Apple slates iPhone 4.0 preview for Thursday

Expect some form of multitasking to make an appearance, analyst predicts

Apple Inc. on Thursday will preview the next-generation operating system for the iPhone and release developers tools in preparation for a midsummer refresh of the hardware, an analyst said today.

Early today, Apple issued invitations to reporters and industry analysts that promised "a sneak peek into the future of iPhone OS software." The background of the invitation sported an image of a large "4."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research, said that Apple would use the event to reveal the new features of iPhone 4.0, and release an early edition of the SDK (software developers kit) for the new operating system, following a pattern that it has used for two years.

The event comes slightly later in the calendar than the last two iPhone operating system previews and SDK releases. In both 2009 and 2008, Apple hosted such events March 17.

"The difference is immaterial," said Gottheil when asked whether the three-week variance meant new models of the iPhone would be similarly delayed. "They're looking at a midyear launch, as they've done the last three years," he said. "They tend to keep to the expectations they set. And for phones, it's tied to the expiration of [service] contracts."

Apple unveiled the first-generation iPhone in late June 2007, and the subsequent 3G and 3GS models in mid-July 2008 and mid-June 2009, respectively.

Gottheil expects that the iPhone 4.0 will offer, if not true multitasking, then a broader form of multitasking than the iPhone currently supports. Currently, only Apple's own iPod app can run in the background on the iPhone and the iPod Touch, the other handheld device that uses the iPhone operating system.

"I don't think they'll offer full multitasking," said Gottheil, referring to the taken-for-granted ability to run more than one program at a time. "But they'll get rid of all or most of the impediments that make you wish you had multitasking."

Rather than open the iPhone operating system to multitasking by all applications, Gottheil said Apple would be more likely to continue its closed- and controlled-ecosystem model by approving a subset of software to run simultaneously with other programs. He cited Apple's desire to be in complete charge of the iPhone user experience and its security as probable reasons for such a move.

"It may allow Pandora to run in the background," Gottheil said, using the streaming audio service as an example. "Instant messaging and Twitter clients likewise."

Rumors of iPhone 4.0's capabilities, notably support for multitasking, have been making the rounds for weeks, driven in large part by the AppleInsider site, which four weeks ago said unnamed sources had claimed Apple would deliver a "full-on solution" to multitasking in the software's next version.

It's unlikely iPhone 4.0 will match the significance of the upgrades Apple delivered the previous two years, Gottheil added. "As an operating system matures, each next step is smaller, so I expect this to be a smaller step than last year," he said.

A year ago, iPhone 3.0 introduced more than 100 new features, including the long-awaited copy/paste and MMS.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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