iPhone OS 4: Multitasking arrives (live blog)

Steve Jobs and company show off new skills for the iPhone, such as multiple apps running at one time, plus services including background location and Internet calling, and a new iAd platform. New-model iPhones and iPod Touches are coming this summer.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
15 min read

Editor's note: We used Cover It Live for this event, so if you missed the live blog, you can still replay it in the embedded component below. Replaying the event will give you all the live updates along with commentary from our readers and a few CNET editors. For those of you who just want the updates, we've included them in regular text here. To get the key points from today's announcement, you can check out our summary of what got announced, in our story here.

We're coming to you live Thursday from Apple's campus with news about the iPhone OS 4 as it happens.

Maybe the biggest news is this: Apple is bringing multitasking to the iPhone. CEO Steve Jobs and his crew showed 12 apps running at the same time. But not all models of the iPhone will get multitasking or other upgrades. Third-generation models of the iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch will be out this summer.

In addition, Apple is touting services including background audio, background location, and voice over IP. And there's more: a new folders feature, flicking between pages of apps on the phone, and the new iAd mobile advertising platform.

The newly released iPad, meanwhile, will get OS 4 in the fall.

Transcript of live blog starts here:

10:00 a.m.: Good morning everyone, thanks for joining us. We're at Apple's town hall meeting center in Cupertino.

Some things to keep in mind before we begin:

-Last year's OS 3.0 preview event took place in mid-March and ran nearly two hours with a presentation of iPhone sales numbers, what's new with OS 3.0, some demos of the new stuff, and a Q&A session. Expect the same things today.

-Also expect that the OS 4 firmware will not be available to you today. However, developers are likely getting access to an early beta version to test their apps and build new features.

10:03 a.m.: Apple CEO Steve Jobs just took to the stage. "Thanks for coming this morning, we've got something to share with you that we're excited about."

Steve Jobs
Jobs takes the stage at Thursday's iPhone OS 4 event.

10:05 a.m.: Updates on the iPad: Jobs is talking about kind reviews from The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. 300,000 iPad were sold on the first day of sales. 450,000 iPads have sold as of today.

iBooks: Users downloaded 250,000 iBooks in the first 24 hours. Users have now downloaded over 600,000.

10:06 a.m.: 1 million iPad apps were downloaded in the first 24 hours. As of today they've downloaded over 3.5 million.

Jobs showing a photo of a happy kid unboxing, then hugging an iPad. "When you create something, you have butterflies in your stomach... so far, people really seem to be loving it."

Scenes from the iPhone 4.0 event (photos)

See all photos

10:07 a.m.: Update on the App Store:
-Users have downloaded over 4 billion apps.
-185,000 apps in the App Store now.
-Over 3,500 iPad apps in the App Store.

10:09 a.m.: Jobs is showing off screenshots of Scrabble for iPad, Labryrinth 2, We Rule, Disney Digital Books, Asphalt 5, Real Racing, Zillow, Marvel Comics, WeatherBug, MLB At Bat, Epicurious, E*Trade, IMDb, ABC's TV app, Reuters, USA Today, The New York Times, Time, The Guardian's Eyewitness app, and Popular Science.

Lots of "fantastic" being thrown around.

10:10 a.m.: Jobs says the Pop Sci e-mag is a "breakthrough." Netflix, too. Jobs also asked where we would be without an accordion app.

10:11 a.m.: Jobs mentioning JD Power award for last three years.

iPhone has 64 percent mobile browser usage. Everything else combined is just half the iPhone.

How many iPhones sold? Over 50 million iPhones.

If you add iPod Touches, over 85 million iPhones and iPod Touches. "If you're a software developer, that is a plum market," says Jobs.

10:13 a.m.: OS 4 will ship this summer. A developer preview comes today.

Jobs says there are over 1,500 new APIs for developers.

Developers can now access calendar, photo library, still and video camera data, quick look, and SMS inside their apps.

Automated testing tools used internally now available for apps.

"Accelerate" API lets developers get at heavy math processing within their apps.

10:14 a.m.: iPhone OS 4 has 100 new user features.

Some of those include: the ability to create playlists, 5x digital zoom in camera, Bluetooth keyboards, spell check, gift apps, tap to focus video, Places in photos, home screen wallpaper, file and delete mail search results, Web search from sugestions, larger fonts for Mail, SMS and alerts, rotate photos, sync IMAP notes, iPod out, wake on wireless.

Jobs says we only have time hear about seven of the features today.

First up is multitasking!

Jobs: we weren't the first to this party, but we're going to be the best.

10:15 a.m.: Jobs compares it being late to the game with cut and paste.

Jobs says it's easy to implement, and has been done in a way that won't slow down whatever app you're using.

10:16 a.m.: Demo time: Jobs opens up a link in Mail, which opens up Safari. Page loaded, but Jobs says he wants to go back to his mail. Now, users double-click the Home button. A window pops up at the bottom of the screen with whatever apps you have open.

10:17 a.m.: Looks like it supports quite a few apps at once. You can only see four at a time on the bottom, though.

Apps keep track of where you were and can start right back up again. Jobs just demoed it with Tap Tap Revenge, which implemented a count-down timer to give him a few seconds to get ready to play.

10:18 a.m.: Jobs showed it working with 12 apps at once. There could be a hard limit, though.

10:20 a.m.: Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software, is up on stage now explaining how multitasking was done. "We looked at the tens of thousands of apps and distilled down the services that these apps need to work in the background. Then we implemented these services ourselves in a way that preserves performance." So these "services" developers were using are now Apple-provided APIs. Forstall says there are seven big ones.

10:22 a.m.: 1. Audio APIs, used big-time on Pandora, which Forstall says can now run in the background while you switch between apps. The iPod controls that work with a double-tap of the Home button now work for Pandora, too.

Scott Forstall at iPhone OS 4 event
Scott Forstall shows how to use the home screen to manipulate audio on the iPhone.

Tim Westergren of Pandora is now up giving a demo of how it works.

20,000 users a day are added to the iPhone version of Pandora. Westergren says it only took a day to get the new background processing working with the Pandora app.

10:24 a.m.: Next service: Voice over IP

10:25 a.m.: Forstall says one out of every nine international calls are connected by Skype. And now, when users are on Skype, the phone calls will keep going even when you're using other apps.

10:27 a.m.: David Ponsford of Skype is now up on stage giving a demo of it running. Ponsford says the service has amassed more than half a billion registered users. Incoming call invites come in as a standard iPhone/iPod notification. Clicking the Answer button just brings that app back.

Skype's David Ponsford takes the stage to demo the VoIP application on the iPhone.

10:28 a.m.: In-call VoIP functionality is similar to how standard phone calls work, with a pulsing bar at the top of the phone to bring you back.

10:29 a.m.: Next service: Background location. Forstall says there are two classes of applications--things like turn-by-turn directions (TomTom, Garmin, et. al.) and social-networking applications like Loopt. He is demoing this working while listening to music and getting GPS directions at the same time.

10:30 a.m.: Forstall says Apple is using cell towers to make this GPS work without using a ton of power. Can be used to "wake up the application" to send location status updates.

10:31 a.m.: Forstall says privacy has been updated with this. There's now an indicator on the status bar to let you know if an app is using your location (kind of like the little satellite logo in Android).

Users can also enable or disable location by app in the settings menu. Apple is including a little arrow on the location services menu that will let you know if that particular app has used location within the last 24 hours.

Forstall demos how users can manipulate the way apps use their location. James Martin

10:33 a.m.: Next API: Push notifications. Forstall says 10 billion push notifications have been sent so far.

The next iteration of this is "local notifications." Now apps can push out notifications without having to go through Apple's servers.

10:34 a.m.: There's also a new "task completion" API that will let apps alert the user when it's done with something. Forstall showed this being used with a Flickr app uploading pics. It then pops up an alert when the app is done, even if you're off doing something else on your phone.

The last API is "fast app switching," which lets apps essentially hibernate to not use CPU, then wake up when you hop back to them. "Everything has been preserved," Forstall says.

10:35 a.m.: Jobs is back up now. He's announcing "Folders," a solution for flicking between pages of apps on the phone.

Jobs announces the new "folders" feature. James Martin

10:36 a.m.: Jobs calls the implementation "beautiful." The new way to do this is to place your finger on an app until it jiggles. Then you drag one app on top of another and it instantly makes a folder. The icon changes to show you a small preview of all the apps that are in there.

When you tap on the folder it expands to show you the apps.

"You can have as many folders as you like," Jobs says.

10:37 a.m.: Folders can be placed in the dock, just like any other app icon.

Jobs is now showing off how to change a wallpaper. Users can set it to be the background wallpaper, the lock screen--or both.

10:38 a.m.: [With the old organization, there was a limit of 180 apps that you could see on the device.] Now, that limit is 2,160, Jobs jokes.

10:40 a.m.: Jobs is demoing the revised mail app now.

New stuff:
-Unified in-box (all your various accounts in one in-box)
-More than one Exchange account
-Fast in-box switching (to still switch between accounts in the new unified mailbox)
-Organize by thread. Groups together messages by date.
-The capability to open attachments with whatever app you have installed on your machine.

10:41 a.m.: iBooks is coming to iPhone/iPod. Just looks like a smaller version of its iPad sibling. [Was this a surprise to anyone?]

10:43 a.m.: Books can be read on any devices. Apple is also syncing what page you're on between all those devices (as Amazon does).

"Winnie the Pooh" is getting bundled in as a free book.

10:44 a.m.: There are also new features for enterprise users.

Forstall says 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using iPhones.

-Better data protection: Encrypt all your e-mail, including attachments with PIN codes.
-Mobile device management: Lets IT managers deploy iPhones and manage them remotely.
-Wireless app distribution: Companies can push out custom apps over the air instead of relying on an iTunes sync.
-Support for multiple Exchange accounts
-Support for Exchange server 2010
-SSL VPN support from Juniper and Cisco.

10:46 a.m.: New developer preview called Game Center: a "social network for gaming." It has matchmaking, friend invites, leaderboards, and achievements.

That will be "available later this year," Forstall says.

10:47 a.m.: New platform called "iAd." Jobs says it's mobile advertising that's built into OS 4.

Apple Steve Jobs iAd
Jobs introduces iAd program. James Martin/CNET

10:48 a.m.: Jobs says Apple wants to help developers make money off their creations, but says that "most of this mobile advertising really sucks, and we thought we might be able to make some contributions."

10:49 a.m.: Jobs says ads are easy on the desktop because of search. But people are spending all their time within apps. "This is where the opportunity to deliver advertising is," Jobs says.

10:50 a.m.: Jobs: The average user is spending 30 minutes a day using apps. That's 10 ads per device each day. We want to get 1 billion ad impressions per day by the end of the year.

10:51 a.m.: Jobs says ads should deliver "interaction" and "emotion," something that's in the middle of where Web ads are, and ads on your TV.

10:52 a.m.: iAd ads keep you in the app.

Jobs says it was annoying for people to click on an in-app ad because it would take them out of whatever they were doing.

Developers can add iAd in their apps for a 60 percent cut of the revenues. All the sales and inventory are handled by Apple.

10:54 a.m.: Jobs is demoing it now in a simple news-reading app. He clicks on a Toy Story 3 ad, and it takes over the whole screen.

Jobs says it's all done in HTML 5 (making a crack at Flash).

Ad has menus with acceleration, sound, and integrated video.

10:56 a.m.: The ad demo even has a built-in memory game users can play, as well as a local movie theater-finding tool that taps into the phone's GPS.

There's even a way to buy an app from the App Store within that ad.

10:58 a.m.: Jobs is demoing an Air Jordan shoe ad within another app. It has a little horizontal time line viewer to see all the variations of the shoe throughout the years. There's also a Nike ID shoe-making tool right within the ad.

Jobs demos an Air Jordan shoe ad. James Martin

11:00 a.m.: Another iAd demo, this time for Target. Jobs is putting together a shopping list within the app, which users can buy, then go back to whatever they were doing.

11:01 a.m.: Jobs is wrapping up now...is there perhaps one more thing?

11:02 a.m.: The OS will be available this summer with all the features for iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch third-generation models.

iPhone 3G and iPod Touch second-gen models won't be able to run everything--like multitasking.

So I guess that means you have to buy a new phone, guys.

11:03 a.m.: OS 4 coming to the iPad "this fall."

11:03 a.m.: We've got a five-minute break now before a Q&A session.

Phil Schiller, Apple's VP of marketing, joins Jobs (center) and Forstall (right) for a question and answer session. James Martin

11:08 a.m.: Q&A is starting now. Jobs is sandwiched between Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller, vice president of marketing for Apple.

First question is about data usage, and whether multiple apps running will mean hindrance on AT&T's network.

Jobs says there's nothing to say it will break things, but that video uses the most data.

"You're not going to be watching a video that runs in the background."

11:09 a.m.: Q: Explain how wireless app deployment works.
A: Forstall says it doesn't open up any additional devices the phone can run on, just the delivery.

Q: Will the social network from Apple kill off the existing gaming social networks?
A: Forstall says developers wanted something that was unified. People didn't want a bunch of different social networks.

Jobs says "there's no money to be made, or competitive advantage." He views it as less work. Also says it was something companies had been asking for.

11:11 a.m.: Q: Is international launch of iPad affected by this?
A: Jobs says no, that is still on track for April.

11:13 a.m.: Q: Explain the achievements.
A: Forstall says they're still investigating on that.

Q: Will there be an approval for iAds just like the app approval process?
A: Jobs says there are "some ads we'd rather not run...I'm not sure it's going to be anything other than a light touch."

Q: What about Java and Flash in OS 4?
A: Jobs: "Uh no."

11:14 a.m.: Q: Is Apple going to be providing a development environment for iAds?
A: Jobs says it's all industry standard. It's all HTML5.

"One of the nice things about this is that there are hundreds of thousands of app developers. There are a lot of folks who know how to develop out there," Jobs says.

11:15 a.m.: Jobs: "I think this could be a whole new avenue for the advertising industry, because for the first time you can take advantage of a full pool of skills an ad agency has."

11:17 a.m.: Q: How does multitasking handle things like a Twitter time line app that remembers where you last were?
A: Forstall says the app can store exactly the state it was in, so it's not a problem.

11:18 a.m.: Q: Why have you veered away from the widgets, or dashboard of information on devices like the iPad?
A: Jobs says "We JUST launched it on Saturday...we rested on Sunday."

11:19 a.m.: Jobs on push notifications: "Competitors are tripping over themselves to copy it...everyone is announcing that they're doing it now."

11:20 a.m.: Jobs on the math behind the iAd "billion impression" stat:

-The average iPhone user spends 30 minutes a day running iPhone apps.
-If you put an ad in every three minutes, you get three ads every 10-minute period.
-We will have shipped 100 million iPhone/iPod Touches by this summer.

Add those up and you get a billion impressions a day based on that average use.

11:22 a.m.: Jobs on why search is different on the iPhone than it is on the desktop and laptops:

"These 185,000 apps that get you into every corner of the Internet doesn't exist on PCs..."

"This is the first time this has ever existed--and most of it is free. We never had that on the desktop, so search was the only way to find those things."

11:24 a.m.: Q: Is Apple going to be an ad agency?
Jobs: We don't have any plans to become a worldwide ad industry.

"We're babes in the woods. We're learning as fast as we can, and we think we've come up with some real contributions...I've never seen ads like you've seen today on any mobile platform--or any digital platform."

11:26 a.m.: Q: Can you talk about compatibility with old devices?
A: Jobs: Some of the earlier hardware can't support it, so there was no decision to make there.

Forstall: We give developers the option to see what their apps will look like on particular devices. We give them that option. They're the ones who make the decisions.

Schiller said the company still wants to make as many apps available on as many devices as possible.

11:27 a.m.: Q: Can you do anything to make these phones safer for driving?
A: Jobs says, "We've done more than most to connect these phones into the car's systems." Users have hands-free calling, controls on their steering wheel, etc.

Forstall says things like voice dialing have helped and says it will get better.

11:28 a.m.: So it looks like no Google Navigator app within the maps app then.

11:29 a.m.: Q: What about running unsigned applications on the iPhone?
A: Jobs says "There's a porn store for Android....you can download them, your kids can download them...that's a place we don't want to go, so we're not going to go there."

11:31 a.m.: Q: Anything surprise you about the initial iPad reaction?
A: Jobs says that even though they've been using them internally, you still have butterflies in your stomach--the week and the night before launch. You never really know until you get it in customers' hands, he says.

"The feedback we've gotten has been off the charts...people think this is a profound game changer...When people look back, they will see this as a game-changer in the world of portable computing devices."

11:33 a.m.: Jobs: If our competitors can get a competing product out this year, they'll be happy to get 3,500 apps after the first year. And we've seen that many apps in less than a week. So it's happening fast.

11:34 a.m.: Q: How will the App Store change with OS 4? How will you handle discovery and organization?
A: Jobs says the App Store is not a part of iPhone OS 4, it's actually a service--so we can enhance it without waiting for a major release of software. So we can constantly improve it.

11:36 a.m.: Jobs: We're constantly interested in improving that. In terms of discovery we added App Genius. I'm also seeing an infrastructure building up different sites and publications.

Forstall says the Game Center is all about helping people see what apps their friends are using--that is, if they're playing a game.

11:38 a.m.: Q: Are you worried about losing a segment of your customer base with this hardware divide?
A: Jobs says 3GS is the biggest segment of users. And if users with older phones want the new features, they can just buy the newer hardware.

11:40 a.m.: Q: How do you close applications with the new multitasking feature? Can developers still use alternative ad platforms?
A: To kill an app--you don't have to. Forstall says the apps run, and if an app doesn't need any resources the system won't give them any.

For ads--developers can still use alternatives to iAds.

11:42 a.m.: And that's it, folks.
A quick recap: OS 4 is available to developers today and will be launched as a software update for users "this summer." Its biggest feature is multitasking, which will only work on the newer hardware (like the iPhone 3GS and third-gen iPod Touch). It will be available for iPad users in the "fall."
Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for a video and analysis of today's event over at CNET News.

Editors' note: This story was originally published Wednesday at 1 p.m. PDT, in anticipation of Thursday's event. CNET's Rafe Needleman acted as the community monitor.