Apple is launching a developer preview of iPhone OS 4.0 today. The update will be available for the iPhone 3GS and 3rd generation iPod this summer. The iPad will get the update this fall. If you have an iPhone 3G or 2nd generation iPod touch, you’ll be able to use some of the new features, but not all of them.
Highlights include support for multitasking, Apple’s new iBooks platform, a new Xbox Live-like Game Center, folders for icons, and a new iAd mobile advertising platform. There are also improvements to the mail app and new enterprise features including better encryption.
The biggest change is support for multitasking. You’ll be able to run multiple third party apps simultaneously. Just double-tap the home button and a screen will pop up showing a your running apps on a toolbar that looks a lot like the persistent apps bar at the bottom of the home screen.
Jobs acknowledged that Apple was was hardly the first company to allow multitasking on a mobile phone. But Apple wanted to figure out a way to do it that wouldn’t affect battery life or performance. Basically, developers will need to use new APIs in order for their apps to run in the background. The idea is that only certain iPhone services will be able to run in the background.
That includes background audio streaming from third party apps such as Pandora, which Pandora’s Tim Westergren says it took only one day to tweak so that it can run in the background. Skype can also now run in the background, which means you can receive calls even if the app isn’t running in the foreground.
Social networking apps and location-based apps will also be able to run in the background, which means for instance, you can get turn by turn map directions in the background while using another app in the foreground. You’ll also see an update in the status bar when an app is tracking your location — which is a nice nod to privacy concerns.
Another new feature in iPhone OS 4.0 is the ability to change the home screen wallpaper, which is something you can only do on a jailbroken iPhone right now.
Other new features include tapping to focus the camera app, a digital zoom feature for the camera, the ability to file and delete mail search results, gift apps, and the ability to use a Bluetooth keyboard.
You can also create folders for apps, letting you do things like place all of your games in a single folder. If you happen to have a few dozen apps, this can save you a lot of scrolling.
There’s a new unified email inbox, so you can see messages from multiple accounts (MobileMe, Yahoo!, Exchange, and so on) in one place. And you can view messages by thread, much the way you can in Gmail.
Apple is adding the iBooks eBook application to the iPhone and iPod touch. Apple launched its Amazon Kindle competitor for the iPad this weekend. Users will be able to browser the iBooks store, purchase and download books, and read them on the phone.
Apple is adding some enterprise features including improved email encryption as well as the ability for third party developers to encrypt data in their apps. Enterprise users will also be able to manage phones, doing things like distributing apps wirelessly.
This looks like Apple’s competitor to the Xbox Live integration planned for Windows Phone 7. Users will be able to challenge friends to game over a wireless connection or play with random users thanks to a matchmaking feature.
Apple has introduced a mobile ad network. Jobs describes the platform as a way to help developers of free apps keep their applications free while providing ads that don’t “suck.” Of course, I suspect Apple might make a few bucks on the program too…
The in-app ads can be interactive without causing you to leave the app when you click on an ad. The ads are implemented with HTML5 and can include video, and even games. That’s right — you can click on an ad to open a game… from within a game.
Basically, it looks like Apple is trying to convince developers… and users, that the ads will be worth clicking on. We’ll see.
Update: The video below shows what task-switching looks like in iPhone OS 4.0, courtesy of Gizmodo.