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iOS 4 thoughts

An Engadget post yesterday revealed the gold build issued at WWDC works on any compatible iPod/iPhone without the device being registered for development. A quick search of the usual places such things are found turned up the latest beta of iTunes 9.2 required for the restore process, as well as the ipsw packages for the iPhone 3G/S and iPod Touch 2g/3g. Since these are far from official sources everything was scanned for nasties but the clean results meant it wasn’t long before my 3GS was running iOS4.

After a day of playing with the next year’s OS the initial stand out additions are multitasking, folders and the unified Mail inbox. Multitasking, even in the current state of only being fully supported by Apple apps, is a big improvement in speed and ease of use. Opening a link in Mail takes the user straight to Safari but a quick double click of the home button and a tap on the mail icon and you’re back to where you left off in Mail. Folders means an alternative to page after page of app icons, and the unified inbox is such an improvement you just wonder why it wasn’t like this from the start. There are some problems and inconsistencies with the new additions, so read on for more details and screenshots.

Multitasking

Double clicking the home button raises the new Mac like dock at the bottom of the screen, revealing a row of up to four currently open/running apps. Swiping to the right takes you to the previous four opened apps, and so on.

Swiping to the left moves to five buttons, Portrait orientation lock, previous track, play/pause, next track and iPod. One quirk is that the iPod app also appears in the multitasking list when open, unnecessary when it’s always a double click, left swipe and tap away.

To test the limit of how many apps can be open at once I started opening programs and carried on until I ran out things to launch. 51 launches later the list of apps took twelve swipes to get from one end to the other. The thing to remember here is that the non-Apple software doesn’t currently support multi-tasking so switching to one of these already launched programs just starts it from the launch condition, not in its previous state. The number of simultaneously open apps may be governed by system resources. Closing the massive list is similar to deleting apps, press until the icons start wiggling then tap the delete symbol. Fifty one presses later they were all closed. I’m hoping there’s an intelligent system where apps close themselves as this is little better than each app remembering it’s last state and resuming when launched in the normal way. An easy way to close an app without calling up the multitasking list is needed here.

Folders

The new way of grouping apps starts with one app icon dragged on top of another. The two form a Folder, and are replaced with an app showing the first nine of twelve apps that will fit in the folder. The name of the folder comes from the category of the icon you dragged onto another to first create the folder. It’s also possible to have a folder with one icon as they aren’t removed when leaving one item within.

Tapping a folder moves it’s icon up the screen and shows the folder contents below. The distance the folder icon moves up is dependant on the amount of icons it contains.

Unless I’m missing something in the multitasking ability of iOS 4 this twelve app limit and a complete list on screen would be a better way to manage open apps, so they are all visible and accessible with one tap. Even a higher number of open apps could be managed with a vertically scrolling list.

Unified Inbox

My previous use of the Mail app has been limited by the endless taps to move between five email accounts. The unified inbox has changed this, although there is still much room for improvement. If the message preview can show from zero to five lines of each item why can’t it show which account it is in? While you can choose to view all inboxes together or individually this still seems a limitation.

More first impressions to follow tomorrow.

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