Development progress has been a little slow over the last couple of weeks due to a lack of free time. I’ll get back to the iPhone development this week hopefully. In the meantime I’ve got my hands on iPhone OS 3.0 – I spent the money on joining the developer program so I may as well do something with it. I give you a preview of the new features I’ve been able to try out so far.
First impressions – not all good
It’s quite laggy. The iPod app takes forever to load, switch between categories (podcasts to videos, for example). The same goes for the Messages app, which is the new name for SMS. Obviously this is beta software so I don’t expect the performance to be this bad for the stable release – in fact I’d be quite pissed off if it was.
Safari seems to be much less stable than it had been in the recent main releases. This is surprising as not much has changed on the surface. However, I’m aware that there are quite a lot of new features for web developers (access to the GPS sensor on the phone for example). Again – beta software – but it’s a step backwards from the big improvements in speed and stability that came through with the OS 2.0 patches.
O2 – who are the sole mobile network contracted to sell iPhones in the UK – have disabled MMS on iPhone tariffs. Obviously this made little difference until now, as the iPhone couldn’t do MMS, but why bother even disabling a feature that couldn’t be accessed? I doubt Apple will let the situation remain this way as the Summer release of new features approaches, but it’s still annoying.
Spotlight is the funky built-in search function on all Mac OS computers. It’s like Google Desktop Search on Windows, in that it provides really quick searching of all the files on the computer. This includes e-mail, web history, and the contents of standard stuff like Office files. Spotlight is a step-up from this in that it also lets you search menu options on running apps, as well as the application itself. If you’ve got a lot of applications installed it’s often quicker to just start typing the app’s name into the Spotlight box and start it that way.
The best thing about iPhone 3.0 is that Spotlight is now part of the iPhone OS. This provides built-in searching of pretty much everything on the phone – although I’ve noticed that SMS is not included in the search for some reason. I’m not entirely sure but, given how good the SDK is overall, third-party applications will probably be able to hook into this search facility. Once you get to 4 or 5 pages of apps installed on the phone, it will be quicker to just type an application name into Spotlight rather than hunt through pages of icons.
I think, really, the Spotlight function is the only standout-amazing new feature I’ve used so far. There are lots of good little tweaks – things like auto-filling forms in Safari, or switching off the annoying beeping every 2 minutes once you have an unread text. A lot of the features are currently out of reach, since they enable new capabilities in third-party applications – which will not be available from the App Store until the actual release of the software.
Cut, Copy and Paste
This is one of those things that everyone carps on about, but how much do you really use copy and paste on your phone? If you could attach a full-size keyboard via Bluetooth then this might be more useful, but then it would need to support keyboard shortcuts and the like. Anyway, it’s a nice feature to have and no doubt I’ll use it now it’s there.
My one gripe is that the whole double-tapping gesture doesn’t seem to be picked up very well. Safari is the worst offender, as it already uses double-tapping for zoom (a more precise gesture than ‘pinch’, since it automatically sizes the view to the paragraph width). To get copy and paste to trigger, I seemed to need a very slow tap-then-tap-and-hold. However, now that I have the knack for this, I can get it to trigger most of the time.
Things I’m looking forward to
It will be sweet to have a proper IM application running on the phone. I use Google Talk (through various different clients) for both work and home accounts so hopefully something will be released that deals with the Jabber protocol on multiple accounts – Meebo demoed their app during the OS 3.0 launch, and their website already does this, so that will do. This will be dealt with using the push notification features to tell you about new messages, which will be awesome for things like Facebook, Twitter and sport scores too.
2-player gaming. My girlfriend has an iPhone too, and she loves the simple puzzle games – of which there are many on the App Store. It will be wicked to be able to do live 2-player gaming between our phones.
Tethering. I recently took my MacBook down to London for a day working on-site with our customers – it was so frustrating to have a fully-functional internet connection on the iPhone but be unable to share it with the MacBook (this was on the train – we have a mobile broadband dongle to use on-site, but it’s always kept on-site). For occasional use, I wouldn’t mind paying as I use the feature. I don’t think I’d get enough use to justify paying extra money every month though.
Turn-by-turn GPS. Being able to get a Tom-Tom or Garmin app for the phone will also be really useful for drivers. I don’t even drive but I could imagine myself paying for something like this just for the coolness of plucking out my phone in someone else’s car to get directions. Hopefully, the rumours of Apple banning the apps from talking to you while you’re driving are just rumours.
Obviously as a developer I’m very excited about what these new features allow me to do. I also realise that this is the reason for the preview coming so far in advance of the release: it gives developers a chance to ready applications for launch day so that people will be eager to upgrade their software. I think some of the really exciting stuff as far as new features hasn’t even been revealed yet – but that’s because it will require the new hardware. Rumours indicate as many as 4 new iPod touch and iPhone models this summer (as well as a possible tablet/netbook device) – video recording, high-quality photos, improved graphics and higher 3G speeds are all touted as incoming features that would require new hardware.
Even without new hardware, these new software features will be really useful come launch day. They address a lot of long-standing criticisms while increasing the possibilities for third-party developers. I doubt Apple could have foreseen what a success the App Store would be – much the same as iTunes before it – but now that it is a success, they will really want to keep everyone using their stuff. That is exactly what these new features will do.
The new software lacks polish at the moment, which is understandable with 3 or 4 months until the main release. If we assume that the speed and stability will be the main focus of the development work between now and launch-day then this will be another great update for the iPhone.