Apple previews version 3.0 of iPhone OS

Focus is on developers, some long-desired user features

Apple Tuesday unveiled a software development kit with more than 1,000 new programming interfaces for iPhone developers, and scores of UI and other changes in version 3.0 of the iPhone operating system.

Among the changes:

* Push notification 

* Synchronizing the iPhone Notes application with Macs or PCs via iTunes

* Automated Wi-Fi login 

* Support for auto discovery of Bluetooth devices, and stereo Bluetooth 

* Cut/copy/paste, including between applications 

* Support for MultiMedia Mmessaging

Still missing in the phone's Safari Web browser is support for the animation and video in Adobe Flash. Apple officials say developers can add video in HTML5, with certain encodings such as H.264, and that HTTP streaming is supported for audio and video. Tuesday's event showcased streaming video via an ESPN iPhone application linked to the sports news Web site.

Also missing is background processing, which would let iPhone users work with one application while one or more are working invisibly in the background; and tethering, which would let a notebook or other device use the iPhone as a modem connection to the Web, for example. Apple executives say tethering is intended for a future release.

While many of the changes are long-desired by iPhone users, the developer-oriented announcements may be more important, as Apple works to nourish and sustain what is clearly a major success story since the iPhone’s launch: the creation of an active, viable combination of tools, APIs, support, and the App Store marketplace that lets developers and buyers of iPhone software find each other.

Apple has been criticized for a range of App Store related problems, including arbitrary selection criteria and long delays for some programs. New business issues for developers are emerging due to the sheer number of applications and users.  

A beta release of the SDK is available now, along with an array of in-depth technical information and online resources, including forums, for programmers. The iPhone 3.0 release is intended to be compatible with existing iPhone applications.

Apple Tuesday said it will support several new models of iPhone software distribution, with an initiative called In-App Purchase. In essence, an iPhone application can be downloaded and additional programs or content can be purchased from it.

In-App Purchase will enable such things as magazine subscriptions, more advanced levels of functionality (for example, new levels added to an iPhone game), and online bookstore content integrated with an ebook. Instead of a one-time application fee, content providers can offer users an ongoing, fee-based service. Seventy percent of the revenue will go to the developer, the remainder to Apple. Free applications remain free, but apparently will not support In-App Purchase.

The 3.0 release will be available this summer, according to Apple, free to all iPhone 3G customers. It will also work on the original edition of iPhone, but the older phone will not support some of the new features, such as MMS or stereo Bluetooth. A software update for the similar but Wi-Fi-only iPod Touch will be available for $9.95.

Apple told reporters and developers at Tuesday's preview event that more than 30 million iPhones and iPod Touches have been sold. There are 50,000 registered iPhone developers, 60% of them new to Apple. More than 800,000 copies of the SDK have been downloaded.

Apple says there are now more than 25,000 applications for the iPhone, and 800 million downloads have been made in the last eight months. And it's worked to smooth out and speed up the process for approving them. Ninety-eight percent of the applications were approved in seven days or less.

A key part of the announcement is the new and improved iPhone SDK, with 1,000 new APIs, along with Apple's support for new business models that benefit developers, which are part of the In-App Purchase capability. The vast majority of iPhone applications are aimed at consumers, gamers and the like. But a growing number of developers are targeting business users of the popular phone.  

One change to the SDK includes support for hardware accessories: developers can write applications that talk directly with iPhone accessories. Apple demonstrated two such accessories, a FM radio and blood pressure cuff, both with iPhone applications to control them.

The new or newly public APIs include one for the iPhone's bundled Maps application, which now can make use of the iPhone's Core Location Framework to create turn-by-turn GPS applications.

Phones with the 3.0 software will be able to automatically find nearby Bluetooth devices and network with them, creating a personal area network for iPhone users.

To support the push notification service, Apple had to completely re-architect the server side of App Store to support the kind of scaling the service will need. The service will be able to send badges (a widget attached to an application that show, for example, a missed phone call or unread mail message), and voice or text alerts. Apple said the service is designed to be highly reliable and optimized for mobile cellular networks, but the company will not be offering uptime guarantees.

Users will cheer that the iPhone is finally suppot cut/copy/paste. You double tap an image or text to select: the phone pops up a "bubble" over the selection. Double tap to bring up the paste bubble. Dragging on the selection point will pop up a magnifier so you can position the ending selection point where you want. Double tap again to paste. To undo, shake the phone. It works with HTML and between applications, and will be available for all iPhone programs, including SMS messages.

Apple demonstrated a range of new APIs, including in-app e-mail, proximity sensor, iPod library access, text selection and others, such as streaming video, which will adjust the stream for the available bandwidth.

Apple also announced support in 3.0 for MMS, allowing users to send and receive photos, contact information in vCard format, audio files and the like, all via the standard short message format.

The iPhone 3.0 software also expands the phone's search capability. First in the 2.0 release to search contacts, it's now being extended to the mail application and eventually to all key iPhone programs. Mail messages can now be searched, and the search extended to Exchange or most IMAP mail servers.

The new operating system version will introduce a home screen, dubbed Spotlight, with an integrated search capability that will let users search through just about everything on the phone, from contacts to library of applications.

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