Opinion: The 5 best things about iPhone OS 3.0

iPhone users finally get copy/paste, Spotlighting searches and push

Apple Inc. today pushed out the much-anticipated iPhone OS 3.0 update that company execs touted at last week's Worldwide Developers Conference. After spending some time with iPhone 3.0 on both an original Edge-based iPhone and last year's 3G model, I can tell you the update makes even older phones more responsive and offers a number of improvements -- some of them long overdue. Aside from the new features I highlight below, iPhone owners who download the update through iTunes will notice that, overall, the user interface is smoother. Animations don't stutter as they did before and data loads more quickly.

After using the iPhone OS 3.0 for a week or so, I can say I'm impressed with the polish of the software. And I've come away with my list of the five best things in the new OS that I think are worth highlighting.

1. System-wide Copy/Cut/Paste -- Last week, a friend and I decided to go canoeing at a state park. Since we both had our iPhones, we never worried about finding the actual directions to the park until after we left the house. While my friend drove, I used the iPhone to visit the park's Web site to find the address. With a double-tap, I was able to select the address, copy it and then launch the Maps app, which accepted the paste and quickly found the address. Starting with iPhone 3.0, iPhone users will be able to Cut/Copy/Paste text and images from one application to another, and since this is a system-wide feature, developers can take advantage of this in their apps, if this feature is not already supported. It's been a long-time coming.

2. Push Notifications -- Ever since the iPhone was released, people have longed for the ability to run more than one application at a time. The iPhone itself is fully capable of doing so; for example, the iPod app still plays music even if you're not using the music playing software. The music plays while you are browsing the Web or using Maps. So, if the iPhone is capable of running more than one app at once, why has Apple not allowed third-party developers equal access? Other programs could certainly benefit from this feature: weather applications could alert you to severe weather advisories and you'd never miss a message in chat programs. While Apple isn't yet allowing for background processes to run just yet, it has implemented Push Notifications, which allow third-party developers the ability to add SMS-style alerts, sounds and icon badge alerts to their applications. So, while the AIM app may not run in the background as an active process, you'll now be able to receive alerts about your messages.

But Push Notifications isn't really the same as multiple apps running at once. You still can't listen to an internet audio service such as Pandora on the iPhone while doing something else. In that sense, Push Notifications are more like a workaround until Apple sorts out the engineering necessary to allow background processes to run on the iPhone without compromising system speed and battery life. Still, this is an important first step -- and a power-saving alternative -- to having actual background processes. But it's a significant step forward, and AIM will now find its way onto my Home Page screen; using it now in concert with Push Notifications will mean a smaller text messaging bill for the overzealous texters on my Family Plan.

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