March 18, 2009, 5:00 PM — If it's March, it must be time for Apple Inc. to start beating the iPhone drum.
That's the quick analysis of yesterday's preview of the next generation of its iPhone software, which will add a slew of features, some that users have been yelping about since Day 1, to the popular smartphone and its iPod Touch cousin.
Last year, Apple introduced iPhone 2.0 at a March 17, 2008 event, then followed that several months later with the iPhone 3G and the money-making App Store. That's what everyone's expecting this time around, too: Get the software in developers' hands now, then deliver new hardware this summer.
iPhone 3.0 has too much to offer to cover in just one FAQ; this story will play out for months, just like last year's iPhone 2.0. But we wanted answers to a few questions right away. So here goes:
When do I get iPhone 3.0? On Tuesday, Apple got no more specific than "this summer" for the public release of the upgrade, although developers in the iPhone program were able to download a beta yesterday, as well as the supporting SDK (software developers kit).
Last year, when CEO Steve Jobs -- who didn't attend Tuesday's preview, as he's still on medical leave -- announced iPhone 2.0, he said it would launch in "late June." In reality, Apple launched the upgrade, as well as the new iPhone 3G hardware, on July 11.
We're betting on a similar timetable for iPhone 3.0. Most analysts, for example, peg the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which will probably take place in early June, as the platform for Apple's inevitable-at-this-point introduction of one or more new iPhone models, with availability some weeks after that.
How much will the upgrade cost me? iPhone owners, including those holding first-generation iPhones, will be able to upgrade to 3.0 free of charge, said Apple. People with an iPod Touch -- first or second generation -- will have to fork over $9.95 for the update, however. The latter is in line with past Apple practice, and stems from the company's approach to accounting, which distributes iPhone revenue over the 24-month life of a network contract, but drops all iPod Touch sales directly into the bottom line.
Speaking of the iPod Touch, Apple for the first time gave out a number for the iPod Touch's installed base: 13 million. That's less than the 17 million iPhones Apple has sold, but still impressive -- and a nice arguing point for those, including Jobs, who have pitched the Touch as Apple's answer to Windows-based netbooks.
Okay, now that I know when and how much, what's in iPhone 3.0? A lot, according to Apple and analysts. "This is clearly a significant development in the iPhone," said Mike McGuire, a Gartner Inc. analyst, in an interview Tuesday after Apple's preview.
Apple said iPhone 3.0 will include more than 100 end-user additions and enhancements, but it spelled out just a fraction of that number yesterday during the 90-minute event. It also claimed that iPhone 3.0 boasts over 1,000 new APIs (application programming interfaces) for developers, who can use them to create new types of third-party applications, add functionality to existing apps or communicate with iPhone and iPod Touch hardware accessories.
What's the biggest new feature? Your mileage may vary, of course, but the early consensus seems to be that the addition -- finally -- of copy and paste is the biggest deal for users.
"Frankly, I wasn't sure we would ever see cut and paste," said McGuire, who like his colleague Van Baker tagged it as the top addition.
With iPhone 3.0, you'll be able to cut or copy text from one application on the device, then paste it elsewhere in that app, or into another. To select a block of text, you double-tap, then slide a finger across the desired text; a bubble boasting Cut, Copy and Paste options appears above the selected text. To paste, double-tap at the insertion point and pick Paste.
You can also copy and paste photos, as well as select multiple photos -- also a first on the iPhone -- to paste into an e-mail message.
Very nice. What else? Also tops on most lists is the new Apple app-wide search, dubbed "Spotlight" to match the integrated search within Mac OS X, that will let you search through Mail, Calendar, Notes and iPod on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Previously, the only available search was in Contacts.
If you're rooting through your inbox and a search doesn't find what you're looking for locally, the app will ping the IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) server and look for it there.
However, the tool cannot search through e-mail message content, as can Spotlight on a Mac (or Windows' built-in search tool on that platform).
Will iPhone 3.0 let me run more than one application at a time? I want to keep my IM open and still do other stuff, for cryin' out loud. Sorry, you're out of luck.
But Apple has finally added push notification to the iPhone. "You know, we're late on this one," said Forstall, tacitly admitting that Apple punted on the feature last fall.
Push, which mimics background processing, has the iPhone pinging Apple's servers to see if there are, for example, new messages waiting for your instant message client. Push consumes some of your precious battery power, but much less dramatically than true multiple application processing, claimed Forstall.
I'm greedy. Give me more of the good stuff? You got it.
* Apple's added landscape mode to key iPhone apps, including Mail, Notes and SMS.
* You can now sync Notes via iTunes to a Mac or Windows PC, though Apple didn't provide any details on how that will work, and what it will exactly sync with on the desktop end.
* MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), the standard that lets most other cell and smartphone owners send and receive photos, contacts and other information phone-to-phone, is coming to the iPhone 3G, but not the older first-gen model, in 3.0. No word, naturally, on what extra charges carriers will ding you to do that, however.
* True turn-by-turn navigation will be possible with iPhone 3.0, Apple said yesterday. Using CoreLocation technology -- the technology that debuted in January 2008 as part of a firmware update -- third-party developers will be able to craft software that provides turn-by-turn directions. Those developers will have to license their own maps, however, as those in Google Maps are out of bounds.
* A new Bluetooth-based peer-to-peer connectivity will let applications "discover" other nearby iPhones and iPod Touches running the same app, then create an ad-hoc network and connect everyone. Game makers will jump on this, said Garter analyst Van Baker.
Any game changers in iPhone 3.0? The one addition consistently cited by analysts is the new "In App Purchase" feature, which iPhone 3.0 supports via a variety of APIs and backend restructuring of the App Store.
As Apple explained it, the new feature lets developers charge users for after-market purchases, such as subscriptions to content, additional content or enhanced functionality. Developers, said Forstall, have been crying for the ability to ditch the single-purchase model of Apple's App Store. Obviously, it also gives them a way to get more money out of you and me.
"This will be hugely important to game makers," said Baker. "And if Amazon doesn't build a Kindle store into their iPhone Reader, I'll be very surprised."
Expect content providers, including newspapers and magazines -- both struggling with not only the recession but also the decline of print -- to take to the iPhone now that subscriptions are possible, said Gartner's McGuire. "That's today's big takeaway," he said Tuesday.
In App Purchase will also add significant revenues to Apple, which takes a 30% cut of all App Store revenue, said Baker. "This is going to drive the amount of revenue in the App Store, because the apps will get more expensive as they get more robust," he said.
Hold on a moment ... apps will cost more after iPhone 3.0's out? That's Baker's view. "Most apps are in that 99 cents to $1.99 range, but with In App, I can see apps going for $10, $15, even $20," he said.
I have one of the first-generation iPhones. Do I get everything in iPhone 3.0 Nope.
According to Apple, the older hardware doesn't support MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) and stereo Bluetooth A2DP. There may be other features in the upgrade that won't work on the original iPhone, but Apple's only mentioned those two omissions.
What didn't make it into iPhone 3.0? Every iPhone owner has a wish list of the things the gizmo can't do, and although Apple crossed off some items on those lists, it left others untouched.
Background processing -- a feature that would allow multiple applications to run simultaneously, as they commonly do on a computer -- didn't make the cut. Long requested, background processing makes unreasonably greedy demands on the battery, said Apple yesterday. According to its tests, running multiple apps at the same time -- to, for instance, keep an instant messaging client always active -- would decrease the phone's standby time by 80%, a huge hit.
Instead, Apple decided to finally implement the push notification system that it had in a developer build of the iPhone software last fall, but then pulled before releasing it to the public. Push, said Apple, only decreases standby time by about 20%. "I think they have a reasonable argument here," said Gartner's McGuire.
Another feature that many want is "tethering," which turns the iPhone into a portable hot spot, letting you reach the Web from a laptop via the iPhone's data connection.
Tethering rumors have regularly surfaced. Last November, for example, AT&T Mobility's CEO Ralph De La Vega said his company would have a tethering solution "soon" for iPhone users.
During a Q&A with the press yesterday, Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software, noted that tethering is built into iPhone 3.0, but said users will have to wait for the mobile carriers to implement the feature on their end.
Also a no show: Video capture, which several analysts had predicted would debut. Looks like stills are still all you get.