Today Apple previewed the next version — 4.0 — of the iPhone OS, the software that powers the company's iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad products, a preview version of which it is unleashing on developers today. Apple will release the product to iPhone and iPod Touch owners this summer, and to iPad owners in the Fall. Apple's customers and partners will largely welcome the innovations in this new release, though there are undoubtedly segments who will complain vehemently. Specifically:

  • Many iPhone owners will love the new features… Multitasking — the ability for an application to run while the user is interacting with another application — is the most impactful and highly touted feature addition, one that competing platforms such as Android have emphasized as a differentiator. This capability formed a significant component of Verizon Wireless's $100M+ advertising campaign for its Motorola Droid device, which Apple blunted by emphasizing the simultaneous voice and data capability of AT&T's network in contrast to Verizon's. Now, however, Apple has addressed this using their typical "we did this the right way and provided the best experience for our customers" approach. The interface is typically elegant; other improvements such as a richer mail application, a drag and drop solution for managing applications, and many improvements for enterprises will be welcomed with enthusiasm (more on this from Ted Schadler).
  • …But the mass — those with the older iPhone 3G model — will miss out on the primary benefit. Unfortunately, the majority of iPhone owners (and a wealth of iPod Touch owners) will have to be content with the improvements sans multitasking. Apple explained that the first and second generations of iPhones and iPod Touches do not have adequate processing power to support multitasking. Observers inclined to attribute other motivations to Apple will question this explanation, much as they questioned the lack of voice control support in the iPhone 3G when it was touted as a feature on the 3GS. With a new iPhone model widely expected this summer, many will cast this feature break as a method of promoting users to upgrade to the new model.
  • Developers will get another innovation boost and a range of new opportunities… It's important to emphasize that the developers are the primary audience for these events — consumer observers will see individual features like background audio playback but the developers, tapping into more than 1500 new APIs, will realize Apple's work in the form of new applications. Among the most important new benefits is Apple's iAd platform, enabling developers to more easily monetize advertising in their applications, and also opening up opportunities to grow revenue by developing interactive ads for brands using their hard-earned iPhone development skills (for more detail see what Julie Ask wrote).
  • …Though some will continue to grouse about Apple's firm hand. Pockets of iPhone and Apple antipathy have been growing. Aside from longstanding complaints about a lack of transparency about Apple's app approval process, more recent complaints — in part sparked by the debate about the iPad supporting Adobe's Flash program — have focused on the level of control that Apple imposes on their customers' experiences. I expect a similar reaction from this audience regarding the way in which Apple has chosen to implement multitasking. However, I think Apple knows its customers and, irrespective of the merits of these arguments, the company's performance has proven the merits of its approach.

Let the sniping begin.