Regardless, the iPhone line now has the ability to perform one of the most basic tasks known to computing. So how does it fare? Well, it's actually a pretty smart implementation of the process on a mobile device -- one of the best we've seen. To grab a chunk of text, you simply tap on the section you want to grab and the phone tries to figure out just how much you meant to select. Usually it's pretty smart about what you want (sort of the copy / paste version of Apple's predictive text input), but it also gives you anchors to grab on the top, bottom, left, and right of the selection box, allowing you to pull your copy area out as needed. A contextual menu appears above or below your selection, and changes based on what stage of the process you're in. To paste you just tap on an empty spot in a document, and the menu presents itself again. For undoing actions, you shake the phone (cute, but a little annoying -- we would have preferred a menu item).
The beauty here is that unlike competitors such as the Pre or Android, iPhone copy and paste doesn't just let you grab text -- you can grab whole chunks of mixed media, like text and images, and it will copy the content with proper formatting and elements. If you want to pull out a section of a webpage, for instance, the function elegantly allows you to zero in on the area you want to copy and easily transfer it into an email or document without losing any components (unless you're pasting into a text only area, like Notes, which strips out formatting and images).
While we don't think the wait was necessarily justified for a feature so simple (and so necessary), we do think Apple has pulled off a tremendously useful implementation of the process. It's the kind of thing you'll miss once you go to another device without such broad and universal functionality.
Way back in June of 2008, Apple promised that we'd see push notifications -- instantaneous alerts for emails, messages, and other app-related notices -- due in an OS update come that September. Needless to say, the fall came and went without so much as a mention of the software addition. Earlier this year, Apple showed off the functionality again at the iPhone OS 3.0 preview, combatting arguments for true multitasking within the iPhone operating system by saying push would not only work as a surrogate for most background tasks, but would allow the devices to retain sufficient battery life. Background tasks, Apple warned us, create a drain on power that would have users running for their chargers far too often.
So do push notifications take the place of background tasks? Do they give the end-user the feeling of constant connectedness the way Apple seems to intend them to? In our experience, not quite. At the time of this writing, there are only a few apps actually employing the service, though we're sure more will come. Overall, where push is really useful is in receiving updates or messages -- individual pings which direct your attention towards a particular application -- but they don't keep you in the stream of information the way an AIM session running in the background does. Yes, you get alerted to new messages (or in the case of something like Tap Tap Revenge, challenges), but those appear as either one of the iPhone's annoying pop-ups, or as a background audio notification coupled with a growing message counter for a particular app (AIM for instance). The service is extremely useful, and we're happy that Apple is endeavoring to make it available for all of its developers, but from a practical perspective, it doesn't feel that different than an email notification or a calendar event. In short, it will help you stay connected, but it won't take the place of true multitasking, and unless Apple finds a less obtrusive notification solution, it could actually create quite a mess. Besides those obvious issues, we're still not seeing push for the things we really want, namely, Gmail. We don't know when (or if) a rollout of said feature is planned, but we're guessing it can't be too far off for a device which now has central functionality orbiting around this feature.
Ultimately, we still feel strongly that true multitasking can't be replaced by these notifications, and if there's anything we learned from using the Pre, it's that background tasks can be handled elegantly without a mind-blowing hit to battery life.
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