Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Guide to Determining the Right Smart mobile Platform for your Enterprise Mobility Strategy

The recent proliferation of mobile devices and their use in workplaces has become an important and integral part in every business strategy. From just voice-centric communication devices, today’s complex devices have become an important tool for business enterprise. All this happened due to changes in the lifestyle and attitude of consumers. By matching and combining consumers’ wants and needs, manufacturers have brought different mobile platforms to the forefront. Organizations which have adopted most of these devices are gaining over their competitors. With the entrance of different mobile platforms in the market, enterprise mobility is experiencing both a revolution and a dilemma from deciding which platform will be beneficial for them.

All platforms have different characteristics. Thus, the million-dollar question is which mobile platform will suit particular enterprise IT leaders or corporations in their business ventures. 

The ruling mobile platforms whose capabilities have impressed corporate to date include iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Android, and Symbian.  As the number of mobile platforms shoots through the roof, enterprises need to put in place a robust strategy to evaluate the one which will serve their needs for a long period of time.

The Open OS
By Open OS, we mean the ability to be able to control and manage devices without OEM intervention.

From a software perspective, an Open OS is important as it allows developers to build applications which can interact with other applications running on the device. From a hardware perspective, Open OS is important as it allows integration with third-party hardware such as a BT printer, bar code scanner and so on, to meet specific business needs. Here are some of the parameters on which we evaluated the openness of a mobile platform from hardware and software perspectives:

As you can see, most of the mobile platforms fail on some and pass on some. The key is to pick the OS which meets most of the future needs of your enterprise.

Moving from iPhone to iPad
Corporations or individuals who are loyal to the Apple brand swear by it and would not like to relocate to any other platform, even though they’d be sacrificing core enterprise apps like SharePoint, Office and Exchange, available in Windows platform. According to Bill French, Co-founder of MyST Technology Partners Inc., “Apple products increase the productivity and are rich in features”.
Email. Apple's iPhone and iPad carry Yahoo! push e-mail, Gmail push e-mail (via Google Sync) and Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync platforms, and help in synchronizing e-mail, calendars and contacts with a Microsoft Exchange Server, Zimbra, NuevaSync or Kerio Connect. Apple also offers its indigenous MobileMe subscription service for push email, contacts, and calendars.
AppStore. The Apple Appstore launched in July 2008 and already has more than 150,000 applications, with more than 3 billion downloads so far. It still ranks highest among consumers. Some apps offer 3D support which can be leveraged to allow customers to interact with your business via your desktop. The task of apps developers has become challenging as the competition to create useful devices heats up.
Security features. As soon as particular mobile platforms get recognition, they become the easy target of worldwide criminals, thus malware, viruses, phishing and spam become common problems. iPhone 3G’s security is reportedly too weak and can be cracked easily with some free software, though security  has been ramped up with the new iPhone 4.0 OS. Some of its noteworthy security features include Geo location, used to trace your phone’s location if you lose it; Auto-erase, to help you erase the contents in your phone if you lose it, and Data encryption, to help you password-protect important business data.
Battery. Random studies have shown that iPhone users are satisfied with the performance of their battery life. According to Apple, after 300 or 400 charges its battery starts losing capacity, something to be considered while making up your mind whether to go with iPhone.
iPad. Some analysts have predicted that, like iPhones, iPad is going to convince the corporate slowly and steadily via the consumer door, as iPad has been labeled a consumer device. But some analysts are of the view that iPads are going to replace notebooks in the near future. But when we glance at the number of features offered by iPad and even iPhone—they do not support the use of flash, have low battery capacity of around 2.5 hours and can store only 64 GB of data—we can say that it will be difficult for them to replace notebooks.

RIM’s Blackberry, coupled with Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), is a complete business mobile phone providing IT managers adequate control to manage these devices, a key factor in Enterprise Mobility. RIM’s continued growth is much ahead of its competitors at 35.7% year after year, as reported by IDC, and 40.8% as reported by Canalys. Though its stronghold is North America, RIM has shown significant improvement internationally.
Email. RIM's BlackBerry utilizes wireless Mail User Agent devices and a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) which is attached to a traditional e-mail system and is perhaps the feature which almost all enterprises want. RIM's BES has been the preferred solution for managing these devices and for providing secure access to corporate email.
AppWorld. The Blackberry Appworld was launched in April 2009 and has around 3,000 applications. Though this might sound low, the fact that Blackberry allows direct publishing of applications on their devices infers that a lot of applications get deployed on the mobile devices without going to AppWorld. Enterprise apps such as Documents To Go, Empower InstaSpell, eOffice 4.6, Mobile Office Suite and File Manager Pro ensure that enterprises get all that they need.
Security. Its security features include: IBM Lotus Notes Email Encryption Support, and the BlackBerry Signing Authority Tool can help protect access to the functionality and data of third-party applications. Depending on corporate security requirements, BlackBerry smartphones support HTTPS communication via Proxy and End to End mode.
Battery. BlackBerry use a Lithium-ion battery which, after every 30 charges, exhausts 10-15% of its capacity.

Android mobile platform
Google Android has been able to match the excitement first seen with the iPhone launch and has, in fact, beaten Apple to the first $1M sales figure. Android is a developer-friendly platform, allowing them to build rich and interactive apps due to the presence of rich C/C++ libraries which can be used readily by developers. The Android, however, is primarily a consumer device first, due to limited backend support for IT managers.
Email. Push e-mail support is based on Microsoft's ActiveSync platform, including push GMail through a freeware K-9 (an open source email client), and supports IMAP idle.
Android Market. The Android Market launched in November 2008 and has more than 38,000 applications and continues to be the fastest-growing marketplace after Apple’s Appstore.
Security. Google’s Android has a long way to go to become secure. Security researcher Charlie Miller confirms that repeated hacks are a sign that Google's relatively new software is "a little immature" from a security standpoint, compared to others, such as Windows or Mac OS, that have been field-tested for years by security firms.
Battery. Users report that within three hours’ time it sucks 68% of its capacity.

Symbian Platform
Nokia's Symbian is now an open source software designed specifically for mobile devices and smartphones. It runs solely on ARM processors and is a descendant of Psion's EPOC. Around 46.9% of Smartphones still run on Symbian OS. One interesting factor which keeps this platform apart from its competitors is that Symbian devices can be programmed by using Flashlite, JAVA ME, Python, .NET, Web Runtime (WRT) widgets and C++. Such is the flexibility of Symbian. Given the market penetration of Symbian, it has significant interest for enterprises in the form of a second platform.
Email. Symbian’s platform is based on Exchange ActiveSync technology, which is licensed directly from Microsoft. RoadSync offers secure, wireless and direct push synchronization of corporate e-mail, contacts, calendar, tasks and attachments - all in one affordable, scalable and easy-to-manage package.
Ovi Store. This platform was launched in May 2009 and has not gained much traction, with slightly more than 1000 applications.
Security. Symbian OS 9.X uses a UNIX-style capability model which is far superior from its previous versions, where viruses used to land in smartphones through Bluetooth devices.

Windows 7 platform (yet to be launched)
Windows 7 mobile platform is going to be released by the end of this year. Various analysts have said that it has the feel of an iPhone or a Google Android. Being a Windows mobile phone, it is surely going to have Microsoft Sharepoint and Windows integration, which are musts for most enterprises. The other important feature of this platform would be the presence of Office Hub, offering the ability to create and edit Microsoft Office documents like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The presence of Microsoft Office One Note 2007 would help users gather, search, type and quickly create digitally handwritten notes along with text, pictures, audio and video recordings. These facilities and apps are not present in iPhone, iPad and Android platforms, and could be a big advantage for Windows Phone 7.
We expect this device to find its way quite comfortably into enterprise through top executives, as it will help them toggle between their personal interests and work. The only flaw this platform could have is its incompatibility with various Windows Mobile 6.x programs and apps that organizations are already using. One more point to ponder before switching to this platform: This interface has been built on Silverlight and XNA, which are touted as gaming platforms.
As of now there is no word about its battery performance.

Web OS
By far this is the only platform that was complete enough to be called Open but unfortunately, its usability/ user experience, due to hardware constraints, could not take it to the desired heights. Even after having all the great features in the OS/ device, it will do well only if it is liked by the end users/ consumers, but that too looks remote, given the huge problems that Palm is facing.

All in all it can’t be said who the real winner is in this crowd of mobility platforms, though Blackberry does have a lead, amongst others.
It all depends on organizations to adopt the platform which suits them the most and through which their organization’s productivity could be enhanced. However, the chosen platform should be secure and open, so that it could be easily adapted as per their requirements.
The perfect combination of consumerability and enterprisability would win.

We at Technology Consulting Group (TCG) at Endeavour – the mobility company, continuously research emergent mobile technologies and key mobility trends to provide reliable solutions and strategic advice to organizations looking to leverage mobility. The TCG evaluates business, IT, Mobile complexities and provides specific advice on the choice of mobile platforms and mobile applications – complete product lifecycle, the ROI and the common pitfalls.


·         iPhone Enterprise Point Solutions and the Evolution to iPad

·         What Windows 7 means for the Enterprise

·         Enterprise mobility: Android vs. iPhone – what to consider

·         Windows Phone 7 vs. iPhone matchup: a developer's perspective

·         So You Want to Build a Mobile App? 8 Things to Consider

·         Palm Pre vs. iphone 3G vs. Blackberry Storm

·         Experts on what the Windows 7 phone means for the enterprise

·         The top 6 enterprise issues for Windows Phone 7 

·         8 things you didn't know about Windows Phone 7

Friday, April 16, 2010

Deep dive into iPhone 4.0 features

Ramananda Shetty, member, Technology Consulting Group at Endeavour discloses the finer details of iPhone SDK 4.0

Even with the release of the iPhone SDK 4.0, the Sandbox feature of the iPhone apps remains same. Applications will still not be able to access third party application data, un-install other applications and neither does it provide any APIs to fetch the list of applications installed in the device.

Data Protection from Third Party App:
Applications that work with sensitive user data can now take advantage of the built-in encryption available on some devices to protect that data. When your application designates a particular file as protected, the system stores that file on-disk in an encrypted format. While the device is locked, the contents of the file are inaccessible to both your application and to any potential intruders. However, when the device is unlocked by the user, a decryption key is created to allow your application to access the file. 

Core Telephony:
Framework: CoreTelephony.framework [This was a private framework in previous OS versions]
Core Telephony framework provides interfaces for interacting with phone-based information on devices that have a cellular radio. Applications can use this framework to get information about a user’s cellular service provider. Applications interested in cellular call events can also be notified when those events occur. Even after making this framework public and providing multitasking, however, third party applications still cannot monitor and control the calls made from the device.
 CTCarrier: Gives information about the user's cellular service provider, the information such as whether the service provider will allow VOIP or not
CTCall:  This is used to get the identifier of the cellular call and its state (only useful if service provider wants to write an app)                 
CTCallCenter: Gives List of current calls and responds to state changes (Responses when app is active during the call, if app is in suspended state it gets one event for each call giving the current state when app becomes active )

About App states and transition from one state to another (will need Apple Developer login for access)
CTTelephonyNetworkInfo:  Responds to the change in the cellular service provider. For example  changing the SIM when app is active. 

Accessing the Calendar Event:
Framework: EventKit.framework, EventKitUI.framework
EventKit framework provides an interface to access the calendar events on user device. User can use this framework to get existing events and add new events to the user’s calendar. Calendar events can include alarms that user can configure with rules for when they should be delivered. EventKitUI framework will allow presenting the standard UI for viewing and editing events.
Apple Reference Link (will need Apple Developer login for access)

In App SMS:
Framework: MessageUI.Framework 
Enhancement to this framework allows user to compose and send the message from the third party app without using the specially formatted URL.

Local Notification:
User can schedule the notification local to the application. This process does not involve server. These notifications will be delivered to app whether app is running or not. Once the notification is scheduled the system will manage these notifications. 
Apple Reference Link (will need Apple Developer login for access)

Improvements towards making iPhone Enterprise Friendly
Mobile Device Management:
Deploying and managing enterprise applications will be lot more easier with iPhone OS 4. New Mobile Device Management APIs can be integrated with third-party solutions to wirelessly configure and update settings, monitor compliance with corporate policies, and even wipe or lock managed iPhone device.

Seems like this feature has not provided in the current Beta release. See the release note "Mobile Me" section. (will need Apple Developer login for access)

Wireless App Distribution:
iPhone OS 4 enables enterprises to securely host and wirelessly distribute in-house apps to employees over Wi-Fi and 3G. Apps can be updated without requiring users to connect to their computers.

SSL VPN Supports:
SSL VPN support in iPhone OS 4 gives users another way to securely access enterprise resources. These new protocols can even be leveraged to connect seamlessly to a corporate network via VPN on Demand. Forthcoming apps from Juniper and Cisco will support SSL VPN on iPhone.

With the multitasking support for the new OS release iPhone apps can do few of the processes from the background but not all. Application can finish the current task before going to suspended states giving the expiry time period. Local Notification is an advantage of background process. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Native Mobile App or Mobile Web App?

Avinash Birnale is the Vice President at Endeavour, an active writer and analyst.
Every time I meet a new customer of ours, I see this questions directly or indirectly posed. Most of the people do understand the difference between the native mobile app and the mobile web based offering. But still they have this difficult (or simple?) decision to be made. In my opinion, both the approaches are needed for an enterprise at some or the other time. The roadmap to leverage full potential of mobile computing must address the requirements on case-by-case basis. We are all aware of this, but the question is “how to address it”! 

At Endeavour Software Technologies, we conduct MOA (Mobile Opportunity Assessment) prior to any new engagement. We run through the three-step process of Understand, Identify/Strategize and Recommend. We understand the customer’s business thoroughly and then strategize the approach to solution. Being more than 8 years purely in mobile computing, its no more rocket science for us! Rather it’s an art we have mastered over past several years.

Based on the past experience, I thought of jotting down primary consideration we make before we recommend a native app or mobile web app. Here in this article I am going to briefly discuss them.

The basic difference
Technically speaking, native app mobile resident client application (thin or thick), which stays, runs and interacts locally. The content for the application may come from the central server or local database. All native app contain the basic information it needs in order to launch. The developers generally architect it such that upon successful first launch, through Internet access, it can bring the most recent information from server.

The mobile web applications are basically the websites/ portals that are completely fine tuned to the browsers that are found on the mobile devices. Mobile websites most of the time depend on user-agent details found in the HTTP request. Based on the device browser configuration, the website can deliver the specialized content that suits/ render well on that device. Other than this basic fact, everything in the mobile web site is pretty much same as any other website. Of course, the user ergonomics has to be considered to make the user experience most satisfying!

Factors to consider
In general, when it comes to deciding either of the applications, one should review the requirement/ solution on these following points -

Usability/ User Experience
This is the top most priority of any solution. Mobile applications are expected to provide an interactive, and highly precise experience without unwanted complications. On the other hand mobile web sites more often rely on the Web-model of interactions (e.g. links, images and animations) and are more likely to bring themselves out of focus. The mobile applications are often finely crafted solutions that take maximum advantage of the underlying platform and available form factor real estate. The native applications are most of the times build to run in online and offline modes. The connectivity is not the all time need.

Even though native applications score positive on this factor, the HTML5 support on phones raises the bars; it is yet to catch up well

The inherent nature of the web application needs less maintenance than native apps. This is true because of the larger number of mobile platforms. Every time a new change or function to be rolled out to the users or the content needs to be changed, it has to be prepared for each and every device being supported if it is a native application. In contrast, for mobile web application, it’s just the content that needs to be realigned with respect to the browser. Device is of less importance here.

Of course, since we have multiple devices and there is no truly build once – deploy everywhere tools for building native mobile applications, maintaining multiple code-base and their versions is nightmare after few roll outs. The mobile platforms such as iPhone might need only one codebase to support iTouch or iPhone. But platforms such as WebOS or Android need more effort only because they are out there on more variety of devices than iPhone, number may be less or equal!

If the application targets more varied user base, platforms such as Blackberry, Symbian, BREW also come into the picture! So again on this front, native apps score lesser than mobile web application.

Deployment Woes?
It used to be very simple to deploy the web sites than the actual applications – may it be a desktop app or even worse the mobile app. But now the situation is changing.  With the emerging app stores and the market places, application deployment or upgrades have become simpler than they used to be. Solution provide can depend on the carrier or device manufacturer provided app store infrastructure to safely and reliably deploy their applications. iPhone is going to support the enterprise app store which means the applications can be even distributed to the pre-defined set of enterprise users!

But still today out there, we have some devices (Symbian, J2ME), which are still not supporting the app store in the way it does on iPhone or Android.  Hence, for some contexts (e.g. for confidential content or services, primitive mobile platforms), mobile web sites might remain the only available option, at least for platforms where the installation of third-party applications is restricted.

Business Nature
Native applications (when distributed through a store) provide an easy way to make money since they make it relatively easy for the user to pay and the provider to be paid — although it was noted that it is increasing difficult to be profitable in a market where the prices and the individual applications visibility are brought down by the number of available applications.

Several people noted that it was possible to get relatively easy user payments for mobile Web provided services (e.g. through premium SMS or through the mobile operator bill), but that they required a lot of interactions with operators.

Advertising was obviously a model available to both channels when providing free applications.

In both cases, the application can serve as additional value to an existing service and thus not require payment of any sort.

Another factor that is considered under business nature is - Consumer Vs Enterprise (market reach) and discoverability of the application. The consumer applications mostly need to be reached to the end users who have their own likes and dislikes about he phones and platform. Service provider or the phone manufacture generally leads the phone adoption. A pure consumer application (e.g. game, social networking app) needs to support multiple devices that are out there in the market. Moreover the every phone should utilize the best of available resources. So in some of the scenarios where user experience is not highly important, the mobile websites do just perfect. For the consumers, applications stores are obviously the main source of discoverability for mobile applications.

For the enterprise users, where you mostly know your user base and have control on what devices or platforms to support, making the decision to build a native phone based app is much easier. More so because enterprise wants to control its user’s access to the information and secure it from the outside world, native apps serve the best purpose.

Performance of the application is key factor when it comes to the more demanding user base. For them as long as the response times and user experience is smooth, they generally do not bother if that is a native app or mobile website. As long as they get the desired performance, its all good for them.

It’s a general observation that, native mobile applications tend to be more performance enhanced than mobile websites. For the various reasons that include – network availability, service standard, access to hardware accelerated APIs to do heavy tasks on the phone, native apps often win over the mobile web based applications.

The hope is that with improvement of the network infrastructure and technological advance such as 4G connectivity, a bigger barrier to mobile enabled websites will reduce. But until such time, native apps will be working at the forefront.

Another reason for native apps to give better performance is their ability to do certain tasks locally. Mobile websites depend on the server for most of the labor work. But with latest mobile browsers such as Opera and Safari, with support from HTML5 implementation, mobile websites are gathering the momentum.

Development Efforts
If you ask me, my experience is that developing a given application as a Web site or as a native application requires almost same amount of effort, unless you are talking more number of devices to and platforms to be supported than number of browsers and display sizes!

It is also seen that there are more number of purely web developers out in the market than mobile application developers. So it is obvious to get better web developers for far cheaper cost than mobile developers. Mobile development often demands specialized knowledge and skills. Mobile application programming is just a different thing than writing any other programs!

Control on the Device
This one – at least on today’s date – can be done better only on native mobile app. The most fruitful use of devices resources that include native alarms, accelerometer, GPS, File System, connection control, local storage, access to peripheral devices and non-GPRS wireless communication are best done on the native mobile app.

While Web technologies are catching up with access to more advanced capabilities (through HTML5), they still fall behind the possibilities that are endless in native applications.

The basic assumption of the native mobile applications is they are capable of working in online-offline mode. Of course unless developer makes it always connected! The application is hence always available to the end user when they need. Most of the times these applications are architected such that the most relevant information is cached on the device. The application makes the trip to server only when it is absolutely necessary. As the saying goes – the best-connected applications are those who use lesser of the connectivity!

On the other hand the mobile websites need to be connected all the time. They just cannot cache any data locally other than what browser does. But again, HTML5 is providing another way to store the data locally – to give developers ability to store and interact with the data even when the device is not online. (By the way, I am so impressed with HTML5 that, I am planning to write my next blog on HTML5.)

Following table (Source: MobileTech, CloudFour) summarizes the basic comparison and scoring – 

Winner, who?
Now after reviewing the major factors that affect the decision to build a native mobile application or mobile web based application, I think, it really depends on the nature of solution that would bring in optimum output or add value to the enterprise/ consumer.

In my opinion, where the usability, device control, availability and security are of utmost importance, and the target user base is known – the application should be the native mobile application.

When it comes to reaching the mass users and the end user devices are of varied platforms, displays, mobile web applications serve best.

In some of the past surveys, it is found that, people do spend more time using the phones application that phone browser. One of the primary reasons for this was amateur web browser. Today’s smart phone browsers are better and closer to the desktop browsers!

Gartner believes this will be the case in the near future as well:
In mature markets, the mobile web, along with associated web adaptation tools, will be a leading technology for B2C mobile applications through 2012, and should be part of every organization's B2C technology portfolio. (Gartner, 2010)
The Hybrid Approach – the best of both the worlds!
There is another school of thought – why not to build an hybrid application that converges both the approaches in one? With the use of HTML5 support on the mobile, writing an interactive native application that makes use of content that is specially designed for smaller form factor via in-built browser, best of both the world can be achieved.

Many native applications already interact with the web one way or another, e.g. to get and publish data for their users; mobile applications incorporating web content. They add the mobile browser to their screens so that they can render the existing contents from the server in the WebView. The news feed apps is best examples of this.

Some of the tools such as PhoneGap allow developers build the apps that make use of web widgets run-time engines and other scripting languages.


The enterprise dilemma: Key considerations while embracing Mobility

Web Developers can rule the Mobile Development

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Few more thoughts about iPhone OS 4.0

This article is in continuation to Avinash Birnale's (VP tech at Endeavour) comments on iPhone OS 4.0

·         Apple edging out cross compiler generated CCG apps. How and Why? John Gruber -Daring Firewall - pointed out that there has been a change section 3.3.1 of the iphone developer program license. Opinion is divided on who or what exactly is apple trying to target here. In part this leaves little space for the Flash to iPhone compiler. CS5 is close to release. There is still not clarity whether this bars all others who are writing cross compilers.  PhoneGap, Ansca's corona SDK etc.

Implementation. What we are not sure is how this is going to be implemented - enforced in a fool proof manner. Presumably, its by way of automated inspection of code bundles. Endeavour, given that we develop applications for all mobile platforms clearly believes that this is an unnecessary step. As software developers we are and should continue to be free to use tools of our choice to create apps and solutions.

Quality concerns. Perhaps, Apple is paranoid about the end user experience with cross compiler generated - CCG - apps.  One could argue that if indeed the CCG apps offered a subpar experience then market would reject those. On the other hand such apps may flood the app store and lead to a general decline of standards.

Why help populate other app markets? And finally of-course , Apple will not make it any easier to build app inventory at other app stores.

·         Multitasking. There are no data points on what will the impact on battery life. It will be interesting to find out what exactly has changed at the firmware (or hardware) to support this. It may be a matter of simply using very light weight threads (Jeroen v./ Utrecht, Netherlands on aardvark) or  very limited services that a frozen program has access to (Markus M./31/ Vienna, Austria  on aardvark).

Whatever it is, as pointed out by Avinash Birnale earlier it is likely that new hardware is on the way.

·         iAd opening a front against Google?  Google will be watching iAd closely. They have number of patents on serving targeted adverts to users.

Implementation. Because this is based on HTML 5 means creative agencies (who build ads in flash) will now need to do so using html5 , what impact does this have on scalability of many such campaigns?

iAd is a closed ad network. Means apple controls the targeting, serving , measurement and pricing of these ads. This is likely to be a problem when it comes to running campaigns. How will you for example get apple to work with your media agency when the mandate is say "target the 45 - 70 year old golf playing demographic", how do you measure results?

Opportunity for developers to build apps? Particularly if the Ads are interactive or use location etc. Ads will perhaps go through the same validation process as apps.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Yet Again: Apple puts competition in ambush

Avinash Birnale analyses the latest announcement from Apple and it's impact on Enterprise Mobility

In his trademark style, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone OS 4.0 at Apple Headquarters. After the longest wait, Apple declared various new features and API support for its "only" smart phone iPhone! I followed various tweets and news, online coverages of the event and prepared this summary.

Steve Jobs and his team @ Apple has continued to keep millions of its fans surprising with every new technology they bring into the market. The recent launch of iPad took the apple stock at all time high $240 (6:13pm ET on 4/8/2010). The iPad launch was extremely successful with 450,000 units sold in just less than two weeks. And now as usual keeping its March tradition of announcing new OS - iPhone 4.0 is announced to debut in this summer - possibly in June-July time frame.

Apple described the iPhone OS 4.0 features as -

  • Around 1500 new developer APIs (can be seen from developer portal), Over 2000 APIs for hardware accelerated math functions
  • Developers can access Calendar, Photo Library, Camera Data, Quick Look, App directed SMS
  • Developers shall get access to the testing tools that are currently used to validate the apps on app store!
  • Over 100 new features for the end users including - Play list creation from device, 5x zoom camera, ability to change home screen wallpaper (same as in iPad), Game Center to gift the apps, unified mailbox and many more!

Steve Jobs described the major features exclusively in the event today. They include - Multitasking, enhanced location services, Local Push Notifications (reminders to wake up apps), Background task completion, folder arrangement on the home screen, Unified mailbox, iBooks on iPhone, Mobile device management for Enterprise users and IT, Game Center and the most exciting of all the iAd.

Multitasking Support
Though the multitasking support is announced in iPhone OS is a bit late compared to other competitor platforms such as Android and Web OS. The multitasking is not the multitasking we see on traditional mobiles or desktops. Its a different kind of implementation. Basically the multitasking is done only in the areas where you need VOIP Access, Audio Services and Connectivity requirements. For example, while you make a Skype call, you can browser or run other applications. Or while browsing through your emails, you can listen to Pandora radio!

The background task completion means ability to complete the connection transaction even after the app is terminated/ sent to background. For example, if your application is uploading or downloading data from your server, it can continue to do that even while in the background. The connection thread can only keep running. This will be useful when you want to complete the tasks that can be done only while you are connected and does not need any human intervention.

Apple claims this is unique way of having multitasking in the iPhone. You can fast switch between the applications with the double tap of the home button. The same feel of expose in the Mac can be seen - not exactly but but somewhat like it!

In short, only the important services that most widely needed to be done in the background are allowed - not everything you want to do in the background unlike Android.

True Enterprise Support
With the apple provided mobile device management support in iPhone, its entry in the enterprise is going to be very smoother one. Until now, IT teams have faced issues integrating the iPhones in their networks. Almost every CXO using iPhone, they had a real tough time keeping up with their boss's demands without compromising the security. They were dependent on the third party solutions for these device management.

With the unified mailbox and multiple exchange account support, iPhone is going to be more friendly and seamless in usage for end user.

Support for VOIP apps and ability to send them in background while the connection is live, makes the enterprises to utilize the cost effective features of SkypeIn and Vonage Mobile kind of services. Of course its interesting to watch how the network carrier will cope up with these.

Support for SSL based VPN, ability to push the enterprise application remotely from enterprise app stores are few more highlights of the true enterprise support. API support for developers to encrypt the data inside the application is one good item addressed from everyone's wish list!

Local Push Notifications
Looking at the current application usage trends, no wonder why Apple added the local push notifications! In order to give developers the ability to wake up the applications makes the features such as Alarms and reminders extremely easy to implement. With the current APNS it was very much waste of the feature. I personally never allowed any app to use the PUSH notifications except the mails. Its so much power thirsty that, i had to charge my phone twice a day!

New Addition - Game Center
The new concept of Game center has been brought in to encourage the gaming enthusiasts! This feature will not be available until later this year. It will allow you pair with other users.

After iBook, now iAd!
iBookStore was the latest addition for iPad, is now availabe for iPhone too. Steve Jobs introduced the new HTML5 based iAd concept. Using iAd, developers can host their digital contents and adverts on the Apple server to be delivered on to the phone. The iAd will allow user to browse through the adverts without quitting the app - preview or buying the products from the advert itself is going to be new experience for the users. The targeted adverts and may be user specific promotions will be new market to explore. Apple claims the iAd to be interactive adverts with emotions!

And the worst part -
The iPhone OS upgrade does not seem to be bringing in all these features to all the iPhones. I mean, only the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3rd generation are going to enjoy full feature set of of the new OS. the old iPod Touch and iPhone from first generation will not even be eligible for the upgrade. The second generation iPod Touch and iPhone shall get the upgrade but will not do any multitasking. The latest iPhone 3GS shall ahve all of this.

This to me suggests that, the new iPhone hardware is going to come! But unfortunately my iPod touch from last year is going to only enjoy limited features.

My hands on the SDK and BETA firmware upgrade
I downloaded the SDK 4.0 BETA and the firmware upgrade from Apple developer website today. Some of our apps work without any changes. But i observed few freezing on the launch itself. One even crashed the simulator!

I did the firmware upgrade on my iPod Touch (2G). It has a nice home screen, enhanced folder feature on the menu icons and nice iPod features to create my own playlist, folder view of the playlist! I like it :)

Look out for more posts soon after we explore the SDK with our existing applications.