What iPhone OS 4.0 means for the iPad

A mere five days after the iPad’s release, Apple rolled out the next version of the iPhone OS on Thursday after having given the media only three days of advance warning. The reason for this quick change of gears was undoubtedly a desire to keep the launch of the iPad clear of any confusion about what features it would offer, since it’s based on the same operating system as the iPhone.

And while the iPhone OS also powers the iPad, Apple made some clear distinctions between the two devices Thursday. The new iPhone OS 4.0 will be available this summer for iPhone and iPod touch, but in the fall for the iPad. So if you’ve bought an iPad and are excited about multitasking features and fast app switching, cool your jets.

Still, while Thursday’s event was focused on the iPhone and iPod touch, there were a few items of note that related to the iPad.

There were several features of iPhone OS 4.0 that are, in fact, already on the iPad. That’s because the iPad runs iPhone OS 3.2, while other iPhone OS devices are currently back on version 3.1.3. So iPad users are actually ahead of the other iPhone OS devices, at least until summer.

Among the iPhone OS 4.0 features already on the iPad: Support for Bluetooth keyboards, the iBooks app and support for Apple’s iBookstore, the ability to create playlists in iTunes, spell check, Places support in the Photos app, and Home screen wallpaper.

Now, iPad users are going to have to wait until fall to get the remaining features. But that gap in release dates suggests that it’s possible that iPad users will get a version of the iPhone OS that’s slightly more advanced that the one iPhone and iPod touch users will get this summer.

The glimmer of possibilities emerged during the Q&A session Apple staged with journalists right after Thursday’s presentation. Joshua Topolsky of Engadget asked a great question about why Apple hadn’t done more with simple, viewable information, like a weather forecast—items that could be placed on a Lock screen or Home screen without much trouble. Topolsky pointed out that the iPad, with its large screen, could especially benefit from such additions.

“We just shipped it on Saturday,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs countered immediately. “And rested on Sunday.”

But by Thursday, Apple’s engineers were undoubtedly back at work. And the iPad will eventually see the benefit of that work. Just not this summer.

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