On June 8 Apple revealed the third version of the iPhone OS, an immense update to the iPhone interface. It’s easier to list what appears not to have changed—Weather and Calculator—than what has changed. Apple stated that there were over 100 new user features and 1,000 new developer APIs (see page 80) in the new OS, which was released June 17.
Also introduced was the third version of the iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 3G S, with the S standing for speed (see review, page 10). According to Apple, the third generation hardware’s new processor makes it up to two times faster launching applications and rendering Web pages. Download speeds are also increased with support for the faster 7.2 Mbps 3G standard, which AT&T has been furiously rolling out in anticipation of the new Apple hardware. New 3D graphics support in hardware along with better gaming APIs (see page 80) should mean faster and more sophisticated games. In addition, the battery life increases 15 to 20 percent.
The new model, available in both black and white (and almost identical to its 3G predecessor), is available in 16 GB and 32 GB models ($199 and $299 respectively), with the current generation iPhone 3G falling to $99. These prices are for subscribers new to AT&T. Initial availability will be limited to the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, the U.K., and Spain, with roll out to other countries every two weeks.
User features in iPhone OS 3.0
Cut, Copy, & Paste
Of the more than 100 new features Apple claims for the new OS, none was more anticipated than the system-wide ability to cut, copy, and paste text. Users have been clamoring for this feature since before the first iPhone was released. There were very good technical reasons why Apple waited for the third release of the iPhone OS to include it. Apple wanted to get something as fundamental as this right, and by the looks of things, they achieved their goal.
Cut, Copy, & Paste is a very intuitive feature. For example, double-tap on text to automatically highlight the selection, and then adjust the amount of text you want to cut or copy by moving the grab points surrounding it. Next, select Cut or Copy from the pop-up bubble that appears above the selection. Navigate to where you want to paste the text and double-tap on the screen again. Finally, select Paste from the pop-up bubble and the copied text is inserted.
Cut, Copy & Paste works a bit differently with photos. Touch the copy button at the bottom of the photo gallery and then tap on the photos you want to copy. Switch to Mail, open a new message, and double-tap where you want the photos to be inserted. Apple also added familiar OS X features like Select All and Undo, but with an iPhone twist—shake the iPhone to undo any form of copy and paste.
Cut, Copy, & Paste works within and across all Apple applications (including Web content in Safari). Apple says that third-party apps will require only minor modifications to add this functionality.
SMS to MMS
The SMS application has been renamed “Messages” and has been upgraded to a full MMS (Multi Media Services) app. MMS is a standard feature on today’s smartphones, and aside from the aforementioned Cut, Copy, & Paste, it’s the most anticipated new feature on the iPhone. MMS will allow users of the iPhone 3G to send and receive photos, contacts, audio files, and Google Map locations with the Messages app. Individual messages can now be deleted and forwarded, and Messages even allows files to be received and sent. Messages can be sent in the background, meaning you can start typing a second message while sending the first. Photos can be taken and sent directly from within the Messages app itself.
MMS support in the U.S. is delayed until late summer according to AT&T officials. The cell phone carrier probably wants to complete system upgrades before unleashing a feature that will significantly increase network traffic. AT&T has also not released pricing for MMS.
The iPhone 3G S’s upgraded 3 megapixel camera sports built-in auto-focus, auto exposure, and auto white balance. You can also tap to focus, which changes the white balance. The new camera also supports video recording (30 frames per second). The lens is on the back of the iPhone so you can use the touch screen display to see the photo or video you are taking. To record video, toggle Camera’s new Photo/Video switch to Video and tap the camera button. To trim video, tap the screen to display the trim controls while viewing the video, then drag either end of the frame to permanently delete your cuts. Videos can be shared via MMS, e-mail, Mobile Me, or YouTube.
The new Voice Control gives the iPhone a feature most other cell phones have had for years. To use Voice Control, press and hold the Home button or press the center button on your earphones. After a short tone, speak a command. The iPhone will repeat your command back to you and then execute it.
Bluetooth improvements (including A2DP)
The new OS upgrades the iPhone 3G’s Bluetooth to support A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) for stereo Bluetooth headsets, wireless accessory control, and peer-to-peer connections over Bluetooth. These three improvements have huge implications for users. For example, music lovers can now pair their iPhone with third-party (A2DP-compatible) Bluetooth headsets that allow wireless voice calls and stereo audio. iPhones will be able to communicate directly with each other and with other Bluetooth-enabled devices. Even better, the new OS allows these features to be “unlocked” in second generation iPod touch models. Expect an explosion of third-party Bluetooth accessories.
Improved search (Spotlight)
Search is another feature that was missing from the original iPhone. Contacts were searchable with the release of iPhone 2.0, and this update brings some of the power of Mac OS X’s Spotlight technology to the iPhone. Spotlight technology gives the Mac user one place to search for anything on his or her computer. Its power comes from Spotlight plug-ins, which are application-specific components that write meta data about files to the Spotlight index anytime a file it “owns” is created or gets updated.
You access iPhone 3.0’s global Spotlight by swiping the Home screen to the left. As with the Mac version of Spotlight, results begin to appear as soon as you start to type in your search request. Tap on one of the listed results and you will be taken to that application or data. Mail, Contacts, and some other apps have their own Spotlight interface, and third-party applications can add spotlight functionality.
Spotlight will be useful for finding some things, but its functionality on the iPhone falls far short of its capabilities on the Mac. For example, while Mail can search on the From, To, and Subject fields, it cannot search the body of the message itself. And while it can find the names of Contact and Calendar events, it cannot find other data associated with the item.
Landscape and keyboard support
Apple added landscape mode and keyboard support to key applications, including Mail, Notes, Stocks, Contacts, and Messages. Tilt your iPhone sideways and you will be able to write an e-mail message or a note using the wider landscape keyboard.
Calendar and Contacts
The Calendar app adds support for two new formats: CalDAV and .ics. CalDAV is an extension of the WebDAV protocol and uses the iCalendar format for data. CalDAV is Apple’s answer for shared family calendars. What’s significant for users is that the iPhone will now support calendars from Yahoo!, Google, Oracle, and others without requiring syncing them via a computer first. The new CalDAV support along with the addition of Microsoft Exchange calendar support in iPhone OS 2.0 potentially makes the iPhone Calendar app a fully synchronized calendar app.
The .ics format is used to subscribe to more global calendars like sports schedules, national holidays, TV shows, etc. (users of the Mac’s iCal application should be very familiar with .ics calendars).
Oddly, you subscribe to calendars in the Settings application, not in the Calendar application.
Exchange users also get a boost as Calendar in iPhone 3.0 allows users to create meeting invitations, select invitees, and send invitations from within the Calendar app itself. This feature is sure to further iPhone penetration into the enterprise.
Contacts now supports the open LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol) standard. Apple still supports its own open-source CardDAV, but LDAP support is crucial for the enterprise—using LDAP, a company can push (and keep synchronized) its internal directory, which may contain thousands of individual contact entries.
Notifications via a Push server
Apple underestimated the demand Push Notifications would put on AT&T’s network, and so the company went back to the drawing board to develop a more robust solution (for more details, see page 80). The result for end users is that closed applications can still send notifications to the users. For example, an instant messaging app could alert you to an incoming message.
iPod (Music/Video) improvements
The iPod application gets some minor enhancements. As mentioned previously, you can now search your iTunes library for a particular audio file or video. The ability to skip to a particular place by moving along a song’s timeline—“Scrubbing”—has been vastly improved by adding “hi-speed,” “half-speed,” and “quarter-speed” rates. The previous single speed scrubbing bar was too often imprecise. Podcasts and audiobooks now show more details (time remaining, etc.) and have a “go back 30 second” icon. Borrowing a feature from the iPod Nano, shaking the iPhone now shuffles songs in the iPod app.
iPhone OS 3.0 supports tethering, which allows a Mac or PC to share a cell phone’s Internet access. While this feature exists in the iPhone 3.0 software and is supported by some carriers, AT&T is not currently one of them. Apple’s Web page states that “Tethering is not currently offered in the U.S. and some other countries. See your carrier for availability.” AT&T later indicated that they plan to offer tethering but didn’t have anything to announce during the event. Tethering could cost as much as $30 extra a month, which would be in line with plans for other phones.
New: Voice Memo
The new OS also includes Voice Memo. Press the red button on the bottom left to begin a new recording using the built-in microphone or a mic attached to the iPhone. Press the button on the bottom right to list previously recorded voice memos.
To trim a recording, select it from the list and click the “Trim Memo” button. Drag the handles on the blue progress bar to reset the beginning or end of your memo. Press play to confirm your edit and then click the “Trim Voice Memo” button.
Voice Memos can be attached to e-mails or SMS messages. They can also be synced with iTunes, where they are added to a new “Voice Memos” playlist.
Also new is the Compass app (iPhone 3G S only). Before using it you must calibrate the iPhone by waving it in a figure eight. The application indicates which direction you are facing, along with the geographical coordinates of your current location. User preference controls allow you to use magnetic north or true north. By itself, Compass is not that useful an application, but it gives Maps the much needed ability to show which way you are facing—no more guessing which way to turn because you don’t know which way you are going.
The new iPhone 3G S includes built-in support for Nike+ iPod (a compatible Nike shoe and Nike+ iPod sensor are required).
Purchase and rental of movies from iTunes
The iPhone allows the purchase and rental of movies, TV shows, music videos, and audiobooks directly from the iPhone version of iTunes. Users can also create a new iTunes account directly from their iPhone.
Parents can limit the purchase of iPhone App Store software by content rating in addition to ratings limitations on movies and TV shows.
Mobile Me features
Apple’s $99 per-year Mobile Me just got more useful for iPhone users with the addition of several iPhone-specific features. “Find my Phone” allows Mobile Me users to pinpoint the location of an iPhone on a map.
The most important (and overlooked) addition is the extension of iDisk support to the iPhone. Apple will supply a free iDisk application in the App store (no timeframe given). Mobile Me iPhone users can browse and share content from their iDisk all from their iPhone.
Still room for improvement
There are some other minor enhancements to the new OS, but the preceding list is indeed impressive. However, there were some interesting omissions from the upcoming release.
A better SpringBoard
The iPhone desperately needs a better way to organize its applications. As it is now, SpringBoard allows for up to 11 Home screen pages, which can store icons for nearly 160 apps. However, it can be very difficult to find the app you’re looking for, and equally difficult to organize the app icons in a way that makes sense to you. Spotlight will make it a little easier to find an application, but it’s not the best solution available.
The new features found in 3.0 OS and the new developer APIs available with it will lead to more compelling apps, and the number available on the App Store will continue to grow. Users will likely fill up those 11 pages quickly, and become frustrated with thumbing through Home screen pages, looking for that hot new app they installed. Apple needs to rethink the basic organizational structure of the iPhone.
Mail, Finder, to-do’s
The most surprising omission is the lack of improvements to Mail. It still has no unified inbox, no spam filter support, no improved mass-handling of messages, no additional options for replying, no message flags, no ability to create mail subfolders on the iPhone—the list of missing features goes on and on. Given that Mail is one of the most used apps on the iPhone, Apple’s neglect is puzzling.
Apple provides no way for users to directly access the files on their iPhone. This is in line with Apple’s current philosophy to have applications, not users, manage files. Just as users of Mac applications like iPhoto and iTunes never have to worry about file management directly, neither do users of the new iPhone application Voice Memo. Clearly, Apple’s goal is that the iPhone will never need a Finder-like application.
Finally, although you can now sync notes (via iTunes), you still can’t sync to-do’s. And Call Logs, a feature important to business users, seems to be missing in action.
Java and Flash
Apple still wants no part of Java or Flash on the iPhone. When asked about Flash on the iPhone at this spring’s preview release, Phil Schiller simply said “No comment.” John Gruber (daringfireball.net/2008/02/flash_iphone_calculus) succinctly summarized the reason behind Apple’s reluctance to see Flash come to the iPhone: Apple doesn’t control Flash, Adobe does. A similar argument applies to Java. Apple does not want any other runtime on the iPhone, especially ones as resource-intensive as Flash and Java.
Hits and misses (and AT&T)
Previous to the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple did little to physically differentiate its iPhone lineup other than case color and the amount of memory. In addition, all software works on both models, albeit download speeds were faster on the iPhone 3G. This has changed with the introduction of the iPhone 3G S; some features of the new iPhone OS 3.0 are only supported on the new hardware, including:
- Support for Voice Control
- Support for new features in Camera
- Support for video capture
- Hardware encryption of all internal data
- Support for faster 7.2 Mbps HSDPA 3G data service
- Electronic compass support
- Accessibility features
This was inevitable. Apple gets high marks for adding so many new features to old hardware, but Apple can’t add OS features to older iPhones that don’t have the necessary hardware.
The weakest link in Apple’s expanding iPhone universe seems to be its dependence in the U.S. on AT&T. The realization that AT&T does not (yet) support tethering or MMS brought boos from the WWDC crowd. Ironically, this may give Apple leverage with AT&T in future negotiations over carrier exclusivity.
Early indications are that Apple has taken significant steps to make this summer’s rollout far smoother than last year’s near disaster. The June 1st release of iTunes 8.2 (required for iPhone OS 3.0) points to a staggered release of software and hardware this summer. This will minimize the chances of problems on the scale seen last summer.
With 100 new features, 1,000 new APIs, new hardware, and a revamped App store, a smooth rollout is still a challenge, but it’s one Apple seems prepared to meet.