iPhone OS 3.0: Top 10 user-centric features

  • Chicago (IL) - When Apple previewed their newest iPhone OS 3.0 the other day, we were given a glimpse of what's to come. All existing iPhone devices will be capable of receiving a free 3.0 firmware update when it's released early summer but iPod touch owners will have to fork $9.95, like before with the 2.0 firmware. Apple's iPhone software chief, Scot Forstall, was able to demo some of the hundred-plus new features of the iPhone OS 3.0 -- many of which address ongoing complaints from both iPhone fans (and haters alike). In this article we look at our favorite top ten.

    For additional information, see our previous articles: The complete record of our live coverage of Apple's announcement, iPhone OS 3.0: A thousand new APIs for developers, and my opinion piece on Apple showing us just how big the iPhone is.

    10. Lack of Adobe Flash

    Safari's non-existent support for Adobe Flash is painful. While it's the subject of many public debates between Apple and Adobe executives, who both have their reasons for blaming each other, we are totally with Apple on this one. While Flash would enable users to see the whole web (and not just parts of it), most iPhone users are better off without it. Simply put, Flash is still too resource-hungry to be enabled on the iPhone where there are already tons of things compete its CPU time and battery juice.

    While the lack of Flash is an inconvenience, when faced with the choice of Flash support that greatly reduces battery life, or no Flash with somewhat acceptable battery life, TG Daily would always opt for the latter. Hence, we list the lack of Flash as a feature (rather than drawback). As such, it finds its place at slot #10.

    9. Stocks:  Detailed view of a depressed economy

    Apple tweaked its Stocks widget with landscape support and news headlines in addition to more comprehensive information about each company's market capitalization, P/E and other bits of data that any spreadsheet-lover would like.

    8. Pleasant surprises:  Stereo Bluetooth, YouTube, shake shuffle, anti-phishing, etc.

    The new OS packs more refinements and under-the-hood tweaks than apparent at first sight. While we await the new software's arrival to test it all out, Apple has claimed over hundred new end-user features in 3.0.

    We were pleasantly surprised by several minor, yet important enhancements that got little air time in Apple's presentation. These include, Bluetooth stereo support (A2DP profile) -- meaning you will finally be able to connect stereo Bluetooth headsets from third-party manufacturers and not just Apple's own mono, pricey Bluetooth headset (this feature won't work on first-gen iPhones).

    In addition, the localization features are greatly enhanced with more language support and improved localized keyboards for special characters.

    The YouTube app now supports YouTube accounts so you can share favorites with others.

    Your iPhone will be finally able to re-login to a password-protected Wi-Fi networks. Currently, the device doesn't automatically sign out of the Wi-Fi network when it looses the signal and instead just waits to get the signal again -- a huge inconvenience if you're often moving between protected Wi-Fi networks.

    Extended parental controls allow parents to further fine-tune how minors use their iPhone, while the Safari anti-phishing mechanism keeps users away from duped sites. Safari will also get an auto-fill feature so you won't have to type in your details in forms over and over again on the somewhat clunky keyboard.

    Notes now finally syncs with Mac and PC desktops (via iTunes).

    And last but not the least, iPhone's iPod application gets a cool shake-to-shuffle feature borrowed from the latest iPod nano released last week.

    7. Mail:  Attach multiple images and landscape orientation

    Users are no longer constrained by one image attachment per message. To send multiple images, go to the album view, tap selection mode, and then select multiple photos by tapping each.

    The application now re-formats itself for landscape mode when you turn the handset upside down, another useful feature that will make reading longer messages easier on the eyes. Typing long emails is also easier thanks to on-screen virtual keyboard that now works also in landscape mode.

    6. Calendar:  Supports CalDav and .ics subscriptions

    The Calendar application is now enhanced with CalDAV standard used by online calendars from Google, Yahoo and server version of OS X. In addition, you can now subscribe to various online calendars (national holidays, movies, etc.) because the app now reads the .ics subscription format. TheCalDAV inclusion allows you to manage and edit online calendars from inside the Calendar application.

    These two enhancements come in addition to the syncing abilities already available via iTunes (for personal calendars) and Microsoft's ActiveSync (for corporate calendars).

    Read on the next page:  5, 4, 3, 2 and 1...

    5. Voice Memos

    Developers of voice recording apps will not like this one. 3.0 ships with a new application, called Voice Memos. It's designed to record voice notes with either the built-in microphone, or an external one for better fidelity. The application also lets you save and organize voice memos, and supports basic editing features to trim down recordings. Voice Notes also supports sending saved recordings as an MMS message or as email attachment.

    4. SMS now has MMS-support

    Despite the fact that MMS is on its deathbed thanks to carriers who overprice the service, this hasn't stopped iPhone haters from singling out MMS as the most laughable drawback of the handset -- though most complainers themselves have never sent a single MMS for the stated reason. Nevertheless, 3.0's SMS app now supports MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) allowing those who prefer paying more to send and receive images and audio files attached to MMS messages (rather than email). In addition, MMS supports maps locations and vCard-formatted contact cards that can be added directly to your contact list.

    Unfortunately, MMS support will not work on first-gen iPhones. In addition, the application now finally lets you forward messages and delete a single or multiple messages at once, similar to how Mail gained bulk delete feature recently.

    3. Landscape mode and keyboard

    3.0 brings a landscape virtual keyboard to several other applications by turning the handset upside down. This allows fat-fingered users more comfortable typing thanks to larger keys. In addition, supported applications reformat their user interface when you turn the handset upside down -- just like Safari and Calculator today.

    Apple confirmed (and demoed) the landscape keyboard and rotating UI in key applications, including Mail (great for widescreen attachments), Notes, Stocks, and SMS.

    2. Search:  Spotlight comes to the iPhone

    The search utility in OS X, called Spotlight, has come to 3.0. Apple added a search box to a number of key applications. In Calendar you can find calendar events more easily, and likewise in iPod for songs, and in Notes you can search title or body. In Mail it scans message headers and the subject. It is even clever enough to extend search queries to IMAP and Exchange mail servers, thereby conducting remote searches. But more importantly than that, Apple has integrated Spotlight search at a system level.

    A new home screen called Spotlight is positioned to the left of the original home screen. It shows a magnifying glass icon that allows you to initiate an iPhone-wide search. Just like in OS X Leopard, items pop up in the list as you start typing in the search box. Results are formatted according to an item type: Found contacts items are grouped together, songs are visually separated, as are installed application that fit each search term.

    Spotlight on the iPhone can now be used as a convenient application launcher as well. A demo revealed Spotlight understands music items, contacts, calendars, email messages, notes and applications. It's unclear, however, if the new iPhone SDK will allow developers to register new item types with the Spotlight search service, like in OS X Leopard, to allow their new files to be auto-launched as well.

    1. A clipboard:  Cut, copy and paste

    Users finally get what is arguably the most requested iPhone feature: A clipboard.

    Double-tap on text within an application to select it. A bubble appears hovering with cut, copy and paste options above the selection. There are also smaller bubbles on the selected item that you can extend or shrink the selected area. There's also a magnifier to position the text entry point.

    To paste copied text, simply tap to bring up the bubble, fine tune the paste point via a magnifier, and choose the paste option hovering in a bubble. Shake the handset to undo a paste operation, and shake it again to redo.

    Copy-and-paste works system-wide like on desktop computers. It also handles HTML-formatted text that you can copy from pages viewed in mobile Safari browser. Apple demoed pasting raw pieces of text between Notes, SMS and Mail applications (copy-and-paste for multiple attachments), as well as rich-formatted text between Safari and Mail programs. Both Safari and SMS applications even features an optimization where if you hold down a finger over a block of text on a webpage, or over a bubble with an SMS message, it will select the entire content. Other items like images can be copied as well (see below).

    While copy and paste operations work across Apple's own improved applications preloaded in 3.0, the company also exposed its full functionality to developers via new APIs. In addition, Cocoa Touch framework now supports these features out-of-the-box, meaning most existing applications should inherit these capabilities automatically. Those who don't inherit will require "minimal [developer] work," Apple said.

    March 26, 2009 - 7:45pm CST
    • Corrected editing typo in the headline that incorrectly suggested the iPhone 3.0 firmware will be paid upgrade for owners of the first-generation iPhone. Apple officially confirmed that 3.0 firmware will be free for all iPhone users, while iPod touch owners will have to pay $9.99 for the upgrade, as was the case with the 2.0 firmware.
    • Added explanation of the Wi-Fi Automation feature (thanks, Mr. B)