iPhone OS 4 review: Don't be afraid

While nothing could be as obnoxious as the Microsoft mantra -- you know, "This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down" -- I woke this morning to find that quite a few Mac folks had their undies in a bunch over the new iPhone OS 4 software, which marks a quantum leap from the previous iPhone software.

Some would argue, it seems, that the leap is backward. And as our sister site Switched reports today, the change in software has been causing some reactivation problems that last for hours. If you want to avoid such hassles with your iPhone -- which will likely multiply if you are using an iPhone 3G or an out-of-date version of iTunes - -be sure to click on the Switched story here.
But as for me, a run-of-the-mill iPhone 3Gs (note the s) user, I'm happy to report that I had none of those problems with the new iPhone OS 4. It has worked flawlessly. And since I don't expect to get the new iPhone 4 for some time, I'm ecstatic about some of the nifty new things my iPhone can do. Here's a brief rundown of what I've found so far; for a comprehensive look at what OS 4 can do, visit Engadget for their excellent roundup.


The mail functions on the iPhone OS 4 are uber-intuitive, organizing my e-mail in a way that fits my go-go lifestyle. With one touch, you can combine all of your e-mail accounts into one "mega box" that shows all of your email. What's more, e-mails that follow a certain subject-line train, coming from the same sender, are grouped into makeshift files, whereby you can group them all in one viewing without having to sift through the hundreds of emails in between. I figured this out in about 30 seconds, and believe me, I'm no computer genius. The iPhone OS 4 does it for you. Don't like the combined e-mail boxes? You can separate them with one touch.


For a nerdy, intellectual fellow like me, this is WOW to the third power. The new software prompted me, upon my first visit to the App Store, to download iBooks for free. To celebrate, Apple gave me a free copy of "Winnie-the-Pooh" by A.A. Milne, and the new found opportunity to download lots of other books. Here's a hint: If you go to the iBooks app and touch "Top Free," you get a whole list of books you can download for nada, zip. In about 5 minutes, I had books by T.S. Eliot, Jane Austen, Henry David Thoreau and St. Augustine gracing my virtual library (which shows on your screen as a cool, walnut bookshelf). And guess what? Reading books on an iPhone isn't as bad as you might think. I tried it myself, and these 40-something eyeballs of mine had no problems at all. So much for buying an iPad!


For some time, I've complained -- along with a chorus of thousands -- that the iPhone would be near ideal if you could operate it with an external keyboard. Jailbreaks to do this have been developed by hackers, but one attempt to download such a program fried my iPhone. Well, it seems Apple listened to its customers, a rare feat for a company known for trying to dictate the tastes its customers "should" have.

With iPhone OS 4, external wireless keyboards are a reality -- meaning your iPhone can now operate even more like a mini-computer. And for an afternoon of simple word processing and many e-mails, a small wireless keyboard and iPhone will fit much more easily in my backpack than a laptop, adapter and such.

Here's where it gets sexy. If open up a number of apps at once and double-click the round iPhone button, your iPhone will now let you see the apps that are open, and switch back and forth between them. Now you will need a few seconds to reload apps when you're switching back and forth, but that's no biggie to me, as this approaches my real-world need for app switching on a day-to-day basis. I'm still getting used to this feature, but I love it so far.

Downloading the new software only took me five minutes; as mentioned above, you can avoid many problems by updating iTunes first (to version 9.2). The display changes will take some getting used to for me, as the app icons now sit against my wallpaper photo, as opposed to a black background. It looks sexier, to be sure, but it does make the apps harder to read.

And as I complained in a previous piece, the new iPhone OS 4, like the new iPhone 4 hardware itself, doesn't come with the most essential upgrade of all, a break from AT&T as the wireless carrier. Where I live in Chicago, reception is so terrible, and dropped calls so frequent, that my iPhone stalls as a phone in more places than it works. Speaking of phone, I had to re-enter my voice mail password to retrieve my messages after installing the new software. If you've forgotten your password, you could run into some problems.

Overall, my verdict on the new OS 4 is two thumbs up. But not too far up: Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to whip out my next round of text messages.
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