Apple Unveils Key iPhone Upgrade
CUPERTINO, Calif The wait is almost over. Apple CEO Steve Jobs previewed a new version of the iPhone operating system, iPhone OS 4, that also will run on the iPod Touch and iPad. Availability for the iPhone and iPod Touch is slated for this summer, while the OS update for the Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) new iPad is scheduled for this fall.
One key enhancement for IT is the ability to upload and update apps directly from corporate systems rather than having to through iTunes.
"This is a big deal because it means IT doesn't have to side-load devices through a PC," analyst Jack Gold said in an e-mail.
The biggest new feature development is that the iPhone will soon support multitasking, something that competing phone operating systems -- including Googles Android OS -- already offer.
The current iPhone operating system already supports multitasking but only for Apple software; OS 4 will extend multitasking to third party applications.
Apple also announced an advertising platform called iAd that will allow third party developers to include interactive and video advertisements within their apps. Apple will host and serve the ads and keep 40 percent of the revenue.
Jobs shared the stage here at Apple headquarters with Pandora CEO Tim Westergard so that he could show how multitasking will make it possible to listen to Pandora radio while checking e-mail, looking at Web sites or using the device for other purposes. It will also be possible to run GPS navigation in the background and use voice over IP (VoIP) applications, such as Skype, to receive calls while using the device for other purposes.
The new OS also lets users click on attachments associated with apps and have the app launch automatically.
Apple is also adding background notification for third parties so that they can push notices to users in the background.
Another important multitasking feature is task completion. Some apps, such as Flickr, take a long time to complete tasks such as uploading photos. With OS 4 apps will be able to complete their tasks even if users switch away from the application.
There are some other improvements to the OS besides multitasking. Folders, for example, will allow users to nest applications into folders to make it easier to find and run apps, especially for people who download a lot of applications. To create a folder, you simply drag one apps icon over anothers. The OS creates the folder and automatically names it, though you have the option of changing the name.
Apple beefed up its mail application with support for multiple e-mail accounts in one inbox giving users the ability to have multiple inboxes to switch between. It will also be possible to organize mail by thread or conversation as Gmail does by default.
Apple is also adding support for Microsoft Exchange 2010.
The iAd Platform: More Money for Mobile App Devs
Jobs spent a lot of time talking about the new iAd advertising platform. He said that on phones people spend a lot more time using apps than using search and said he sees apps as a more robust advertising platform than search. The average iPhone user, said Jobs, spends about a half an hour a day using apps.
By adding this platform, Jobs sees a big opportunity for developers to make money even with free apps. And this could, of course, benefit consumers if it encourages developers to create more free or low-cost, ad-supported apps.
The iAd platform, said Jobs, is designed to create advertising that's immersive but not intrusive. He said that today most apps that do have ads actually stop running if the user clicks on the ad which is one reason users are reluctant to click. With the new platform, a user can experience the ad and quickly go back to using the app.
Jobs showed off an advertisement that Apple developed for Disneys "Toy Story." He emphasized that this was an Apple demonstration, not an official Disney ad (Jobs on the board of Disney and its largest single stockholder).
The ad allowed users to watch video, play "Toy Story" games and even order merchandise without having to leave the app that the advertisement was associated with. Jobs said that there are now 185,000 apps for the iPhone and that this is the first time in history that there have been so many applications for a device.
The multitasking feature will work on the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, relatively new iPod Touches and, of course, the iPad. Jobs said that the older devices simply dont have the hardware compatibility for multitasking.
The iPhone is also getting a game center with interactive games between users. Users will be able to challenge friends to a game or Apple will match users with others like similar skills. There will be lot of feedback including a leader board to see how youre doing compared to others.
Larry Magid is a Silicon Valley-based journalist and technology analyst for CBS News.