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

It's not just multitasking that makes this a worthy OS update

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To aid in switching to other apps quickly, Apple adjusted the iPhone's functionality so that a double-tap of the Home button calls up an app-switcher, featuring the four most recently used apps. A swipe on the touchscreen to the right reveals audio controls and a screen rotation lock; a swipe to the left reveals more recently-used applications. Tapping and holding allows you to manually kill running apps, if you're so inclined.

iOS 4 app folders
iOS 4 allows applications to be grouped into folders.

With these seven services, Apple offers the basics iPhone users will want from third-party multitasking. Now it's up to developers to build apps that take advantage of those changes.

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 2,160 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 again interested 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 that happens, drag and drop an app on top of another app, and a folder is instantly created, with the iPhone background sliding away to reveal a storage area. Folders are automatically named using app genres, but you can modify them.

There's one thing that would make this even better: the ability to password-protect folders. As much as I enjoy sharing my iPhone with curious passers-by or overexcited god-daughters, I'd feel more comfortable if I knew certain data couldn't be readily accessed by anyone who happened to be poking around. Just sayin'.

iOS 4 apps in a folder
Tapping an app folder icon opens up the app collection nestled inside.

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; iPhones now uses their passcodes as encryption keys, 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. Enterprise users will also appreciate the fact that it supports SSL VPN security.

While iOS 4 still doesn't support FIPS 140-2-certified encryption (a standard some government agencies require) or over-the-air software updates (for better IT management), IT departments will definitely appreciate its enhancements. The changes represent another step by Apple that could convince holdouts using the BlackBerry platform that it's time to open up their systems to the iPhone.

The little things

Apple's 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.

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