With iPhone OS 3.0, Apple opens creativity coffers

Developers get 1,000 APIs, users get new features and apps

In the wake of Apple Inc.'s preview of iPhone 3.0 software Tuesday, one thing's clear: The level of creativity coming from iPhone developers is amazing.

Whether they're veteran code-pushers or new dabblers, the relative simplicity of the platform and access to tools -- along with new hooks such as location tagging -- are giving us some kick-ass, diverse stuff. Ocarina, SSH tools, GPark, Trism and countless other apps have already rotated through my first-generation 4MB iPhone. With some 50,000 companies and individuals registered now in the iPhone Developer Program -- and over 25,000 choices in the App Store -- I may need to dig out some cash to buy a model with room to grow -- especially once all the new apps envisioned Tuesday hit the market this summer.

And still, there's so much more that can be done.

Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software, talked up what's new for developers at Tuesday's event in San Francisco: 1,000 new APIs. Even as a consumer, I can see it's the developers that really make this more than a phone, though I wonder whether all those new APIs might make developing for the iPhone -- and the iPod Touch -- more complicated, no matter how great the tools are.

Apple's decision to give developers the option of selling through subscriptions, offering not only the app but new content or new game levels within the app, opens up countless new business models -- and new ways into my wallet. A newspaper might actually be able to make money offering an app that serves as a gateway to iPhone-optimized content delivered fresh. Urban guides could sell per-city content.

Peer-to-peer sharing is on the way, too. Remember being able to "zap" business card info across early PDAs? This looks like it could do it, but I'm not sure why it's done via Bluetooth; the Nintendo DS can play peer-to-peer over WiFi. I can see a lot of iPhone gamers connecting randomly on Bay Area public transport for a quick game.

Being able to control and send data to accessories is another big step forward. Forstall mentioned medical devices that send data straight to doctors, something that could facilitate the digitization of medical records. Or it could put an iPhone in the hands of warehouse, medical, retail and other workers who now use bulkier and heavier tablet PCs. Push notification has been a sticky point for the iPhone. Corporate types can't be bothered to check e-mail on a regular basis, so companies like the push model. But Apple didn't want to deal with an 80% loss in standby time, so it waited until it could solve the problem elegantly. If Apple's push plans live up to the promise held out Tuesday, another enterprise reservation about the iPhone is gone. There's still the issue of Apple not allowing apps to run in the background -- Public Radio won't continue streaming audio if you go to check your mail. Yes, it can be a battery drain, but some apps have a reasonable need to process data in the background.

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Dan Turner

Computerworld
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