Major iPhone OS upgrade coming this summer

March 17, 2009, 7:44 PM UTC

Apple (AAPL) unveiled a slew of new features — more than 100 in all — in the third major revision of the iPhone’s basic operating system. Among the enhancements demonstrated at a special media event at the company’s Cupertino headquarters on Tuesday were many of the functions users had been clamoring for — in some cases for nearly two years. Among the highlights:

  • Cut, copy and paste across applications
  • So-called “push notification” — for example, of breaking news or sports results
  • Multimedia messaging service (MMS) for sending pictures or voice memos in instant messages
  • Landscape viewing when the iPhone is turned sideways in the major applications, including Mail
  • The ability to search Mail, Calendar and other Apple applications for key words
  • Improved calendar functions
  • Stereo Bluetooth for wireless earphones

And much more. At the end of the 90 minute presentation, senior vice president Scott Forstall (who stood in for the ailing Steve Jobs) was rattling off features faster than reporters could type: Notes Sync, audio/video tags, live streaming, shake to shuffle, Wi-Fi auto login, Stereo Bluetooth, LDAP, iTunes account creation, YouTube ratings, anti-phishing, call log, parental controls, media ccrubber, OTA profiles, VPN on demand, languages, YouTube subscriptions, YouTube accounts, encrypted profiles, auto-fills…

“Many minor features add up to a major change,” was Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster’s take-away message.

Apple also announced a raft of improvements — including more than 1,000 new APIs (application programming interfaces) — in the so-called SDK (software development kit) that programmers use to create applications for the iPhone and the iPod touch. Chief among them:

  • Peer to peer connectivity (through Bluetooth) to allow multiplayer games with people in close proximity
  • Support for turn-by-turn navigation and other sophisticated map applications
  • A subscription model that allows micropayments by the item ($9.95 for an electronic book, say, or a more $0.99 for a more powerful weapon in a shooting game)
  • The ability to interact with hardware accessories such as speakers or glucose monitoring kits

A beta (preliminary) version of new SDK is available to developers for free download today.

iPhone 3.0 with all the added end-user features won’t be available until sometime this summer. It will be free to owners of existing iPhones and will cost $9.95 for the iPod touch. Some of the new functions — for example stereo Bluetooth and MMS — won’t work on the first generation phones.

Apple also announced some App Store milestones:

  • 25,000 apps available for download (the actual figure is now more than 28,000)
  • 800 million apps downloaded
  • 17 million iPhones sold through Dec. 2008
  • 13 million iPod touches (for a total installed base of more than 30 million App Store-ready devices)
  • 800,000 downloads of the original SDK
  • 50,000 developers — 62% of them new to Apple
  • 96% of apps submitted in February were approved — 98% within seven days — but still not fast enough to satisfy some developers

One user request that wasn’t addressed was support for Adobe Flash, the widely used standard for online video and other multimedia files. Asked in a Q&A what Apple planned to do about Flash, Forstall ducked the question. “We have no announcements on that topic today,” he said, suggesting that there were other ways to send video to mobile devices.

See Jon Fortt’s Big Tech here for a live blog of the event. Apple’s press release is available here.

Apple closed Tuesday $99.66, up 4.4% for the day. The stock has gained $16.55 a share in just over two weeks.

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