Thoughts on the iPhone OS 4 Launch: Data Crunch and False Multitasking


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.

  • anonymous

    “Apple has done to multitasking what it has done to the personal computer: dumb it down for the average use case.”

    How have they dumbed down the personal computer? As a long time UNIX developer, I long to see what I suspect will be a contrived response to this question. It is statements like these that transform, in the eye of the reader, the rest of your prose into a sophistic diatribe against a product you do not care for, or are being paid to deride.

  • hayweed

    So you don't like the new OS from Apple but who cares. Rimm is struggling at this point with an OS that has great security for business but is totally unnecessary for the consumer. Thus the 50% of Rimm owners that are consumers are stuck with a business OS. Rimm needs to put out a consumer OS which will further fragment their market just like they do with their phones (some have touch some have keyboards) so that software developers will have to do more work.

    This stock is going to rocket into the center of the earth.

  • spork141

    I think your too fixated on the “dumb down” comment. Im pretty sure what hes trying to say is that Apple products are made to appeal to the everyday person and not the techie person. They hide menus and options that mgiht not appeal to your average joe. A lot of people like this method (i often do myself), and Apple swears by it.

    Somtimes I think too many options in yoru face can be confusing…and sometimes I wish i could see just whats really important. But at the same time when i DO need these options I wish they were right there. I have PCs a Mac and a Blackberry and I take what I like from each.

    I think the thing that annoys me about Apple is their attitude. They hold these events and present these “revolutionary features” that Blackberry users have had for ages it seems. And when Steve Jobs is questioned on them he suggests that their way is revolutionary because its the only right way to do it and that the way we have had it is not fullly realized and poorley implimented. Really??? Creating a folder on the home screen? Revolutionary? Double clicking the home button to access a list of active apps? Come on

    How about just not having this attiude and present the features as is and leave their potential new customers out of it.

  • Caspan

    It's spelled RIM. And we got this far doing what we do so dont hate the player hate the game! iPhones are useful if all you want to do is shake and play with your phone their great. Personally I love some of the application the iPhone has but you couldn't convince me to buy into a dictatorship where I am told what I can install or how to use it. You are all controlled by Big Brother and are oblivious to it. Break free and see what freedom feels like.

    Did you never read the book 1984 and think that will never happen people are not that dumb! enter stage left Apple and the let the ignorance begin. they take your freedom away a piece at a time. You are all boiling frogs :)

  • Adrian

    If you owned the stock you would know that people like to use the ticker interchangeably when referring to the name. Yes, sometimes Steve Jobs thinks he's God but they do make game changing products, ipod, iphone, iPad is next. I'm a techie myself (and work in the industry too) but I could care less about what a 'host routing table' is.

  • Eric at Ebscer

    Not to start a flame war here, but this approach is so bizarre that it requires a few comments…

    First I can not think of a situation that would not be covered by some combination of these approaches. So give apple credit on completeness (Although as Kyle pointed out ‘Task Completion’ is a bit ambiguous, so we will have to see how exactly that is implemented).

    Still the question is why. This approach is far more complicated (both for apple and the developers) and offers little benefit. The argument for this approach is battery life, but with the exception of GPS usage, I am not convinced that the battery life saved by this approach would be larger then the extra battery usage from running all of these background tasks to handle the psudo-multitasking…

  • Cilraaz

    Apple feels compelled to protect the user from himself. They're convinced that if a user is given true multitasking, they will open 57 games at the same time and bog down the phone. So basically they penalize the majority of users for the few mentally deficient ones.

  • papped

    Apple? Cater to the lowest common denominator and dumb things down? That's unheard of!….

  • Kyle McInnes

    I'll agree with you that “dumb it down” was a poor choice of words. @spork141 explained it better.

    Paid to deride? I wish. That would be a fun job.

  • Eric at Ebscer

    Ok, finally thought of a situation where this psudo-multitasking will not work. It will not be possible to do a screen capture application. Obviously not a huge deal, but there still no reason no to do true multitasking.

  • Donny

    Hmm. You obviously have no CLUE what you're talking about. “Rimm is struggling at this point with an OS that has great security for business but is totally unnecessary for the consumer.” RIM (as in Research In Motion; the stock ticker is RIMM for USA trade markets), is THE most secure mobile OS platform today! And when you do banking while completely mobile, sensitive IM or E-Mail, online trading, or even E-Bay purchasing - you better BELIEVE the average consumer does NOT want to have their bank accounts/credit cards siphoned by some onknown 3rd party that got their information from an open hot-spot at the coffee shop. You're stuck in the 19th century practice of always going to the bank or doing banking only on a Desktop/Laptop computer.

    RIMM stock used to be $200+CAN and has split several times over the past 4yrs. Their corporate OS is PROVEN! By an industry that does not compromise because that industry CANNOT suffer at the hands of a compromise - security, efficiency, and robust operation & uptime of months, not days (charging in-between). This is the perfect OS for consumers. As a Unix Developer, you should know better than to make such a statement - Unix was developed in research for military not the corporate consumer market. Sure the Capt cracked AT&T's wireless network time/date settings back in the 80's but only because their IT had no clue how to secure it.

    Evidently OS X has a Unix - via Darwin core under the GUI and part of that is still in the heart of the iPhone OS.

    Right now, there is NOTHING that compares to RIM's AutoText within the BlackBerry. And the founders & engineers at RIM BUILT their successful business by USING their product to keep connected with their business, personal and partners; much the same way that Apple uses OS X Server internally for iTunes, and OS X client for their retail stores.

  • Caspan

    Amen Brother !

    Steve Main

  • mj

    hmmm it seems to me you overlook the major announcements that most effect “rim”. that is, the enterprise functionality that is being added to to the iphone os. I have read at inforworld and other places that these features leapfrog iphone ahead of rim in the minds of IT CIOs. But you didn't even feel it was worth a mention. not just that but Windows phone 7 is going to make a quantum leap in functionality and will have enterprise capability from day one. I have no dog in this fight but I see problems ahead for rim. Over the next several years, I see a step function shift away from rim products and towards iphone win 7 phone and android. I hope I am wrong for all your sake…

  • Caspan

    This cannot happen without something like BES. Either Apple is about to come out with their on MTA Server (which good luck getting enterprise to switch) this way they have complete access or they need to make their own BES which still requires Exchange. so how does Apple plan to leave ActiveSync behind and put their fingers into Exchange? I'm not questioning what you are saying but curious how they plan to do this leap frog? Vaporware is vaporware and until Apple decides to do something different they will stay where Microsoft tell them to stay because they are controlled by how much Microsoft will give them access to Exchange. Microsoft on the other hand are the people that could come out with a management server to manage phones because they are sleeping in the right bed to do it. So of anyones they are the ones to worry about. I would love to see the article you read to see the plan Apple is planning or if is just speculation by a writer to stir up reaction.

  • MobileAdmin

    After reading the SDK and other tech blogs what Apple is doing is simply extending the API used in the configuration utility to be provisioned by any middleware solution that wants to intergrate it. Some nice new features for sure but no where near as robust as what BES provides.

    I don't have it installed at home but from memory you will now be able to control:

    - disable the camera
    - disable safari
    - disable apps based on rating
    - enfoce password (already present via EAS)
    - enforce timeout (EAS)
    - Populate VPN settings

    The rub would be only some of these will extend via EAS so unless you are running a capable middleware (Good, Trust Digital, Mobile Iron, Sybase) you have no better security. I'd like to know how the data protection is “better' they didn't mention FIPS, didn't allude to background processes being allowed for security functions (encryption, agents for capture of things like SMS etc) so I'm assuming it's not in there.

    Will this drive further iPhone adopotion? Maybe - you still need to use another solution, it depends on the company budget and policy for personal liable mobile devices (of any flavour) I think if / when they gets figured out you will see an explosion of multiple devices in companies (bearing they work with whatever middleware is in place) and the needed policies can be created and agreed upon. Once you open that door it's hard to go back ..

    RIM should have a good WES and announce some good stuff to show they are not just sitting around. I'm really hoping a firm annoucement around the Webkit browser is put out, some good new BES intergration (SharePoint would be huge) etc. If anyone's going let me know I'll be there …

  • mj

    Actually enterprise adoption is going to increasingly be driven by the end user. I suggest you all investigate the new improvements that Apple has made to the iphone OS. As far as BES, I don't see it as the “lock” you do, nor do most analysts who see the new software from Apple as a blow to Blackberry. There are third party management tools that allow interface to the Exchange server. I only see the problem worsening for RIM as once you fall behind in fast moving tech markets it is almost impossible to catch up. Now this transition will take years but to my way of thinking I see problems ahead for blackberry.

  • MobileAdmin

    RIM did what they needed to stem this - they made their BES free. Granted their still is a more indepth version that has a cost but for the majority of business the express version will do everything needed.

    Any other middleware solution has a significant cost over free. I also question how much personal liable will actually get adopted by corporate environemnts. How many companies allow you to bring your own laptop? There are many issues to figure out all while still having some standards, accepting the risks of PL. The myth is you save money put you are just shifting expenses from the hardware (capital) to support or increased backend build out (VM, Citrix, VPN etc).

    Who pays for the CAL for the PL users? What are the policies for them? Are they limited to mobile email or can they leverage any mobile applications you deploy?

    I just don't see user driven IT being to model most companies embrace.

  • mj

    well the fact is that people do change what they use. It takes longer than we expect but changes happen. I mean you can see it over and over. Look at Sun Micro. In 2000 it was the darling and people were saying you couldn't have an Internet without it. But things change. Ibm and DEC were stalwarts in the data center. But no longer. Things change. All I am saying is that things are going to change for RIM. Their model is changing. They are not going to be the first or second choice any longer at Veriozon. It may be that they will be 4th choice. RIM does not have a modern OS that is game and Internet friendly. They don't have developers on board. They don't do touch well. They don't have a “market”. They are behind in all the major areas that are important today. Their form factor seems wrong for today. Change happens at the margin. You won't see it overnight. but it is happening and it will be evident someday to the mass media.

    Rim may need to buy Palm. That would be bad news imo and will just serve to highlight how far behind they feel they are. RIM pioneered push email. But this is now a commodity. But we have gone beyond email. And RIM did not anticipate this and now are falling behind others who did like Apple and Google. Anyway I just wanted to provide a voice that you might not like to hear but may be good to hear. good luck.

  • JT

    I agree that Apple is a little stuck up there own @$$ about their greatness and how their way is the only “right way”. But you also got to remember Job's role is Chief Cheerleader - he is supposed to get people excited; and for those that are not techie and just need the KISS philosophy it is revolutionary.

  • JT

    I agree that Apple is a little stuck up there own @$$ about their greatness and how their way is the only “right way”. But you also got to remember Job's role is Chief Cheerleader - he is supposed to get people excited; and for those that are not techie and just need the KISS philosophy it is revolutionary.

  • GLComputing

    Thanks for the mention of my blog article. I guess I'll have to start working on a new one soon :-)

  • GLComputing

    I'd agree it might not be suitable regarding the computer… but it certainly is about the phone. The one big advantage of the iPhone is that it's far easier to setup and to perform basic operations … but this is at a cost of more sophisticated and powerful functions and security options.