Saturday, March 21, 2009

Apple raises the competition bar with iPhone OS 3.0 (part. 2)

On the previous post, I was talking about the new features in iPhone OS 3.0 that are more user-oriented, but the real deal of the software update coming in summer this year is the nearly over 1,000 new APIs (Application Programming Interface) in the SDK (Software Developer Kit) 2.0 which is prepared by Apple for software developers to play with.

But why is the new SDK 2.0 for iPhone OS 3.0 is so important? Well, I don’t know if Apple or Steve Jobs have actually foreseen this themselves; but the centralized and managed distribution to offer apps for iPhone/iPod Touch which known as App Store is phenomenal. The facts speak for themselves.

At the iPhone OS 3.0 preview, Apple's VP of iPod marketing Greg Joswiak started the event with the announcement of the official figures: 13.7 million iPhones sold through 2008, 17 million iPhones (including the first gen) in total and 800,000 downloads of the iPhone SDK so far. And let’s not forget there are over 800 million iPhone apps downloaded from App Store, and the number is growing bigger every day thanks to both free and cheap priced apps.

The bottom line; App Store is pushing the sales of iPhone and iPod Touch worldwide, the same effect like what iTunes has done for iPod sales.

Surely, Apple and third party software developers are enjoying the benefits from App Store. But iPhone users are also reaping the fruits of well breed and feature rich apps offered at App Store, as a matter of fact one of the main reasons for most users to buy the iPhone is because of this.

So far those behemoth numbers above are achieved with first gen iPhone SDK, can you begin to imagine what kind of apps to be made from the new SDK 2.0 with over 1,000 new APIs in it? Apple invited some software developers and partners at the iPhone OS 3.0 preview, and they all were showing the possibilities of what their apps can do with the new software update. And that’s just an advanced preview, only the beginning of what’s more to come.

I can’t possibly mention every one of the 1,000 new APIs, and discuss them one by one. So I’m going to just quickly take on few of the most important ones, let’s get to know them shall we?

Push Notification

Push not previewPush Notification is the long promised feature in iPhone OS 2.0, and also it is Apple’s answer to requests for multitasking or background process. During the preview, Apple said Push Notification only eats 23% of iPhone’s battery life, compared to the 80% drop in other mobile platforms (like IM app running in the background on Windows Mobile). In other words; Apple believes Push Notification is the future of multitasking.

If users run an app with Push Notification support, the app maintains connectivity via Apple’s server. When users exit the app, the server pings the iPhone with notifications so the OS can display them to the users. The notifications are called badges and there will be three types: badges overlay an app icon on iPhone home screen (like the red unread message count icon over Mail app), sound alerts, text alerts that visually appear like text message alert.

The actual app never run during the entire process, and will only launched when the users choose to reach the notification, like for an example when the user is replying text message from a notification of an IM app.

In-App Purchase

In-app purchaseApple is planning to make the App Store less crowded and messy with this new system called In-App Purchase, which lets software developers to write an app with extra contents that can be purchased from within the app itself. For an instance; users can buy new e-books from an e-reader app, or new levels when finished playing Guitar Hero, or like the demoed The Sims 3 which lets users buy items for their virtual character using an in-game store interface.

Apple will use the same revenue sharing in App Store for this new system: 30% for Apple and 70% for the developer. Sounds promising but on the down side; cunning, nay let’s just say clever software developers can use the new In-App Purchase for their own greed and get more out of the 99 cents limit sales price from users who bought their apps.

But on the bright side, Apple make a rule that free apps can’t use the In-App Purchase, so if it’s for free then everything inside is all free too.

P2P connection

Lifesaver accessoryPeer-to-peer (P2P) in OS 3.0 is a new system built on Apple’s Bonjour technology which lets iPhone communicate with other iPhones or iPod Touch in the surrounding area. The iPhone will use Bluetooth, not WiFi to make the P2P connection, so long distance is limited.

A Johnson and Johnson company LifeScan showed off a blood sugar app that uses the iPhone to process user's blood glucose level and keep track of it both on the device, and by sending the data to LifeScan's servers. The P2P is intentionally put in the iPhone OS 3.0 for gaming purpose, but Apple said it can be used for business like sharing confidential files or share data across multiple platforms.

Direct accessory access

What LifeScan demoed also shows Apple’s new policy in the SDK 2.0 that let software developers access third party hardware attached to the iPhone. A special app can be written to work only with a specific hardware accessory, a tailor made app for accessory makers.

For examples are like LifeScan’s device mentioned above to process blood, and a speaker manufacturer for the iPhone can write an app to include equalizer or any other specialized features that particular speaker only have.

Turn-by-turn directions / advanced GPS

Advance gpsApple is going to change the entire Maps app to become API-driven, accessible by software developers to use it in their own apps. Since the Core Location is to include turn-by-turn directions and can be build into other apps, iPhone OS 3.0 will make the powered iPhone as an advance GPS device.

However, Apple warned software developers to "bring [their] own maps" in turn-by-turn navigational applications because of licensing reasons.

iPhone OS 3.0: developers friendly & more satisfied users

All in all, the iPhone OS 3.0 is filling in all the blanks left in previous software. Current users are somewhat dissatisfied with iPhone limitations, not just users but also software developers who felt restraint with many iPhone SDK restrictions, so Apple is trying to address all that with the new SDK 2.0 along with the new software update.

I’m not trying to promote iPhone or Apple in any way, but it’s so hard not to see how far the iPhone has gone or let’s say will be with the upcoming iPhone OS 3.0 in summer this year. In a very short time frame, roughly since eight months after App Store introduced, iPhone has beaten the longer existed other mobile platforms in the industry: Palm OS, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry & Symbian OS. And instead of sit back and enjoying the fruits of their hard works, like those other mobile platform makers did in the past, Apple is raising the competition bar with the new iPhone OS 3.0 not long after the OS 2.x versions were released months ago.

By creating the platform and ecosystem that are both friendly for software developers, encouraging them to create high quality apps and accessories for the iPhone, these all will mean more satisfied iPhone users in the future. Palm know this, there were many apps and accessories made for Palm PDAs & smartphones, propelling the success of the old (and now abandoned) Palm OS. Can Palm repeat the success again with its upcoming webOS™ and the PrÄ“™? They better be…

I’ll be talking about the new iPhone OS 3.0 impact on other mobile platforms in the next post, so stay tune! ;-)

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