Initial Thoughts on iPhone OS 3.0


The blogosphere will be “all OS 3.0, all the time” for a while. I wanted to wait a little bit and see some reaction to the update.

Predictably, Paul Thurrott didn’t approve. He cherry-picked a few things and claimed they should have been there from the start. He conveniently ignored the new APIs and other enhancements, and then just griped about there being no hardware announcements. At a software event. The man gets less relevant about Apple every day.

To me, the biggest surprise came from another GigaOM network site, jkOnTheRun. An article there noted that 40 percent of the readers polled were “underwhelmed” with the update. A few even said the announcement “pushed” them to the Palm Pre.

What announcement did they watch? Seriously, there were some things introduced that, had Palm announced them today, I’m sure would have been proclaimed as incredible, stupendous, colossal, way ahead of the iPhone, etc.

What I liked best about the announcement was that it was typically Apple (s aapl). Sure, it included some “obvious” features, but it also included things no one had thought of or discussed.

Peer to Peer

This one is extremely interesting. As a developer you can write a device that will talk to another iPhone or accessory in question. It utilizes Apple’s proven Bonjour technology and wireless connection via Bluetooth (no Wi-Fi needed). No pairing is required, either.

This makes it a great impromptu setup for, say, the back seat of a car where your kids can play games with each other. The ability to talk to accessories is also big, and can be done over the dock connector as well as using BT.

1,000 New APIs

No, this isn’t big at all (*rolling eyes*). I still believe the biggest question mark on the Pre is using HTML/JAVA/CSS for app development. Some good stuff for the iPhone was written in this manner, but nothing like what we’ve seen since the bona-fide SDK. How will the Pre fair any better?

Meanwhile, the powerful SDK for the iPhone just took a leap ahead. You’ve got in-app e-mail capability, the proximity sensor is now available, the built-in iPod library is accessible, streaming audio and video over HTTP, a shake API is included, Apple’s data detectors are available, and even an in-game voice chat capability.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the new APIs for developers.

There’s also the push mechanism, which I think is great for background notification, though lacking elsewhere. I wrote about that here.

In-App Purchases

Another developer-enticing feature — and it’s hard not to see them excited by this — now you can sell your app for $5 or $10 but not allow every level, or every control. You can upsell for the more serious users willing to pay more, while still allowing the casual user to obtain an affordable version of your app. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Meanwhile, I applaud Apple’s decision to allow in-app purchases only for purchased apps. Some developers may balk at not being able to give it away and then upsell, but that’s borderline “bait and switch” in my opinion. I think Apple’s correct to claim that a free app should not prompt you to purchase anything.

Developer Demos

Depending on your interests, these ranged from interesting, to boring, to outright bizarre. But remember this was a software OS event. Sometimes there’s no better way to describe the use of a new capability than just to show it being done by others (some of which may be your own competition). These are, if you will, a “necessary evil” in an SDK demo.

I found ESPN’s demo pretty cool, and the medical apps amaze me as well.


Apple’s implementation of this is sweet. Not only can you search in an app, like Mail, but they have a spotlight search page as well. I can search for songs, artists, calendar entries, etc. Bottom line is Apple brought Spotlight to the iPhone. Pretty obvious, but very nice.

Another cool feature is that for email it will search not just the 200 mail messages you have on the phone, but continue the search on the server as well. This is great! In fact, I may drop back to only 100 messages or so locally since I can now search them all anyway.

The Checklist Stuff

Then there’s the stuff Apple supposedly had to have. I say “supposedly” because Apple sold 17 million of these devices — 30 million with the touch — and 800,000,000 apps without any of these allegedly mandatory features.

  • Copy and paste looks well done. Frankly, until I can get my grubby little fingers on it and try to drag the targets, etc., I won’t know how well it works in practice, but it looks good.
  • I didn’t need MMS, but I’m glad I’ll have it. Some people I know don’t have smartphones (gasp!), so emailing a picture is pointless. They use MMS and I’d like to, too. Sucks that my 1G iPhone won’t support it, but I’m buying a new one with OS 3.0 anyway.
  • The landscape keyboard is a big thing for a lot of people, though it means nothing to me. I don’t use my thumbs to type. Still, it’s a pretty obvious feature to add and will likely make a lot of people happy.
  • I really like the improvements to the Messages app (formerly SMS?). Nice that I can delete specific messages and not the whole conversation. Also nice that I can forward messages.

Other Stuff

And then there were the things mentioned right at the end, with no further explanation or demo.

  • Notes syncing. I’ve avoided a lot of notes for this very reason, choosing instead to use an open email or text file on iDisk so that I’d gave access to it all. Now I can just use notes and be done with it.
  • Auto-Fill and anti-phishing should help Safari a lot.
  • Auto Wi-Fi login. I use Easy Wi-Fi now and can tell you this is a very handy feature.

And More…

The above is just a rough summary of today’s announcements. There’s clearly a lot more there that wasn’t touched on.

It’s going to be interesting to see reports out of the developer community who got the beta today. As they play with the above features, we’ll see how they are implemented and get more details.

Anybody who thinks this upgrade is anything other than huge is deluding themselves. If 2.0 was the Enterprise upgrade with implementing Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology, then 3.0 is back to the developer and consumer community. Opening the floodgates on more useful and interesting apps while tossing in many of the “checklist items” people felt they needed.

I’m impressed with the breadth and scope of this release.