Hang on, where's iPhone OS 4.0?

Many of the iPad rumors we heard in the run-up to yesterday's launch turned out to be false – OLED displays, dual cameras and solar panels all come to mind – but one of the suggestions that had sounded reasonably believable was that the tablet would run iPhone OS 4.0. Last we heard, tipsters suggested that Apple had been sitting on the launch of the updated platform since it contained too many mentions of the iPad, something that would tip developers (and thus the press) that the nigh-legendary tablet was on its way.

So it came as some surprise to discover that the iPad demo units Apple brought out yesterday were all running iPhone OS 3.2, a relatively minor increment above what's currently found on the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch. No sign of all OS 4.0, or any of the benefits – multitasking being the heavily hinted one – it's expected to bring. My thought at the time was that, in an attempt to keep the focus on the iPad rather than prompt questions about the state of the iPhone, Apple would announce and most likely release OS 4.0 in the interim period between now and the iPad shipping.

When I made that suggestion on Twitter in the aftermath of the Apple announcement, a few people queried why the company would go to the effort of adding iPad support to iPhone OS 3.2 if they were only going to update it to OS 4.0 by the time it launches in roughly 60 days time. That's certainly a good question.

Of course, if I were Apple, I might be tempted to load up the latest reasonably-stable version of OS 4.0 onto the iPad demo units I was bringing with me to the keynote, doctor the version number so as to raise no eyebrows about the difference between what's almost current on the iPhone right now, and lock down anything that differed from what users expect from the smartphone experience. That way I could quietly continue beavering away in the background, preparing for an iPhone OS 4.0 launch event at some point between now and the iPad's arrival.

OS 3.2 – or whatever was running yesterday – for the iPad certainly shows some signs of being cobbled together. The mention of importing photos into Keynote from the non-existent camera is a good example. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but a reasonable explanation is that the code the prototypes were running is unfinished; is it too much of a stretch to wonder whether that unfinished code is really the version its About page suggested?

Launching iPhone OS 4.0 between now and the iPad's sales debut would not only give the iPhone an injection of fresh juice before the predicted fourth-gen model expected at some point over the summer, it would also give Apple a second shot at iPad "first impressions". Yes, previews and hands-on articles from this week criticized the absence of multitasking, Apple might say, but since then OS 4.0 has delivered that and more: all of those reasons not to buy an iPad, well, they need to be reconsidered. A lot of this is definitely wishful thinking – without the ability to run multiple apps at once, and switch between them easily, I don't think an iPad figures on my shopping list any time soon – but considering some of the things we've heard about Apple's tablet, a little conspiracy theorizing doesn't seem especially out of place.

Apple iPad demo video:

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