Apple Previews iPhone 3.0 Software
Apple showed off a set of upcoming features and options for its iPhone and iPod Touch that should alleviate some longstanding gaps in the repertoire of those mobile devices, and may add some notable new capabilities.
In an auditorium at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, the company gave an outline of the 3.0 version of the operating system inside the iPhone and iPod Touch, which it says will ship this summer as a free update for iPhones and a $9.95 download for the Touch.
* The iPhone 3.0 software will finally let users select, copy, cut and paste text, remedying the oversight perhaps most likely to infuriate people (myself included) trying to use the iPhone as a pocket computer.
* This software will also finally support multimedia messaging -- for pictures, address cards, audio files and links to users' locations -- remedying the oversight most likely to infuriate people trying to use the iPhone like any other mobile phone.
* The search feature that has been confined to individual applications will work across every program on an iPhone or iPod touch.
* The calendar program will be able to subscribe directly to calendars published online using the CalDAV standard (for instance, those provided on Google Calendar), without first having to be synced through a computer or a service like Apple's MobileMe.
* You'll be able to record voice memos, output stereo audio via Bluetooth and synchronize notes taken on an iPhone or iPod touch to a Mac or PC.
Application developers will be able to take advantage of new possibilities opened up by this 3.0 software, Apple said. For instance, it allows them to sell extra features to users of their programs -- you could download a travel-guide program, then buy chapters for cities on your itinerary. They can write software that shares data with other iPhone users with Bluetooth wireless range and talks to hardware accessories, such as FM transmitters that send the iPhone's audio to a car stereo. They'll be able to embed live, interactive Google Maps instead of being restricted to static cartography (I trust the developers of the Post's Going Out Guide app are working to add that feature). Developers will also be able to ship turn-by-turn navigation programs (though those can't use Google Maps), which could make the iPhone a more serious competitor to standalone GPS units.
Most important, third-party developers will be able to use the long-delayed "push notification" service that Apple announced last summer and said would ship last fall. Apple says this will provide most of the utility of running multiple third-party programs without the memory and battery hits true multi-tasking might entail. The iPhone's operating system will receive requests for services provided by add-on applications and then wake them up as necessary (for instance, flipping on an instant-messaging app when a new IM arrives).
Some items on many iPhone users' wish lists, however, have gone unfulfilled. There's still no support for video recording or Bluetooth file transfer. Apple also wasted a chance to clarify the vague rules it uses to approve or reject new iPhone applications (the company said it's accepted 96 percent of the programs submitted thus far but didn't offer details about which ones didn't make the cut or why they flunked).
(Update: If you've got an hour and a half free, you can now watch Apple's QuickTime video of the entire iPhone event.)
Apple's software will have a fair amount of competition when it arrives this summer, assuming Google's Android software shows up on more phones and Palm's Prē smartphone ships as promised in the first half of the year. In the second half of 2009, Microsoft plans to deliver what may be the first meaningful upgrade to its Windows Mobile operating system in years.
It's always risky to judge a product based on promised-but-unreleased features. With that caveat in mind, do today's announcements put Apple ahead of that competition (much of which itself still qualifies for vaporware status), keep it at pace or leave it trailing behind? The comments are yours...
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