iPhone OS 3.0 revisited

The iPhone OS 3.0 will be available June 17. CNET takes a second look at the new features it will bring.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
7 min read

iPhone 3G S and OS 3.0 photos

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Since Apple first unveiled the iPhone OS 3.0 last March, we've been impatiently awaiting its full release. Yes, we did manage to get a beta version of the update on the CNET iPhone--I even did a preliminary review--but we prefer to wait for the real thing to give our official evaluation.

Fortunately, we got our wish Monday at the WWDC 2009 keynote. During his portion of the presentation, Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software, announced that OS 3.0 will be released to the world June 17. We'll still have to wait until later this summer for AT&T to activate multimedia messaging and tethering, but all the other new features will go live next Wednesday for iPhone 3G, iPhone Classic, and iPod Touch users. Two days later, the new iPhone 3G S will launch with the full update.

In total, Apple is promising that the update will bring 100 new features, but we've barely scratched the surface. Once we fully evaluate OS 3.0, we expect that we'll find more. We were hoping that OS 3.0 would also include video recording and voice dialing, but those features will be available only on the new iPhone 3G S.

Though we've detailed most of the OS 3.0 improvements already, we wanted to revisit them following the keynote. Forstall mostly gave a recap of what we already know, but he provided more detail in a few areas and covered topics that we had not heard before. Here's what he had to say.

Multimedia messaging
We've ranted endlessly about why it took so long for Apple to achieve multimedia messaging (MMS), so we're glad that it's finally on its way. Besides photos you'll also be able to send photos, contacts, audio files, and map locations. At long last the iPhone can do something that every other cell phone can do.

But, and this is a big "but," AT&T doesn't have things ready on its end. We don't know the real reason for the delay nor do we have a timetable for deployment--Forstall just said that AT&T will support MMS "later this summer." Indeed, we were able to compose a multimedia message in a few quick steps on our CNET iPhone, but the connection times out before we can send it. It's more than a little annoying that the AT&T has had since March at least to get prepared. Also, because it wasn't integrated with the proper radio, the iPhone Classic will not support MMS.

Landscape keyboard
Formerly just available in the Safari browser, the landscape keyboard now works in e-mail, text messaging, and notes. We've used it quite a bit and love it, though we admit that the two-fingered typing took the smallest bit of acclimation after using one hand on a portrait keyboard for so long.

Cut, copy and paste

Cut, copy, and paste
Forstall said that this sorely-needed feature can work with all iPhone features and apps. When we first started using copy, cut, and paste back in March it was working only in Notes, but since then we've used it in e-mail and text messages. As I mentioned in my early OS 3.0 review, the process is very easy to use and the "shake to undo" feature is a nice touch. Developers will be able to use the feature in apps.

The iPhone's iTunes store is updated in a few ways. Now you'll be able to rent and purchase movies, download TV shows and audiobooks, and access iTunes U. You'll also be able to redeem iTunes gift cards on the phone in the iTunes App store. Previously, you could only redeem in the iTunes music store.

Turn-by-turn directions
In March we heard that audible turn-by-turn GPS directions were coming to the iPhone in the form of third-party apps. That was all I knew at the time so I left the presentation with more than a few reservations. And even now, after a TomTom exec appeared on stage at the WWDC keynote to demo what looks to be a promising service, I still have a few questions.

I'm primarily concerned with how much the app will cost. Forstall said TomTom will offer a "range" of U.S. and international maps, but that's as detailed as he got. GPS maps are not cheap, so I'll be interested to see how TomTom will package and price the content to make it affordable for consumers and profitable for TomTom. Will you be able to buy only the maps you need or will you have to buy a large package? Also, will you have to pay each time the maps are updated? And how much memory will they consume?

What's more, I'm curious as to how the app will integrate with the iPhone's other features. From what we understand, you'll be able to make hands-free calls and play music on your car's radio while getting directions. Unlike the Palm Pre, however, the iPhone doesn't multitask. If the GPS feature had to suspend because you get a call--just as the iPod player suspends when you take a call--then things could get tricky. I suspect, though, that Apple has this down.

The TomTom app won't be available until later this summer. But on the upside, TomTom will offer a car kit that will secure your iPhone to your windshield or dashboard while charging it at the same time. That's good news for a device that sucks up juice quickly.

Find my iPhone
If you're prone to losing your iPhone, OS 3.0 will give you some peace of mind. If your handset goes missing you can use a computer to find its position on a map. You can then send it a message that instructs anyone who finds your phone to call you. It plays a tone to get a passerby's attention, and it even plays the tone when the sound is off. Presumably, however, it won't play the tone when the phone is off.

It sounds like a great service, but there are a couple of caveats. Find my iPhone is only available to MobileMe users. and your phone will need to be in GPS range in order to be found. Also, you'll need someone on the other end who is responsible enough to notify you that he or she found your phone. Luckily, if that doesn't hold true, you can use a remote wipe option to swipe your iPhone clean of data. This is the first time remote wipe is available to the average consumer.

Correction: The Find my iPhone can be estimated using GPS, Wi-Fi, or cell tower location technology.

The new search feature CNET

Full search
We already knew about the search feature that allows you to search calendar entries, music, notes, contacts, and e-mail. Yet, Forstall also said that you'll be able to search e-mail messages stored only on your mail server.

In-app purchases
As expected, Apple now can take your money when you're using an app. For example, you can renew a magazine subscription and buy a new game pack without going through the iTunes App Store. It's convenient, sure, as long as you keep a limit on your impulse buying. But on a related note, free apps will always be free--you'll never have to shell out money for an update.

Safari browser
Forstall promised a faster browser. To demonstrate, he showed results from a SunSpider Javascript benchmark. Without iPhone OS 3.0 the benchmark result was 2 minutes, 10 seconds. In comparison, the OS 3.0 result was just 43 seconds. Exactly what that means to the user we'll have to see. Other Safari improvements include support for HTML 5 and autofill for fields on a Web page.

Peer-to-peer networking
With peer-to-peer network you can automatically find nearby iPhone users to pay games or use social applications. It works via Bluetooth and no pairing is required.

In March we heard that tethering would be possible with OS 3.0, but that it would be completely carrier-dependent. At the WWDC keynote, Forstall gave us good and bad news. The good news is that several carriers will support tethering starting next week, but the bad news is that AT&T won't be one of them. As my colleague Maggie Reardon wrote, AT&T is promising that tethering will come later, but we don't know exactly when. Also, I'm very curious whether AT&T will charge extra for it.

Google maps
With OS 3.0, developers will be able to embed Google maps right in their apps. For instance, a nifty Zipcar app will let you find a car in your area, make a reservation, sound the car's horn when nearby, and open the door.

Parental controls
These were mentioned briefly in March, but we got more details here. Parents or guardians will be able to control movies and television shows according to their ratings, restrict apps that are age inappropriate, and limit use of the browser and YouTube app. The controls are accessible through the Settings menu.

Push notification
We knew about this as well, but Forstall gave a quick demo. Developers can use push notifications with sounds for text alerts and instant messages.

Multilingual users can use a small globe icon on the keyboard to access additional keyboards and a graffiti pad for symbols. Apple also added support for Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Korean, and Thai.

What's left?
The update also offers the following additions; read our initial OS 3.0 report for more information.

  • Stereo Bluetooth

  • The ability to forward text messages and delete individual messages in a thread

  • Forward meeting invites and contacts

  • A landscape stock chart with news stories and additional information in company profiles

  • A voice memo recorder

  • Syncing notes with your Mac

  • A shake-to-shuffle feature like on the iPod Nano

  • Antiphishing technology

  • Wi-Fi auto log-in

  • Http streaming audio and video