What iPhone OS 3.0 promises users and developers

Last year, Apple set itself apart from the mobile computing world with the release of the iPhone OS 2.0. This year, Apple won't make quite such a leap forward, but neither will it lose any ground to increased competition.

Last year, Apple set itself apart from the mobile computing world with the release of the iPhone OS 2.0. This year, Apple won't make quite such a leap forward, but neither will it lose any ground to increased competition.

When it arrives this summer, Apple's third generation of the iPhone operating system will correct some of the most glaring omissions to date. These include the lack of background processing, any kind of system-wide search, and yes, copy and paste. In case you missed the live blog, check out some of the highlights of Apple's presentation Tuesday.

There were two audiences for the iPhone 3.0 preview presentation: developers and iPhone users. Users were more interested in the features, while developers were anxious to learn about the new software development kit.

Let's examine the users first: Apple's competitors will be quick to point out (Microsoft was particularly eager to comment Monday and Tuesday) that the most prominent features introduced with iPhone 3.0 are features that are found on many other smartphones.

It's a reminder that while most everyone in the mobile industry would give Apple credit for igniting a smartphone revolution with the original iPhone, Apple can't leave anything to the competition if it wants to keep the growth of its most profitable product on track. With iPhone 3.0, Apple is showing that, just like last year, it listens to complaints about the iPhone's capabilities and works to overcome those objections.

For the most part, however, iPhone users seem satisfied with their devices without those features. Key additions such as copy and paste, a landscape keyboard, real search capabilities, and MMS (multimedia messaging system) will make the iPhone even easier to use.

Developers are the ones who will probably be most excited about the new iPhone OS. The ability to use background notifications, for example, will make for much more compelling iPhone and iPod Touch applications, as was immediately apparent from some of the demonstrations Tuesday.

In addition, developers will have 1,000 new APIs (application programming interfaces) to play with that will unlock parts of the iPhone previously off limits or unavailable to third-party applications. Apple didn't get into all of them, but talked about how developers can now stream audio and video, send e-mail from inside applications, and use the iPhone's proximity sensor, which means Google will once again be in compliance with the iPhone SDK.

This is the kind of development that users won't immediately grasp until someone develops a game or other kind of application that does exactly what they've always wanted a mobile computer to do. An important consideration when evaluating these developments, however, will be whether or not Apple's push notification service works as advertised in the real world: the company admitted its first attempt at building such a service would have failed under the load generated by millions of iPhones, and Apple's single-point-of-failure architecture for this service opens it up to potential outages that Research in Motion's BlackBerry customers occasionally face.

Lost in all the discussion about the features themselves, however, were some of the steps Apple is taking to help developers work with the iPhone. For example, with the release of the new SDK (a beta version is available today, but developers flooded Apple's website Tuesday) Apple will host discussion boards for developers to exchange tips and get help with their work, six months after threatening them with legal ramifications for merely talking about their applications.

Apple also seemed sensitive to all the complaints over the "black box" approval process that many developers have found in trying to get their applications onto the App Store. Around 96 percent of all applications are approved, and around 98 percent of application submissions are approved within seven days, Apple said. Those may be recent numbers as opposed to a picture encompassing the whole year of iPhone development, but after months of silence on the topic, Apple's willingness to acknowledge those issues show it's aware how important that part of the iPhone development experience is to those trying to build businesses around the iPhone.

It's interesting to note that Apple is taking somewhat similar approaches in 2009 to both Mac and iPhone operating system development.

Just like Mac OS X Snow Leopard, which is expected to focus on stability and performance rather than the addition of new features, iPhone OS 3.0 is more about giving developers a more capable platform on which to base their applications rather than any single killer feature. And that's despite the fact that competitors plan to have major releases (Microsoft's Windows 7 and Palm's WebOS, for example) that could change the playing field.

Apple gave itself a lot of wiggle room in promising to ship iPhone 3.0 "this summer," which technically gives it until September 21st. With competitors fighting back, Apple needs to make sure it ships iPhone 3.0 on time and without incident to keep iPhone growth on track.

A new iPhone with souped-up hardware probably wouldn't hurt.

-- Posted by Tom Krazit