Apple's iPhone OS 4.0, available in June, adds business features, multitasking, e-books and enhanced gaming. But arguably the biggest news to come from the computer giant's event Thursday was its unveiling of iAd, which stands to take mobile advertising to a new era.
"The big news is that Apple is now in the ad business," said technology consultant Michael Gartenberg of the Altimeter Group in an interview from Apple's event, where CEO Steve Jobs previewed the new OS at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.
Ads with Emotion
Using a mock-up of an ad for the upcoming Disney-Pixar film Toy Story 3, Jobs showed how ads placed on iPhone applications go beyond pop-ups to miniature web sites with features such as video and games. In other demos for Target and Nike, he showed how users might design footwear or stock dorm rooms. He said Apple wants to provide ads with "emotion" rather than boring content, and iAd keeps users within apps rather than redirecting them.
By tapping an X, the user can then return to the app where the ad was placed. Jobs said Apple will take a 40 percent cut of the ad revenue. The potential audience is huge: Jobs said 50 million iPhones and 35 million iPod touches have been sold.
"A device that was basically for communication and content consumption is now serving up these rich textual ads, which is very big news and also a shot across Google's bow," said Gartenberg. "You've got the ability to present your content in someone else's app as a micro-site with very rich content that is also in HTML 5." HTML 5 is intended to reduce the need for animation plug-ins such as Adobe Flash.
Google, whose acquisition of the mobile ad firm AdMob is pending while Apple acquired Quattro Wireless, relies on search results for its advertising.
Faster, Better Multitasking
Jobs, clad in his trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck, also demonstrated some of the new multitasking features that he said will allow multiple applications to run at the same time without slowing the processor or wearing down the battery, a process he said took his researchers some time to perfect.
"We figured out how to implement multitasking for third-party apps and avoid those things," said Jobs, according to reports. "That's what took us a little longer, but I think we nailed it."
Pushing the home button twice produces a display of all active apps, and the user can then toggle back and forth between them. The current iPhone OS 3.0 only allows a handful of utilities to work simultaneously. With 185,000 apps now available, iPhone OS 4.0 now provides folders to help users organize their inventories.
A developer preview of iPhone OS 4.0 is available now to enable more apps for the system when it is released. The new features will be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch. Some features will be available for the older 3G iPhone and iPod touch. iPad users can use the new OS this summer.
A Nod To Enterprise, Gamers
In addition to the shot across Google's bow, Jobs fired a broadside of sorts at Research In Motion with enhanced Apple business features to take on BlackBerry's dominance of enterprise customers. The new features include better data encryption and a unified inbox for consolidating e-mail accounts, with support for Microsoft Exchange.
Apple, of course, wouldn't mind cutting into Nintendo and Sony's sales of handheld gaming devices, and a social-network utility that matches players to opponents who share interests and skill levels, or allows them to challenge friends, could help with that goal. Jobs also said 50,000 game and entertainment apps are now available for the iPhone, 10 times as many as those that can be used on either Nintendo's DS or Sony's PSP.
In what may be the vanguard of new features addressing privacy concerns, iPhone OS 4 also notifies users whenever an application is tracking their location.
Jobs also used the spotlight to tout the success of the iPad, released Saturday, citing positive reviews and statistics, including 450,000 units sold and downloads of one billion apps and 600,000 books via the iBookstore.