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.

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