First off, let me begin with the end. The fact that Apple is stepping on the gas pedal and pushing 3.0 NOW, while the new kids on the block (read: Android and Palm Pre) are barely 1.0 suggests that they have learned the lessons taught them (oh so painfully) by Microsoft in the PC wars; namely, that he who wins the hearts and minds of developers, wins the war.
Secondly, I am going to call today's announcement a "block the kick" announcement.
What's a block the kick? It is an effort to do such a good job of persuading your core constituency (in this case, developers, consumers, carriers) that any perceived momentum of the competition pales in comparison to your own, thereby blocking the competition's nascent momentum in its infancy.
This explains the "Why Now?" aspect of the announcement, inasmuch as it's not like the iPhone/iPod touch (feature quibbles aside) is losing the game in any way, shape or form.
In fact, regardless of the metric that you choose to measure Apple's success in this realm (developers, downloads, dollars, margins or consumer engagement), the platform engine and ecosystem was already humming on all cylinders.
To put a bow around this one, today was the first time they broke out the combined device footprint of iPhone + iPod touch units, designating the bucket "multi-touch handhelds," no doubt in anticipation of releasing other form factors, and in recognition that the iPhone Platform naming schema occludes the import and momentum of iPod touch devices.
In any event, the iPhone + iPod touch bucket of multi-touch handhelds is now 30 million units strong, generating over 800 million apps downloaded to date, a serious growth rate over the 500 million downloads reported just a few weeks ago.
Hence, today's event is more about running up the score before the competition finds its footing, a footing that is HUGELY dependent upon developer attention, something that I blogged about yesterday in, 'iPhones, App Stores, Ecosystems.'
Also, note that while the BETA version of iPhone 3.0 SDK is available today, the actual 3.0 version of iPhone OS will ship this summer. It is free for iPhone 3G owners, and $9.95 for iPod touch owners.
With that as a backdrop, let me spotlight the key announcements for developers and consumers, and why they are a big deal:
UPDATED FUNCTIONALITY FOR DEVELOPERS
- Multi-Tier Pricing Support within App Store: Developers will be able to partition free, premium, super premium tiers within apps (e.g., purchase the next 10 levels, add advanced weaponry, etc.). This is great news for developers, who now have the economic and systemic wherewithal to experiment and segment their product offerings without creating N different download variants of the application, as well as maintaining the instant gratification element of "buy, download and enjoy" that is so powerful in the platform. Example: you mean that if I had a rocket launcher I can just blow off the door versus scaling the wall, and it only costs 99 cents to grab it? I am SO there.
- Proprietary "Accessory" Support within the Platform: Developers will now be able to create apps that work directly with their proprietary accessories, which is something that was previously not supported. Examples given: an FM transmitter extension with an app for changing stations; a blood pressure gauge with app for tracking, organizing, charting blood pressure data.
- Exposing Maps Functionality via an API: This will enable developers to map-ify apps down to street level views (e.g., embed proprietary mapping functionality within the application), and create sophisticated navigation apps for things like turn-by-turn directions, although in the latter case Apple did not license this functionality from Google so the developer would have to provide their own maps. The best way to look at this one is that as powerful as Google Map APIs have proven to be for third party sites on the web, this could be equally so for enabling a multitude of custom mobile applications.
- Discovery and Locative Services: Apple is adding Bonjour-based discovery for the "within the same room" crowd, enabling social gaming apps, without the overhead of Wi-Fi; they are also opening up rich GPS APIs, although per my blog on "Right Here Now" services, I wish that they were embracing Google's Latitude locative service.
- Push Notification: This is way later than the September '08 timeframe previously announced, but then again, asynchronous messaging is incredibly complex once scale, concurrency, message queuing, battery constraints and multi-carrier support are factored in. Hence, my knee jerk is that I am glad that they are taking the time to (hopefully) get it right. This is a critical feature to enabling event-driven apps like IM or the aforementioned Right Here Now services, where the designated app may not be running all the time. Features supported in the service include: ability to push badges, text, and sounds. It will be supported in all 80 countries where the iPhone is available.
- Media API Enhancements: Apple is adding a new API for enabling applications that stream audio/video; an API for in-game voice/audio; and another API for enabling applications that access the iPod library. These enhancements open the door to TV 2.0 apps, social gaming where audio communications are involved and applications that leverage your media library. This last one is so huge - Apple has previously treated iPod media libraries as a castle separated by a moat, that I am going to hold my excitement until I see the details. For example, can apps transparently access/launch songs within the proprietary app itself or do they have to externally launch?
UPDATED FUNCTIONALITY FOR CONSUMERS
- Cut/Copy/Paste: It arrives before my grandchildren do (my kids are barely out of diapers so sarcasm underscored). Long overdue so nothing to add.
- New Messages App: It supports MMS, meaning that you can send files, such as contact cards, audio files, locations, pictures, etc.
- New Voice Memos App: This supports the built-in microphone, and allows you to edit, trim and share your voice memos. Not sure if any APIs are exposed to enable apps where "social shout outs" are supported.
Needless to say, the focus today is on the developer, who will in turn, ratchet up the goodness for the consumer. That said, thank you Apple for finally adding Copy/Paste.
- iPhones, App Stores, Ecosystems: On Recipes for Successful Developer Platforms.
- "Right Here Now" services: Weaving a real-time web around status
- iPhone 2.0: What it Means to be Mobile
- Apple's Mobile Gaming Gold Rush: Why the iPhone/iPod touch is a legitimate threat to the handheld gaming console establishment.
- Guest Post for GigaOM - Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best