iOS4: First Impressions

New and improved home screen with background image and App folders.

Updating is easy? Mine went well, but many iPhone 3G owners complained of lengthy updates…

I’m an update freak… no matter what the application I’m downloading the latest and greatest within seconds of its release. While this can sometimes cause me problems, more often than not these updates can breathe varying degrees of life into aging hardware. So, just minutes after iOS4 became available at 10am PST on June 21st, I was busily downloading the update.

Like a Mexican divorce, the update was quick and painless… taking a total of about 15 minutes from first click to functioning iPhone. My unit is a factory unlocked 32gb iPhone 3GS, originally purchased in Hong Kong – so until tomorrow (the iPhone 4 release date) it’s the most recent model available. I’ve heard reports of the update taking MUCH longer depending on server load and model of iPhone, so your mileage may vary.

Once the iPhone had restarted following the update, I noticed an immediate improvement in the responsiveness of the GUI. Prior to iOS4, my iPhone frequently hung for a second or two during simple interface functions such as entering the passcode or scrolling from screen to screen. While that might have been fixed by a simple restore of the old OS, it was definitely resolved by iOS4. The net result is that my iPhone now feels much more responsive, almost like a new phone.
My next discovery was the ability to use your wallpaper image as your home screen background, which in my opinion is long overdue. This feature isn’t available on older iPhones due to a lack of processing power, according to CEO Steve Jobs who took the time to personally reply to an iPhone 3G user’s email. While this is really just an eye-candy perk, my superficial side really likes it!

Access as many as 192 Apps in a single screen with just two taps.

I then immediately began to play with the App folder feature that allows users to great groups of Apps within a single icon. Each folder can contain up to a dozen Apps, allowing users to manage up to an (excessive) total of 2160. Under OS 3.1.3 I ran about 130 Apps spread over 9 screens, with the most frequently used on the first 2-3 pages. With iOS4 I was able to condense this down to only TWO screens with my top dozen Apps on page one and the rest neatly tucked away in logical folders. When you select a folder, it opens into a window clearly displaying all the apps within. I’m now able to access any App on my iPhone in less than three taps… a great time saver. You can either organize your folders directly on the iPhone or through the iTunes interface.

Next, on to multi-tasking, again only available on the 3GS and later iPhones. I really didn’t expect to use this much when I first heard about it during the WWDC keynote last month, but in only a few days has become indispensable. Having the ability to look up an address in Safari, then plot it in Maps while changing playlists without arduously closing and opening Apps is a real time saver. Currently, not all Apps are accessible in Multi-task but the number grows daily as developers deliver updates.

Just tap a folder to access the nested apps... very slick indeed!

Other features include a unified mailbox, which I don’t use as I prefer to keep my accounts separate; iBooks (not available in Canada yet); camera improvements; faces and places in photos; bluetooth keyboard connectivity; playlist creation and a plethora of other enhancements that you can read about here. I hope to check out all these new features eventually, but I likely won’t use many of them often. For me, the increased operating speed, App folders and multi-tasking are going to make the biggest impact on my daily experience.

So, did iOS4 breath new life into my iPhone? As a 3GS owner I would have to say a resounding YES, though I expect 3G users to be slightly less enthused. Sadly, owners of the original iPhone are now abandoned from Apple’s upgrade cycle. However, as 3 years is a long time in the mobile phone world most of the original iPhone owners are likely thinking of upgrade to the iPhone 4 anyways.

Like any new OS, iOS4 will likely cause problems for a percentage of the early adopters and especially for those with jailbroken phones. However, as major OS updates go, iOS4 seems like a pretty solid and painless update for most – and best of all it’s free. If there are any other 3GS, 3G or 2nd generation iPod Touch users out there who’ve installed iOS4, I’d be keen to hear your impressions… please comment!

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