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Apple Unveils Big iPhone OS 3.0 Improvements

We’ve known that Apple has something up its sleeve for the iPhone for some time now. While most of us were expecting major iPhone evolution for the next-generation version of the hardware, Apple surprised everyone today by talking strictly about version 3.0 of its mobile OS.

When we say that it’s sweeping improvements, we mean it. Some may scoff that other smartphones have had many of these features for years now, the fact that it’s coming to one of the most influential gadgets in years is notable. For better or worse, the “reality distortion field” makes many of these features sound more exceptional than they really are, but that won’t stop iPhone users – including ourselves – from being excited about it.

“The new iPhone OS 3.0 is a major software release packed with incredible new features and innovations for iPhone customers and developers alike. It will keep us years ahead of the competition,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing.

There’s a laundry list of new features, but we’re going to pick our favorites right here. The first big one relates back to the GPS chip inside the iPhone 3G. “Finally, a giant touchscreen phone that can double as a navigation system!” But not quite – as it was just a more accurate Google Maps out of the box. The new iPhone OS 3.0 will support turn-by-turn directions. We can already smell the fear from the GPS industry. No wonder Garmin is getting into phones.

The next big thing was something that was originally promised for OS 2.0, alongside the iPhone 3G launch – push notifications. Apple admits that it’s late on the feature, but explained that developers demanded more from push than was originally designed in 2.0. Push will come with 3.0, and promises to preserve the already precious battery life, and a Meebo app was used in a short demonstration.

To the reception of cheers, Apple announced that OS 3.0 will have cut, copy and paste – something users have wanted more than anything else since the first iPhone hit the market in 2007. Those who have jailbroken iPhones and installed Clippy will notice similarities in operation. Apple’s native implementation is a lot slicker where double tapping a word will highlight it and open start and end points for any cut or copy. Users can then drag the start and end points before selecting which function to perform. Best of all, it even works in Safari, third-party apps, and even on photos.

The next feature is landscape view, including landscape keyboard, for Mail. We’re not sure why this wasn’t in the original shipping OS, as the landscape keyboard was freely available in web browsing, but we’re happy to see it finally here.

SMS should get the landscape keyboard as well, though Apple didn’t make a big deal of it. SMS does get beefed up with the ability to delete individual messages as well as forward them. And just to get the iPhone caught up with the rest of the cell phone world, OS 3.0 will finally support MMS.

Already available on the App Store are various voice recording applications, but for the OS 3.0, Apple is putting in a Voice Memos native app, which we’re curious to know how that makes the developers of iDicto and iTalk feel.

Mac users will already know about the handiness of Spotlight – a system-wide search utility that can help you reach things exceptionally quickly. Now that same feature is heading to the iPhone to search apps, iTunes, notes, contacts, mail and other things.

A couple features listed in Apple’s presentation but weren’t discussed in depth was enhanced Bluetooth features and tethering support. For tethering to a computer to use the iPhone as a modem, Apple only had this to say, according to Engadget: “We're supporting tethering in the client side, we're building that support in. We're working with our carriers around the world. We are building that support in.”

Stereo Bluetooth is one feature so many music lovers wanted for the iPhone 3G launch last summer, and it’ll finally be here this summer. Sadly Apple didn’t let on much more about added Bluetooth features, such as wireless syncing or tethering.

The iPhone OS 3.0 beta software and SDK will be available for registered developers to download starting today from developer.apple.com. iPhone customers will be able to download the new iPhone OS 3.0 software for free this summer and iPod touch customers will be able to purchase a software update for $9.95.

Perhaps due to hardware limitations, stereo Bluetooth and MMS will not be available on the original iPhone 2G phone. Clearly the stereo Bluetooth feature is at mercy of the chip, but don’t know why MMS isn’t a part of the original hardware as it works fine in jailbroken apps such as SwirlyMMS.

Whether you see it as fantastic continued support by Apple or just another ploy to make standard, common features seem exceptional on just another Apple product, there’s no arguing that all iPhone users will have a significantly upgraded device for at no added charge (and only a small one in the case of the iPod Touch) – for which we must give Apple our applause.