can now zoom in, without the need of a 3rd party app. Maximum zoom is up to 5x. Unfortunately it is only digital zoom, so the farther you pan, the worse the quality becomes. Still it is a good and essential option to have. The video camera also a new feature: Touch focus. This is similar to what the still camera has always had. Now when shooting a video, you can tap on the foreground or background object to change where the video is focused on. It works well, and a good addition to the already decent (and YouTube worthy) video camera on the 3GS.

iBooks - It works just like the iBooks on my iPad. However it has to focus on 1 part of the page only, which is obviously due to the smaller screen size. If you try to encompass more of the screen, the font will be a bit too small for comfort. I personally don't see myself using iBooks on the iPhone, it's just too small to be comfortable, and I hate having to keep scrolling along the page. The iPad already serves as the best mobile reader for now in my opinion, but it's still a nice option to have on the iPhone.
Search - The search feature has been improved across the board. Searching was already possible in your emails, and can now also be used for your sms messages in the iPhone. You can now include the internet and Wikipedia search results in spotlight. Also, when using Safari and you type an address into the url bar, it will search and show you more details on the sites you recently visited.
iPod - You can now create your own Playlists directly on the iPhone. It worked fast and flawlessly, even over my 29GB worth of music. It's a great option for those who are always on the move and rarely have time to create new playlists on iTunes (then transfer it to their Iphone). This is one of the better new features, and really, it should have been there to begin with.

Miscellaneous - The iPhone now has a more functional Spell checker. It will work on emails and text messages, with a red underline showing you the words needing correction. Unfortunately it still does not have the "add to dictionary" feature of the Android spell checker, meaning you will have to keep ignoring words that oyu kow are correct, but aren't found on the iPhones dictionary (like slang words or foreign phrases).
The calendar now strangely has an option for "Birthdays", I haven't used it yet, but i guess it's supposed to add all of your contacts birthdays as a reminder on the built-in calendar.

Overall, I think the changes brought forth in iOS4 represent the biggest upgrade of the iPhone since it was released. The only quirk is that these are features that I think should have been there in the first place, and have been on other smart-phones for a while now. But better late then never.  Even without these basic features, the iPhone has always been a force to be reckoned with, due to it's amazing User interface and solid build with graceful design. Now that these features are here, I personally consider the iPhone to be more "complete". In fact, I think that it eliminates the top reasons why people jailbreak (i.e. hack) their iPhone: Task manager function and Home screen customization. With iOS4, jailbreaking is suddenly not as attractive as it used to be...and that is a big compliment to Apple.

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