Yesterday, Apple previewed the next version of the iPhone operating software, version 4.0, which is due out this summer. You can watch a video of the presentation by Steve Jobs on the Apple website. Jobs announced that there are now over 185,000 apps in the App Store, that users have downloaded over 4 billion apps, and that Apple has sold over 50 million iPhones (plus another 35 million iPod touches). Scott Forstall of Apple announced that over 80 of the Fortune 100 companies are using iPhones.
But the star of the show was the new features in iPhone software 4.0. Apple says that there are over 100 new features for iPhone users, and here are the ones that I think that lawyers and other professionals using iPhones will really love.
- Multitasking: fast app switching. Instead of closing one app to launch another app, you can now quickly switch between apps with each app freezing its current state until you return. This will increase your efficiency using multiple apps at the same time on your iPhone, such as switching back and forth between Mail, Safari and a third party app while you are drafting an e-mail, just to pick one example.
- Multitasking: VOIP in the background. With 4.0, Voice over IP will be supported in the background, which makes the Skype app 100x more useful. With 4.0, while you are doing something else on your iPhone, Skype will still be able to ring you when a call comes in. Plus, you can continue talking to someone over Skype while switching to another app, such as checking your e-mail or your calendar. For people traveling internationally who want to use Skype to talk to people in the U.S. for pennies instead of paying expensive roaming fees, this is huge.
- Multitasking: audio in the background. The iPod app has always been able to play audio in the background while you use another app. With 4.0, third party apps can do this too — making the Pandora app all the more useful.
- Other multitasking features. Those first three multitasking features will probably be the ones that lawyers find most useful, but in addition it is nice that under 4.0 (1) apps will have improved abilities to send you pop-up notifications, (2) apps can complete certain tasks (like upload a picture or video) while you switch to another app, and (3) social networking type apps will be able to track your location even when the app is running in the background (and Apple will notify you of this so that an app cannot track your location without your knowledge). These three features are less important for attorneys, but may be useful at times.
- Mail: attachments and third party apps. We spend a lot of time in the Mail app, so it is great to see some major improvements. First, with 4.0 you will be able to open an attachment to an e-mail directly into a third party app. I hope that this means that 4.0 will let you choose from among several possible apps, so for example if you have a Word attachment you can choose to open it directly from Mail into apps like Quickoffice or Documents to Go. Those apps currently have creative work-arounds for accessing attachments to your e-mails, but direct access would be much more efficient. I much prefer viewing Word, PDF and Excel files that are attached to an e-mail in Quickoffice or Documents to Go, so anything that makes it easier to do so is a welcome improvement.
- Mail: unified inbox. Most of us have multiple e-mail accounts such as Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, etc., and 4.0 will let you have a single Mail inbox to view all of your e-mails at once, much like the Mail application on a Mac does. Or if you want to keep your accounts separate, 4.0 will give you much faster inbox switching.
- Mail: threaded messages. With 4.0 you can organize e-mails by thread, making it much easier to view an original e-mail and all of the replies.
- Mail: better MS Exchange support. Most large law firms, and many smaller ones, use Microsoft Exchange for e-mail. iPhone software 4.0 adds support for Exchange Server 2010, plus adds the ability to access multiple Exchange accounts.
- Mail: spell check. Mail and other apps have spell check in 4.0. The iPad already includes a spell check feature, and I imagine that the feature will work the same way in 4.0 for the iPhone.
- Mail and other apps: external Bluetooth keyboards. If you need to write a long e-mail or a significant insert for a document on an iPhone, with 4.0, you can pair your iPhone with a Bluetooth keyboard to make it much easier to type all of those words. This makes it easier to decide to leave your laptop at home and just travel with an iPhone and a small keyboard to use when you need to type something long on your plane or in a hotel room. There are already many small, portable Bluetooth keyboards such as the iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard or even Apple's own Wireless Keyboard, but I imagine that very soon we will see some nice portable keyboards specifically designed for an iPhone running 4.0. This will make apps like Quickoffice and Documents to Go even more useful because, for the first time, you might actually decide to use those apps as word processors.
- Organize apps into folders. The only way to organize your apps now is to move them to separate pages, but this is not ideal when you have a lot of apps. Under 4.0, you will be able to drag one app onto another one to group those apps into a folder, and then drag other apps into that folder. Thus, you can keep all of your legal statute apps in a single folder, one which remains on your first or second home screen (or even in your dock) but which doesn't take up numerous spaces. I have been wishing for a feature like this for a long time, and I can't wait to use it.
- Display more apps. Folders are not just an organizational tool; they also let you display more apps on your iPhone. If you are an app junkie like me with tons of apps, you know that the iPhone can currently display only 11 pages of 16 apps per page, which is 176 apps, plus the four apps at the bottom for a total of 180 apps. You can store more than 180 apps on your iPhone, but they do not show up on your home page screens so you can only access them using search. Jobs said that the folders in 4.0 allow you to display up to 2,160 apps on your iPhone. (2,160 divided by 180 is 12; so perhaps that means that each folder can hold up to 12 apps.)
- iBooks. The larger iPad is far superior for reading iBooks, but if you have both an iPad and an iPhone, it will be useful to be able to read a book on the iPhone as well. Your current page will sync, so if you are up to page 156 in a book on your iPad and then you have a few minutes of down time with your iPhone, you can read a few more pages and the iPhone will know where you left off.
- Improved security. Security is important for lawyers, and in 4.0, all of the e-mails and attachments on your iPhone can be encrypted with your PIN code. (It was unclear whether this was automatic or a feature to be turned on.) Plus, app developers will be given the tools to encrypt all data in their apps as well. Another security enhancement in 4.0 is improved tools for a company to manage all of the iPhones used by employees. Additionally, 4.0 supports SSL VPN for improved security in VPN sessions.
There are many other new features in iPhone software 4.0 that lawyers might enjoy, although they are unlikely to improve your billable hours. For example, with 4.0 you can add a wallpaper to your home screen. If you like games, 4.0 enhances support for multiplayer games and makes it easy for your friends to send you a message on your iPhone asking you to join a game, plus you can compare your high scores with those of your friends.
If you like to take videos on your iPhone, with 4.0 you can tap to change the focus while you are recording a video. If you take a photo in the wrong orientation, with 4.0 you can rotate a picture on the iPhone.
4.0 also supports a slick advertising feature that Apple calls iAds. You may question whether adding ads to your iPhone is a "feature." As John Moltz humorously noted on his website:
iAds. AWESOME. Now we can watch ads on our iPhones. YES. At long last. The feature we’ve all be asking for. Our long national nightmare is over. All hail our wise corporate overlords who always have our best interests at heart. We have always been at war with Eurasia.
The counter argument is that iAds will encourage developers to create more free, ad-supported ads. Time will tell whether iAds bring us better free apps.
Note that not all iPhones will be able to support iPhone software 4.0. It doesn't appear that the original iPhone will run 4.0 at all. [UPDATE 4/12/10: Engadget reports that Steve Jobs confirms this.] An iPhone 3G can run some features, but not the ones that require more horsepower such as multitasking. An iPhone 3GS can take advantage of all of the features in 4.0. If you don't own an iPhone 3GS, 4.0 will be a compelling reason to upgrade once Apple releases the next version of the iPhone this Summer. 4.0 will also come to the iPad, but not until this Fall.
Developers can now download iPhone software 4.0, and as they tinker with it over the next few months, I'm sure that we will learn more about the great new features in 4.0. But from what we learned yesterday about 4.0, it is clear that lawyers and other professionals using the iPhone will see a lot to love.