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Apple iOS 4, in light of Android 2.2

Apple's iOS 4 will turbo-charge existing iPhones--how does it stack up to Android's Froyo release?

Apple's forthcoming iOS 4 will be ready to update iPhones and iPod Touches in two weeks. It will turbocharge existing iPhones without a doubt, but how does the new operating system stack up to Android's 2.2 (Froyo) release?

It's true that Apple's iOS 4 is a far more dramatic update from iPhone OS 3.0 than is Android 2.2 from 2.1. iOS 4 gets a handful of features that the iPhone was sorely missing on the software front: multitasking, threaded e-mail, folder support, and tethering--which Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn't mention in Monday's keynote. Compare this with the Android 2.2 update that Google announced in late May that gave Android phones support for Flash, speedier processing, and tethering/hot spot support for up to eight devices, and you'll see that iPhone users will see a hefty spike in their quality of mobile life.

iMovie for iPhone iOS 4
iMovie for iPhone 4 will edit pictures, but it will also cost $5 instead of being built into the operating system. James Martin/CNET

Appearances are ever deceiving, though, as many of Apple's "new" features are old hat on Android phones. Multitasking and threaded e-mail messages have existed since the first Android phone. Folders, video sharing, and camera software that focuses when you tap the screen have also been available in previous Android operating systems.

In addition to tethering--which independently exists on Sprint's HTC EVO running Android 2.1--iOS 4 and Android 2.2 share camcorder behavior that turns on the LED flash to shoot low-light video.

Apple gets credit for building the FaceTime video call app into iOS 4, though we wish it didn't have quite so many limitations. We'd also give Apple kudos for its iPhone version of iMovie, an app that crucially lets you edit those shiny HD videos from the phone before you upload them to video sites or send them on via e-mail or MMS; however, there's just the pesky fact that the video editor is a $5 after-market add-on and not built-in software that darkens our view.

Since Apple is largely playing catch-up with its heaviest-hitting software upgrades, Android is better positioned to innovate in future releases. For instance, Google announced  last month at its developer conference that it would soon release an updated online Android Market that wirelessly installs software you choose from the Web to your phone. This is an example of the "cloud syncing" that Apple didn't deliver Monday morning.

At the same time that we're pointing out Apple's OS faults, we can't overlook the importance of a thriving app store to mobile phone owners, and with more than 250,000 apps in the store front--compared with about 30,000 Android apps reported last March--Apple remains the strongest contender.

As the Android platform continues to grab market share, we're sure to see its app market grow. We'll also look for the integration of more Google products in future Android phones.

As it stands, iOS 4 and Android 2.2 will have similar major features: multitasking (but only for iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS), threaded e-mail, video recording, and data tethering--though iOS still rules on the App Store, iTunes store, and music-playing front. For its part Android's support for Flash and built-in turn-by-turn navigation currently give it the browsing and mapping edge.

Related story: iPhone 4 versus the HTC EVO