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New iPhone 4 offers background listening but not much else for radio

iPhone 4 with Pandora playing in the background

Today Apple CEO Steve Jobs made his now-annual announcement for the new version of the company’s top product. While there were several surprises in store, like the addition of video conferencing and HD video recording, there wasn’t anything unexpected for radio enthusiasts.

Jobs confirmed the debut of multitasking with the new version 4 of the iPhone OS which already had been revealed last month. What’s nice about multitasking is that audio apps like Pandora, Slacker, last.fm, AOL Radio and the Public Radio Player will play in the background while using other apps, just like listening to iPod music.

For a hard core online radio listener multitasking may indeed be the “killer app” that makes it worth spending the $199 to upgrade to the 16 GB iPhone 4 from a first generation iPhone or the 3G. Owners of the 3GS will get multitasking, too, which also makes for a cheaper upgrade for owners of earlier models, at $99.

Apple says the new iPhone has a bigger battery offering up to 40 hours of music listening time and up to 6 hours of 3G web browsing. Listening to streaming radio over 3G is quite a bit more data intensive than simple web browsing, so it’s doubtful you’ll get 6 hours of 3G audio streaming.

Unfortunately, new iPhone owners starting contracts with AT&T will no longer have an unlimited data plan available to them, with the biggest data plan topping out at 2 GB per month, with $10 for each additional 1 GB. It’s unclear if a current iPhone owner can continue to have an unlimited plan if she starts a new contract upon buying an iPhone 4, though I should expect so.

Still missing from the iPhone is an actual radio capable of receiving traditional analog or HD broadcasts. When the radio-equipped iPod Nano debuted last October rumors starting swirling that there was a latent radio receiver inside the iPhone. One would think that if the rumor were true, that radio would have come out with the introduction of the iPhone 4. Since we’ve seen no sign of an iPhone radio with this major update of its OS, I’m guessing we’re unlikely to see one in the near future, if ever.


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