Apple's new iPhone 3.0 software adds several long-awaited features, including copy/paste, MMS and search, the company revealed yesterday.
Those are among the more than 100 new features slated to debut when the company Apple launches iPhone 3.0 this summer.
"This is a major update," said Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software, who handled most of the 90-minute presentation. "I can't wait until you get your hands on it." He did not set a timetable for iPhone 3.0's release - Apple did not do that last year, either, when it previewed iPhone 2.0 in March 2008 - and said only that it would ship "this summer".
"I don't want to use Apple's words, but this is clearly a significant development in the iPhone," said Mike McGuire, a Gartner analyst. "There is the potential here for some really significant changes."
"There's an awful lot of stuff in [iPhone 3.0] that developers will be happy with," added another Gartner analyst, Van Baker.
A beta of iPhone 3.0 and the supporting SDK (software developers kit) are available now for developers, said Greg Joswiak, Apple's head of iPhone and iPod marketing.
Among the most notable end-user features coming to the phone and iPod touch are cut-and-paste and MMS.
With iPhone 3.0 in place, users will be able to cut or copy text from one application on the device, then paste it into another. To select a block of text, for example, the user will double-tap, then slide a finger across the desired text; a bubble boasting Cut, Copy and Paste options will appear above the selected text. To paste, the user double-taps at the insertion point and selects Paste.
"Frankly, I wasn't sure we would ever see cut-and-paste," said McGuire, who tagged it as the premier end-user addition to the iPhone.
MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, is the feature sported by most mobile phones that lets users send photos and video as attachments to text messages, something the iPhone has lacked. Instead, users were forced to use email to send photos, preventing them from flicking pictures directly to others' phones.
Some features, including MMS, won't be available on the first-generation iPhones because the older hardware lacks support for them, said Apple during the presentation. In an accompanying statement, it also said "some features may not be supported by older hardware", but did not elaborate on which other iPhone 3.0 features will not be available on the original model.
Apple is also adding a pseudo device-wide search, dubbed Spotlight, to match the search tool integrated with Mac OS X. Spotlight searches through all the major Apple-built applications on the device, including Mail, Calendar, Notes and iPod. The new search screen is to the left of the home screen and can be used to, for instance, search through Mail's inbox, a feature the phone currently lacks. Forstall also pointed out that Spotlight can substitute as an application launcher, just as in the Mac OS X version.
Some of the other features that Apple previewed include landscape mode for Mail, Text and Notes; the ability to record and send audio with a new Voice Memo application; Notes synchronisation; support for CalDAV, a shared calendar standard that's used by Google's and Yahoo's online calendars; and support for stereo Bluetooth A2DP.
Much of the 90 minutes, however, was occupied with descriptions of the new tools iPhone 3.0 puts in developers' hands, including more than 1,000 new APIs (application programming interfaces), according to Forstall.
Among the highlighted APIs that Apple's introducing in iPhone 3.0 are ones that let users create an ad hock peer-to-peer network between nearby iPhones and iPod Touches over Bluetooth. That feature can be used for multi-player gaming or sharing contacts.
Others will let hardware makers craft custom applications that communicate directly with that hardware, either over Bluetooth or via the docking connector; embed Google Maps inside their own applications; and, for the first time, create true turn-by-turn navigational software for the iPhone.
Apple's also adding APIs, and has beefed up its server-side infrastructure, to support a new push notification that mimics background processing. "You know, we're late on this one," said Forstall, acknowledging that Apple had promised the feature last fall, but never delivered.
Forstall blamed the crush of App Store submissions for the delay, and then a later need to completely overhaul its server structure to accommodate the traffic it anticipates.
He also dismissed background processing - the ability to run multiple applications at once, something the iPhone still will not do, even after an iPhone 3.0 update - as a battery drain. "We took the popular AIM client, and we just let it go in the background, then we measured the standby time," said Forstall. "It dropped by 80 percent or more." By comparison, the push notification system, which has the iPhone regularly ping Apple's servers to see if there are new messages for an instant message client, reduces standby time by only 20 percent, Forstall claimed.
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But the biggest change on the back end, said Gartner's McGuire, wasn't push notification or drive-by-drive navigation. Instead, he picked a new addition to the App Store, Apple's online application mart, which will let developers charge users for subscriptions to content, for new content or for more after-purchase functionality.
Dubbed 'In App Purchases', the new capability gives more flexibility to developers, said Forstall. He cited examples that included games - where users could pay for additional levels - to a bookstore built into an iPhone application.
McGuire tagged it as the day's biggest deal. "I have lots of clients in the newspaper and magazine and even music business who have wanted this," he said, explaining that with In-App Purchases, software makers will be able to tap into a revenue model that hasn't been offered by Apple in the past.
"This is hugely important to gamers," said Baker. "And if Amazon doesn't build a Kindle store into their iPhone Reader, I'll be very surprised."