Blogs are just gushing about it. The iPhone and iPod touch will soon act like the handheld computers they were made to be. Apple announced iPhone 2.0 software and the software development kit (SDK) for software developers, the App Store online store for developers to place their wares, and the new capabilities — including better VPN support, Microsoft Exchange compatibility and push mail — that put the iPhone in head-to-head combat with the RIM Blackberry.
The SDK has exceeded developer’s expectations — in fact, Apple’s servers supplying the beta for download were overwhelmed. Third-party native iPhone and iPod touch applications will flood the market by June, sporting the touch interface. Developers have a solid database (SQL Lite, an open-source database) and Cocoa Touch, the built-in set of APIs that re-creates the Cocoa tool set used to handle the user-interface-generated events in Mac OS X. It also includes programming interfaces for Core OS, Core Services, and Media technologies. EA and Sega were on hand to show games, and Salesforce.com demonstrated a cool interface to its software-as-a-service — all created in a matter of weeks. A $100M “iFund” set up by KPCB will help goose this development platform with funding for third-party app development. The touch interface is great for games, and rather than using a thumbpad and buttons, you can steer using the iPhone’s motion sensor, almost like a Nintendo Wii.
Support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, the technology required to synchronize mail, calendar, and other data directly with Microsoft Exchange rather than use third-party gateways or synchronization services, makes the iPhone far more useful in the corporate world — in some ways easier to use to grab corporate email than using a lonely Mac in a sea of PCs. IT departments want the remote wipe/lock and on-device data encryption features that secure iPhones to the corporate IT world. Apple is also enhancing the VPN capabilities with support for Cisco IPsec and two-factor authentication, certificates, and identities. And iPhones can finally receive push email, so that you get a new message almost as soon as it is sent without having to manually poll the server or wait for the iPhone to poll it automatically (usually at 15-minute intervals). This feature, actually pioneered by RIM, when combined with the above communication features, makes the iPhone an attractive Blackberry replacement that also, by the way, includes an iPod. The one major drawback is that large enterprises may not want to commit to AT&T if they use other carriers.
While there are some complaints that Apple is doing to apps what it did to music — monopolize sales through one channel, the online store — the smooth operation of the store, and the ready-made audience of iPhone users more than makes up for it. The 30% Apple charges (you can set your own price on your app) is reasonable. Besides, free apps can be distributed through the store at no charge, and I expect this promotional business to heat up, with lots of free content-infused apps.
At the same time as the SDK announcement, but having nothing to do with it, the BBC launched its iPlayer for the iPhone and iPod touch that plays streaming video from the BBC for free. It’s strictly a WiFi service, so it requires the iPhone to be within WiFi range. The quality in video and audio is excellent — the video is 400Kb/second H.264, while audio runs as a 116Kb/second AAC stream. Check it out here.
Want to bet against the iPhone now? Good luck with that.