iPhone iOS 4 iDisappointment

Apple released their latest iPhone operating system upgrade yesterday, dubbed iOS 4. Naturally I upgraded my 3Gs at the earliest possible moment. Although I was excited about the significant new features, I’m disappointed after actually having used them.

iOS 4 lets you organize your application icons into folders. You can put all your photography-related apps in one folder, all your music-related apps in another, etc. This is theoretically a big convenience for people with a lot of apps, as you can access related groups of apps quickly without having to swipe through a multitude of separate screens.

The problem is that once you have several folders on one screen, you can’t really tell them apart. Previously each app had a unique icon and it was easy to tell what each one was—the Clock app looked like a clock, the Notes app looked like a notepad, etc. But the folder icons are black squares checkered with minuscule icons of the apps inside the folder, and at a glance it’s impossible to tell which folder contains what. The only practical way to do this is to read the tiny description type below each folder, but this is difficult to do quickly unless you’re sitting perfectly still and have reasonably good eyesight. I wind up hovering my index finger over the screen, waving it back and forth like an idiot looking for the right folder.

I suppose in time I will have memorized what each folder contains and where it is. In the mean time I wish Apple would let me assign an icon to a folder so I can tell what it is just by looking.

The upgraded mail app adds semi-sophisticated features like a “universal inbox” (where you can read all of the messages from your various accounts in one place) and Gmail-style message threading. But it still won’t it let me do simple things like arrange the order in which the mail accounts appear or have a different signature for each mail account.

My biggest gripe about the iPhone Mail app is that you’re stuck with it. Because it’s considered a “core feature,” Apple doesn’t allow third-party e-mail applications. I can’t see how it could possibly be a bad thing to give people the option for upgraded e-mail handling, but oh well.

Now you can have a photo or graphic as a background for your home screen. Why would anybody want this? All it does is clutter things up and make that tiny text beneath the folders even harder to read. And once you set your wallpaper to a photo you can’t change it back to plain black, unless you stand in a dark closet, take a photo of the blackness, and set that as your wallpaper.

Apple says iOS 4 enables multitasking for “all apps.” This is not true.

The new iOS features a “tray” at the bottom of the screen, accessed by double-clicking the Home button. Anytime you start an app, its icon gets added to the tray. Open the tray, then tap the icon to switch to that app. But unless an app is specifically written to take advantage of multitasking, tapping its tray icon is exactly the same as starting it anew. No multitasking here.

For apps that are written to take advantage of multitasking, once you start them they sit in the tray, running, until you specifically go in and stop them. This is a potential battery-killing disaster, especially when running power-hungry apps like GPS navigators.

To stop a multitasking app from running, you have to “kill” it. Herein lies the problem I have with iOS 4 multitasking: It’s not particularly easy to kill running apps. Remember, every app you start gets added to the tray, whether it is multitasking-enabled or not; there could be dozens of apps in the tray. The tray displays only four icons at a time, and you have to swipe repeatedly to scroll through all the icons. Once you find the app you want to kill, you have to hold your finger down on the app’s icon for several seconds until a little “minus” sign appears, then tap the minus sign to kill the app.

There is no way that I know of to kill all the apps at once (not even restarting the phone does this), and no way to prevent an app from going to the tray. So if your battery is dying and you’re not sure which app is doing it, you have to start the tray, hold down your finger on an icon to bring up the minus sign, then keep tapping the minus sign over and over for every app until they’re all killed. Grrr….

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