It's now been a year since Apple first unveiled its iPhone and today the company announced a series of updates to the super-hyped device. Though 3G-capability remains on the horizon (it will come this year, however) now has the capability to do a couple things its should have done form the outset. Speaking at the Macworld 2008 keynote in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised a handful of features in update 1.1.3 including Google Maps location triangulation and the ability to send a text message to multiple recipients. The result is a more useful device, but we were hoping for a bit more. The update is available today--you need only to download the latest version of iTunes--and unlike the similar updates for the iPod Touch that were also announced today, it is free.
Better SMS This may be the most basic part of the update but it's the one that I'm most excited about. While previously the iPhone would let you send a text message to just one person at a time, today's update will allow you to send a message to several people simultaneously. No, it's not new and no, it's not sexy, but it is without a doubt useful. I think the iPhone should have had such capability from the very beginning, but that's another story.
Location, location, location The Google Maps functionality gained a new degree of functionality with a location service. It doesn't magically become a GPS device GPS (you can't add a GPS chip via a software update) but it will let you pinpoint your approximate location on the Goggle Maps feature. As Jobs demonstrated in his keynote, when you tap the new icon in the lower left corner of the touchscreen, a circle will show where you should be on the map. But rather than connecting to a satellite, it finds you by connecting to nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular towers and pinpointing their location (sort of a back door locater). You then can find directions using your pinpointed location.
When I gave it a go the location service was off by several blocks on my first attempt. Though even standard GPS systems aren't perfect, the margin of error was still too big. Fortunately, the second time I tried the location service it was much more accurate and I liked that I could zoom in quite close. Yet it's worth noting that the functionality won't work when you're away from wireless civilization, which typically is a time when GPS services come in really handy. I'm glad to see this feature added, though.
The next mapping feature is pretty cool. By pressing the new icon on the lower right corner of the touchscreen you can drop a pin wherever you like on the map. You can move the pin around and you can use it as a location for determining directions.
Shake up the home screen The iPhone's home screen is slick but up until now it hasn't offered customization options. But with today's update, you'll be able to add your personal touch. By pressing and holding any icon, all the the icons on the display will start to wiggle. You then can move icons around and rearrange them at will. By moving icons to the right you also can access a second menu page and you can add or remove on the "dock" at the bottom of the display. It's clear that with this new feature Apple is readying the iPhone for more applications, particularly as the company prepares for next month's SDK. To stop the icons from wiggling, just press the Home button.
Safari bookmarks Though you've always been able to bookmark Web sites in the Safari browser today's update lets you add those bookmarks to the home screen in the form of icons. When viewing your favorite site, just tap the bookmark icon and you'll find a new "Add to home screen" option. After clicking that and naming the bookmark whatever you'd like an icon with a miniature version of the Web page will appear on the home screen. You can add multiple icons (thanks to the new second menu page) and you can move them around using the aforementioned home screen customization feature. Also, you can delete "web clips" (as Jobs called them) at will. I think this is a also a useful feature as it saves you a few clicks inside the browser.
Movies and music Going forward the iPhone will support Apple's iTunes movie rentals, which jobs also announced at the show. And when watching films, you'll be able to through the movies by chapter and select alternate language tracks and view subtitles. Also, when playing music in the iPod player, you'll be able to see lyric overlays. All in all, these fixes sound pretty neat.
What's missing? Quite a few things are missing, actually. Though a 3G iPhone remains the grand prize, I was still hoping for a few other improvements. In particular I'd like to see Adobe Flash playback, more memory, cut and paste, multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth and video recording. And one more thing...how about some SDK news? But on the whole it was decent show but I can't wait more.
By the numbers Jobs said that in the 200 days that the iPhone has been selling, Apple has sold four million units for an average of about 20,000 a day.