Tomorrow’s big unveiling will likely be focused around the much-hyped, illusory tablet (whose name nobody even knows), but a large part of its launch will be iPhone OS 4.0.

Much debate has taken place regarding whether the tablet will run OS X, iPhone OS, or something in-between. Thanks in large part to an errant comment by the McGraw Hill CEO on MSNBC, I think it’s safe to assume that iPhone OS was the right guess all along.

Or was it? It’s likely that instead of releasing the tablet running the 3.x line OS, apple will launch a 4.x fork to bridge the handheld iPhone/iPod Touch experience with that of the tablet, and in so doing bring the mobile OS closer to its desktop counterpart. It makes sense considering keeping two disparate app stores running could cause a colossal flustercuck.

Since its launch in March of 2009, OS 3.x has begun showing some signs of age, especially compared Android 2.x. Here’s a list of what I think OS 4.0 needs to really keep the platform competitive:

1- Google Voice integration

Although Google just launched an HTML5 version of the google voice interface (no doubt specifically targeted at the iPhone and WebOS platforms), it still pales in comparison with how seamless Google Voice integration is on Android. Users of that platform can completely transition to their new number.

Plus, let’s be honest, using a web based version is just hackety compared to being able to use a much more responsive app without having to jailbreak. Until the day comes, I’ll stick with using the still-banned GV Mobile.

2- Google Latitude integration

This is the one that actually started the whole Google – Apple divorce, in case you have forgotten. It’d be amazing to finally see latitude integrated into the maps app the way it should have been the same month latitude launched.

Even better, the maps application (maintained by google) on BlackBerry OS and Android allows for seamless background position updating. As it is right now, iPhone OS users have to go to an HTML5-based version of the same application to update their position. Or jailbreak and use a solution like longitude (some screenshots/info here) and have it done on a schedule by a persistent background process. This is the solution I ultimately decided on

Perhaps this functionality isn’t allowed because of “duplication of functionality” with Mobile Me? Whatever.

3- Better gmail integration in the mail app

Let’s just come out and say it, the mail app on the iPhone is extremely barebones. Coming from Windows Mobile, I was kind of shocked at how barebones, in fact. No ability to change font, underline, bold, italicize, or do anything regarding formatting. As it is right now, the best you can do is some copy paste.

ArsTechnica really did a good job highlighting a number of subtleties that I’ve noticed in their article here. The most annoying of which is that folders aren’t fully synchronized until you go into them. For example, opening a sent folder will cause all the sent emails to load chronologically. This can get frustrating if you’ve sent a lot and just want to look at one; instead, you’ll have to wait for all of them to load. I can do without a unified inbox or unified messaging app, because honestly I view that as a more of a nightmare to be avoided than a feature.

But those aren’t my main gripe, it’s that there isn’t a gmail app (like what Android has) that supports Labels, Stars, or any of the features that make Gmail integration with email clients over IMAP or Exchange difficult. It’s that whole decision they made to not use “folders” and instead use labels that drives me crazy, and to this day, I’m lucky if I can find any sent email in my google apps account.

Forget about background and push, just fix the email client.

4- Notification customizations for SMS, scheduling

Even though the platform has good customization for ringtones, the alert sounds for system events such as email and new SMSes are surprisingly limited. In fact, at first, I assumed I was “doing it wrong” and failing at finding the proper way to load them. Nope, turns out, what you have is what you have, and what you will have forever.

That default “Tri-tone” sound is what everyone uses, and it’s annoying as hell to have it go off in a crowded room and watch 8 people all go for their phones (myself included). Allow some variety, without the need to jailbreak.

A lot of the other platforms also have alert profile scheduling. Namely, you can specify whether you should be alerted audibly, with vibration, or not at all, on a time schedule throughout the day. I’ve defaulted to always leaving my phone on vibrate simply because this is missing.

5- Background apps done right

This is probably everyone’s #1 wish for OS 4.0. Multitasking done right. Sure, you can jailbreak and do it, but it doesn’t lend itself to having a nice task-switcher. Instead, you’re left using what amounts to a task manager, which is completely the wrong way to do it.

Every other platform has it, only one platform (WebOS) has done it right so far. Can you, apple?

6- Better App organization

If you’re like me, you have 9 pages of applications that you’ve tediously organized. But sometimes, categories that are logical don’t come in sets of 16 (how many you can fit on one ‘page’). The real solution is to allow some sort of management. Be that folders, a menu, or something else.

My Layout

Also, there’s no reason that people should be limited to 4 apps on the bottom row just for aesthetics when you have the room for 5. I couldn’t live without having 5 anymore.

7- Better power management – centralized reporting, on/off, scheduling

Something that I think Android really executed properly was the centralized power management screen. HTC has added this to virtually every single device in recent memory as well. That feature is centralized management of radio hardware and other large current draws.

This is something that, if executed properly, could also be a selling point for making hardware “green.” Hell, as a potential EE, I’d be absolutely in love with a screen showing current consumption from all the chipsets in the hardware that report it, plots of use vs. time, and more intelligent prediction of how much life I’ll get out of the device with current use.

But on a more basic level, what we really need is a feature that allows users to schedule the hardware itself. Imagine you’re on a trip without your charger; odds are, you don’t need the radio hardware on while you’re sleeping, but you do need the device on so the alarm works. Allowing users to schedule power events lets you balance use ahead of time.

But a feature I think is really needed is a so-called “last legs” setting. Basically, after the battery has crossed a user-defined threshold (say 15-25%), the software automatically does everything it can to preserve battery life; WiFi is turned off, 3G is turned off in favor of EDGE, screen brightness is reduced to 20%, push services are put on hold, email fetch intervals are doubled or quadrupled, background processes are killed.

The hardware and software essentially would work together to squeeze every last minute of use out of the hardware when battery gets low. This is especially important for when you cross the threshold while the phone is in your pocket, when you probably don’t even know it’s dangerously close to death.

Conclusions

Historically, Apple delivers products that have extremely polished, working features. Essentially, they err on the side of only releasing features that work, always work, and work well, instead of releasing features that don’t always work, or lack polish.

That said, a lot of the market has caught up since 2009. It’s time to address all of those gripes, and I’m hoping OS 4.0 fills some of the glaring holes in the feature set tomorrow. We’ll find out soon.