Yesterday, Apple announced their OS 4 for the iPhone. We wrote about the upcoming news a couple days ago, and both BlackBerry and iPhone users alike were all over the comments with their two cents. Regardless of what you may think of the iPhone vs BlackBerry debate, it’s clear that smartphone users are very passionate about their devices. So now that we’re out of the rumor mill, I thought I would put together some thoughts on the iPhone’s OS 4 announcements, and put them in a broader context of how they compare to BlackBerry.
It’s important to note that everything that was announced yesterday won’t be available until the summer, and it will only work with the iPhone 3GS and 3rd generation iPod Touch.
It seemed Steve Jobs was speaking directly to BlackBerry users when he introduced the new multitasking features. He started off by saying “we weren’t the first to this party” and BlackBerry users know this all to well. He also may have been addressing BlackBerry when he said “it’s really easy to implement [multitasking] in a way that really drains battery life. And, it’s really easy to implement it in a way that reduces the performance of the foreground app and makes your phone feel sluggish.” We see this all the time in BlackBerry apps that are in Beta, or that may not have been programmed as efficiently as they should have been.
The way iPhone OS 4 handles multitasking, is not a true multitasking experience. True multitasking means that all resources are available to all applications. A real smartphone is able to allocate resources and give preference to certain tasks to make sure the device is running smoothly. From the demo, Apple made it clear that multitasking is restricted to 7 features such as: background audio, VoIP, background location, push notifications, local notifications, task completion and fast app switching. To demonstrate how apps can run in the background, we were shown demos of Open Table, Skype, eBay, TomTom, Pandora, Flickr etc.
Apple has done to multitasking what it has done to the personal computer: dumb it down for the average use case. They do a great job of building a device for the average user who doesn’t care how it works, and just wants to get whatever functionality they can. While the above feature set might be sufficient for 95% of users and apps, BlackBerry users are fortunate enough to have a platform that can accommodate a wider variety of apps. The problem with demonstrating what these use cases are, is that the Apple event is specifically vague on the terms and demos.
For example, what does ‘Task Completion’ mean exactly? On a BlackBerry, a background application can do everything a foreground one can (aside from draw to the currently displayed screen). If ‘Task completion’ can be extended and effectively keep your app alive, then you might not have any trouble on the iPhone. But if you can’t, then a game like THK3 in which you play your turn and wait for the other players to make their moves before your next turn, on a BlackBerry you can go to other stuff in between and the app will keep running and processing those other players. If on the iPhone ‘Task Completion’ means just something minor, then the game could not continue to progress while you were away and therefore the AI players would not yet have made their moves when you return to the game.
It’s also worth mentioning that iPhone users still lack an incredible amount of features/functionality that BlackBerry users are fortunate to have. Some of these are well documented at the GL Computing blog, and while OS 4 addressed some of them, the list remains extensive.
The folders announcement was another example of functionality that BlackBerry has had for some time, that iPhone users are only getting this summer. I can create a folder on my homescreen and drop apps into it no problem.
Aside from the announcements, one of the more interesting moments of the event was the question and answer period where Steve Jobs was asked: “How is AT&T prepared to compensate for greater data usage?” His response was: “I’m not sure the assumption that it’s going to use more data is correct. Well, we’re not multiplying the number of minutes of usage. It might be accurate, but there’s nothing to suggest there is going to be more data used.”
This was a clear dodge on Jobs’ part as the iPhone will be serving video ads, running more processes in the background that consume data etc. It’s no secret that AT&T are currently facing infrastructure problems due to the heavy data usage by iPhone users streaming YouTube and taking over the data pipes. This has greatly affected the AT&T network, and this announcement will only make it worse.
Another key benefit of BlackBerry that was made apparent in the iPhone OS 4 announcement was that Steve Jobs said Apple has no plans to open app distribution outside of the App Store. His reasoning was pretty funny, pointing to a porn store available on Android (there’s one for BlackBerry too). Anyone who reads BlackBerryCool knows that while RIM does approve every app in App World, they at least let you install any app you want on your BlackBerry.
We have an iPhone 3GS here at BlackBerryCool headquarters, so we’ll be sure to do a comparison piece when the software launches.