iPhone OS 4.0 Announcement

Yesterday, Apple held a press conference announcing some new features for the iPhone OS which will launch this summer. By and large, I watched the live blogs and kept thinking that I’d had that in Android for longer, or that it’s done better on that platform in many ways.

Multitasking is great to have, but the demos made it appear to be more or less a direct clone of Android Activity Lifecycle with the pause and resume functionality. And support for services seems to be limited, though it’s unclear how at this time. I did really like that the lock screen could have widgets associated with it, like in the Pandora demo, however. That was a really nice feature.

However, a lot of what they announced were obvious features that they should have had a long time ago. Folders and Customizable Backgrounds being the big two there. There are, no doubt, some nice features here, but there were only two things that stand to be really interesting. Namely, the new Social Gaming Network they’re building, as well as iAd.

The Social Gaming Network makes sense, a lot of people feel the iPhone is a great gaming platform, and Apple boasted that the iPhone has about 10 times as many games as the Nintendo DS. Of course, they’re very different kinds of games, many of them aren’t very good (though there are apparently some gems), and it’s highly unlikely that it’s generated anywhere near the amount of revenue, but this was a marketing speech, so whatever. Actually, I’d rather Apple had made a deal to integrate with XBox Live (wouldn’t happen with Windows Phone 7 on the horizon), or the Playstation Network. We have way too many social networks these days.

iAd, on the other hand, is an interesting advertising platform, and they demoed some really interesting demo ads. They were rich, and could do things like drive App sales directly as well as interface with maps and everything else. They were all HTML5, but the look and feel appeared to be very much that of a native app. I disagree with the idea that clicking on the ad took you out of the app you were in, since they appeared to take full control of the display (which is not unreasonable), but the ads were interesting. I’m not convinced they’ll drive more clicks that a solution like AdMob, but we’ll see.

Plus, you’re not required to use either of these services. If you’d rather use a third-party advertiser, you can. I suspect most people will just use iAd, but at least the choice is still there.

The biggest problem with the new platform, wasn’t mentioned at the presentation, which isn’t a surprise. Luckily, John Gruber was willing to publish about it. Namely, the iPhone Developer Agreement now mandates what language you develop in. And it does it in a way that, not only neuters Flash CS5, but also MonoTouch and Unity3D, both of which are in use in major iPhone applications today.

Apple’s restriction on only using Published, non-Private APIs was understandable. I disagreed with it, but I understood it. However, mandating the language used to create an otherwise compliant piece of code is ridiculous. So far, I only seen one such product express concern over their own future on the iPhone platform. Most are, understandably, remaining quiet until such time as Apple clarifies.

My suspicion is that Apple will lift this restriction within the next few weeks, however the very fact that they attempted this should cause concern among developers for this platform. The lack of transparency and Apple’s history of removing programs from the App Store after the fact are bad enough, but not Apple is showing that they’re willing to dictate tools, even if you comply to all other parts of their requirements, even when it would have no impact on users, and I can’t see any impact it would have on the ecosystem, allowing people to use these alternate tools.

Then, there was Steve’s response when asked about ‘unsigned applications’, which was really code for ‘applications not from the iTunes App Store.’

Q: Are there any plans for you to run unsigned applications, like on Android? A: There is a porn store for Android to go to. You can download them, your kids can download them. That’s a place we don’t want to go. We’re not going to go there.

First off, why in the hell did he have to jump straight to pornography? That’s a bullshit argument, and I really hope everyone in the room at the time took it as such. Second, this is honestly part of what I like about Android. There is room for apps of all kinds, even if Google restricts them from their own Market. This single-store mentality pervasive in the iWhatever ecosystem right now is unhealthy, and it mandates some third-parties idea of what is appropriate on a piece of hardware that you’ve purchased, even when it has zero effect on them.

The Android Market is the easiest way to get applications on an Android phone, and you do need to specially allow non-Market apps, but at least the opportunity is still there. The real answer is that Apple doesn’t want to provide a side-channel for apps, and they’re using a bullshit argument about Porn to justify that position.

There were a few things in this announcement that were interesting. The expansion to the Mail app; merged inbox and thread view, are really nice and I’d like to see them on other smartphones. However, there was nothing announced that made the iPhone any more compelling to me than what’s going on in Android today (even if I’m still stuck on Android 1.6 on my own device). In many ways, I still think the device is less capable than other smartphone platforms. However, it was by and large a good step forward technically, though the arrogance of the policy shift should be enough to make developers think twice about hitching their wagon to a platform run by a company who makes such insane demands.