Instant analysis: With iPhone OS 3.0, Apple opens the creativity coffers

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

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Push notification has been a sticking 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 today, 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.

Today's news wasn't all about the developers. We're finally getting cut and paste. It's one of the things a lot of people have wanted most. It's a difficult user-interface problem to solve; tapping, dragging and other gestures already do something in most iPhone apps. The planned double-tap to bring up copy-and-paste tools might work, though I can see some problems in real-life use. You can't customize how quick or long a pause defines a double tap, so a lot of people may need to boost their finger dexterity.

Given that it will work across all apps and is built into the API set, we'll manage.

Also finally coming are MMS messaging, Exchange support in the iPhone's Calendar app, voice memos, CalDAV support and Spotlight search. We'll have to see how well Spotlight adapts to the iPhone's user interface and its memory/processor limitations; it already has enough UI trouble in the regular Mac OS X. But searching across your iPod content will be cool, even if you still can't ask it, "You know that song that goes like this?"

For the developers, 1,000 APIs. For users, 100 new features and countless new apps to come. Apple isn't just answering the desires of developers, though this update will do that in a lot of ways. It also shows that Apple has found the sweet spot of making its success dovetail with developers' success. Apple takes 30% from each App Store sale, so its own best interest is in opening up the creativity of the group mind. Everybody gets something cool, everybody profits.

What an insanely great idea.

Dan Turner has been writing about science and technology for over a decade at publications including Salon, eWeek, MacWeek and The New York Times.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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