6 Features to Expect in iPhone OS 4.0

Less than a week after the introduction of the iPad, Apple plans to share details on “the future of iPhone OS” at a press event this Thursday, where the company is widely expected to lift the wraps off version 4.0 of Apple’s (s aapl) mobile operating system, which will add new functionality to current iPod touch, iPhone and iPad devices. The event will also shed light on what you can expect from Apple’s next-generation iPhone handset. Although Apple has sold a large number of devices running the iPhone OS — an estimated 40 million iPhones, more than 20 million iPod touches and now 300,000 iPads — there’s always room for improvement in the operating system. Here’s a short list of what to expect (including what I’d like to see!) from iPhone OS 4.0.

Multitasking — The ability to run more than one third-party application at a given time has long been a user request from the masses. The iPhone OS of today is capable of multitasking because the feature is currently supported on some native Apple applications – listening to music in the iPod app while web surfing or checking mail is a good example. So while the OS supports multiple apps running concurrently, it imposes limits to help ensure a positive experience with core functionality. But as some consumers look to the iPad as a potential laptop replacement, multitasking with non-Apple software titles is desirable (not everyone, of course, but for certain people). My own blogging activities would be far easier on the iPad if I could multitask to get web links and edit pictures while creating posts, for example. And I wouldn’t be surprised if only the iPad gains a multitasking function — or one that’s considered less constrained than on an iPhone.

Higher resolution — Let’s face it: The iPhone’s HVGA display was nice back in 2007, but it’s a little dated now. Many new handsets at the same price point offer generous 800×480 (or better) displays over the iPhone’s 480×320 screen. Look for iPhone 4.0 to support higher resolutions for the next-generation devices expected in a few months. This could help iPad owners as well. iPhone apps do work on the iPad today, but the pixel doubling of lower-resolution software makes apps look blocky and blurry.

Support for a second camera — Surely, the camera in the next iPhone will be bumped higher than the current 3-megapixel sensor. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a second, front-facing camera for video chatting in iPhone OS 4.0 — it’s a feature we’ve been calling for since late last year. Perhaps it would be similar to iChat’s video offering on a Mac. We could even see third-party apps take advantage of such a change, although Apple may not allow access to such hardware for non-native apps.

A unified inbox — While I like to keep my work and personal lives separate most of the time, the one place I want them together is in my email. iPhone 4.0 should be bringing us a unified inbox so we don’t have to tap, tap, tap our way from one mailbox to another. Perhaps, like the once-missing copy-and-paste feature, Apple is still developing an elegant solution to the problem.

Enhanced voice-to-text features — Google (s goog) added this highly useful function to Android 2.1 and it ought to be a staple in any modern smartphone. Apple added Voice Control in version 3 of the iPhone OS, but it’s limited by comparison — all you can use it for is to call a contact or control your iPod. Google’s implementation integrates throughout the operating system, making it easy to search the web, create a text message or even compose an email simply by speaking. Such a function could give Apple more insight to what iPhone OS users are searching for on the web — and would support a rumored Apple move into the search market.

Music in the clouds — iPhone 4.0 could be the first time we see the benefit of Apple’s LaLa purchase, which took place in December of last year. As I said in a GigaOM Pro report (subscription required) just days before the deal, if Apple doesn’t offer iTunes streaming over the web, others like Amazon (s amzn) could easily jump in the game. Consumers don’t mind carrying their music around, but storing content in the cloud offers nearly limitless capacity to hold media. And if Apple decides this isn’t a feature for the iPhone OS, I’ll just keep doing what I do today — store and stream my music with a cloud storage service like SugarSync or another provider.

Related iPad Content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d)