iPhone OS 4.0: Apple Hits Mobile Out of the Park

Last Updated Apr 8, 2010 3:50 PM EDT

The iPad may arouse some head-scratching, but Apple (AAPL) just scored an undeniable win with iPhone OS 4.0, the new operating system for Apple's mobile devices.

With iPhone OS 4.0, not only has Apple shored up its defenses against Google (GOOG) Android, but it has jumped the competition in user-ease, set the stage for an improved iPad that will kick-start the tablet category, practically guaranteed huge iPhone upgrade and new-adoption sales, and added a big new revenue stream with mobile ads. There are some potential problems, but overall, very impressive.

The implementation of multitasking not only shows that Apple takes mobile operating systems seriously, but that it has gone beyond the technology to provide something that will appeal to both techie and "regular" users. Apple's technique -- creating the ability to lift the app window and see a slider with all the currently running apps -- is a great way to keep track of what you are doing in a more efficient way than the old PDA trick of showing a list of applications.

Apple was smart in pointing out the different ways multitasking could work, as well: keep your previous place with the app exactly as you left it, even in a game, or run important tasks in the background. Remember, too, that all of this will apply to the iPad, so making it instantly more versatile. Another feature that will likely be more important for the iPad than iPhone is adding folders and the ability to group applications.

Business users get more of a nod than ever before from iPhone OS 4.0, in the form of a single inbox that can handle multiple email addresses. The emails are threaded, so a single message shows how many others are associated with it. Apple has also added some enterprise features, furthering the evidence that business users will be a major market for the iPad. There will be data encryption available to enterprise programmers, mobile device management, and wireless app distribution, to make rollout easier.

Gaming gets even more attention in iPhone OS 4.0 by adding social gaming features, which, from what I've seen first hand, are some of the biggest drivers in the success of gaming communities.

The other major addition to iPhone OS 4.0 is mobile advertising, which will be called iAd. App developers will be able to incorporate ads so they generate income from free applications, with Apple getting 40 percent of the revenue. Yes, if you thought that the iPhone was a money printing press before, it's just become the U.S. Mint.

So as not to go too far into a starry sky, I do see a couple of short-term downsides. One is that the announcement will probably slow both iPhone and iPad sales until the new OS comes out this summer, but I don't think Apple could wait any longer and let competitors create a sense of advancing ahead of it. Also, unless the company provides free upgrades for early purchasers, virtually every current owner of an iPad will get horribly ticked off.

But those are issues that Apple can easily manage if it's smart. And, given the product that the company rolled out today, there's no question of that.

Image: Apple

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.