Even though Apple Inc. has yet to breathe a word about new iPhones, one out of every five cell-phone-owning consumers is more likely to buy an iPhone based on Apple’s preview last month of a summer upgrade of its iPhone software, a market research company said on Tuesday.
In a poll of nearly 4,300 cell phone owners conducted by ChangeWave Research March 17 to 23, 20 per cent of the respondents said that they were leaning toward buying an iPhone because of the 100 new features Apple is baking into iPhone 3.0.
When Apple previewed the new operating system last month on its Cupertino, Calif., campus, industry observers saw this as a milestone.
“I don’t want to use Apple’s words, but this is clearly a significant development in the iPhone,” said Mike McGuire, a Gartner Inc. analyst. “There is the potential here for some really significant changes.”
“There’s an awful lot of stuff in [iPhone 3.0] that developers will be happy with,” added another Gartner analyst, Van Baker.
With the preview Apple offered a beta of iPhone 3.0 and the supporting software developer’s kit (SDK) for developers.
Among the most notable end-user features coming to the phone and iPod Touch are cut-and-paste and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), two omissions that users have criticized Apple for since it rolled out the original model in mid-2007.
With iPhone 3.0 in place, users will be able to cut or copy text from one application on the device, then paste it into another.
To select a block of text, for example, the user will double-tab, then slide a finger across the desired text; a bubble boasting Cut, Copy and Paste options will appear above the selected text. To paste, the user double-taps at the insertion point and selects Paste.
“Frankly, I wasn’t sure we would ever see cut and paste,” said McGuire, who described it as the premier end-user addition to the iPhone.
MMS is the feature sported by most cell phones that lets users send photos and video as attachments to text messages, something the iPhone has lacked.
Instead, users were forced to use e-mail to send photos, preventing them from flicking pictures directly to others’ phones.
Some features, including MMS, won’t be available on the first-generation iPhones because the older hardware lacks support for them, Apple had said during the presentation.
In an accompanying statement, it also noted that “some features may not be supported by older hardware” but did not elaborate on which other iPhone 3.0 features will not be available on the original model.
Apple is also adding a pseudo-devicewide search, dubbed Spotlight, to match the search tool integrated with Mac OS X. Spotlight searches through all the major Apple-built applications on the device, including Mail, Calendar, Notes and iPod.
The new search screen is to the left of the home screen and can be used to, for instance, search through Mail’s in-box, a feature the phone currently lacks. Forstall also pointed out that Spotlight can substitute as an application launcher, just as in the Mac OS X version.
Some of the other features that Apple previewed include landscape mode for Mail, Text and Notes; the ability to record and send audio with a new Voice Memo application; Notes synchronization; support for CalDAV, a shared-calendar standard that’s used by Google and Yahoo’s online calendars; and support for stereo Bluetooth A2DP.
Bonanza for developers too
The new tools iPhone 3.0 puts in developers’ hands, include more than 1,000 new application programming interfaces (API), according to Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice-president of iPhone software.
Highlighted APIs include some that let users create an ad hoc peer-to-peer network between nearby iPhones and iPod Touches over Bluetooth. That feature can be used for multiplayer gaming or sharing contacts.
Others will let hardware makers craft custom applications that communicate directly with that hardware, either over Bluetooth or via the docking connector; embed Google Maps inside their own applications; and, for the first time, create true turn-by-turn navigational software for the iPhone.
In addition, Apple has beefed up its server-side infrastructure to support a new push notification that mimics background processing.
But Forstall dismissed background processing — the ability to run multiple applications at once, something the iPhone still will not do, even after an iPhone 3.0 update — as a battery drain.
“We took the popular AIM client, and we just let it go in the background, then we measured the standby time,” said Forstall.
“It dropped by 80 per cent or more.” By comparison, the push notification system, which has the iPhone regularly ping Apple’s servers to see if there are new messages for an instant message client, reduces standby time by only 20 per cent, Forstall claimed.
But the biggest change on the back end, said Gartner’s McGuire, isn’t push notification or turn-by-turn navigation.
Instead, he picked a new addition to the App Store, Apple’s online application mart, which will let developers charge users for subscriptions to content, for new content or for more after-purchase functionality.
Dubbed “In App Purchases,” the new capability gives more flexibility to developers, said Forstall. He cited examples that included games — where users could pay for additional levels — and a bookstore built into an iPhone application.
McGuire sees this app as meeting a huge need. “I have lots of clients in the newspaper and magazine and even music business who have wanted this,” he said, explaining that with In-App Purchases, software makers will be able to tap into a revenue model that hasn’t been offered by Apple in the past.
“This is hugely important to gamers,” said Baker. “And if Amazon doesn’t build a Kindle store into their iPhone Reader, I’ll be very surprised.”
The result of the new business model, added Baker, will likely be more expensive applications for the iPhone. “Most apps are in that $.99 to $1.99 range, but with In-App, I can see apps going for $10, $15, even $20.”
I know what you’ll sell this summer
Even before Apple’s March event, analysts had predicted the new iPhone software was a sure sign that the company would unveil one or more new iPhones this summer.
In doing so, they said, Apple would probably mimic last year’s schedule, when it announced the iPhone 3G in June and started selling it in July.
ChangeWave’s survey uncovered significant interest in new iPhones, which Apple has yet to announce, that come with a lower price tag.
The polling data showed that future iPhone purchase plans have remained stable since late last year.
Of the people who said they were going to buy a new smartphone in the next 90 days, 30 per cent — the same figure as in ChangeWave’s December 2008 survey — said they would select an iPhone.
Those figures, however, were significantly below a record 56 per cent who said last June that they were planning on buying an iPhone in the following three months.
ChangeWave’s director of research, Paul Carton, said the latest numbers should make Apple happy.
“When you put it all together, our latest survey findings bode particularly well for the iPhone’s long-term outlook,” Carton said in an e-mail.
“Its latest moves have clearly positioned it for dynamic growth as the consumer economy moves out of recession.”