14
Mar
09

Wither iPhone OS 3?

OK, so Apple’s going to lift its skirt on Tuesday and show us all what its been working on since last year. For most people, this is basically non-news. The chance of Apple releasing anything that you can buy or even use outside of a development environment is basically zero. For me, as a daily and enthusiastic user (and wannabe developer), this announcement will provide me with endless drool-worthiness that will consume my every waking thought until I can get my grubby hands on new hardware come June.

Or something like that…

In all seriousness, this event is interesting simply because we’ll get to see where the iPhone is headed for the future (or next year or so, until Apple changes again). While that’s all well and good, but the real fun is with the fact-free speculation! I am clearly not above, as might be inferred by my woefully inaccurate Macworld 2009 prediction (most of which eventually came true, as of last week’s refreshes, so there!) so I’ll stick my neck out again.

BGR has said that the big news will be MMS and tethering, neither of which I care about, so if that’s the extent, I’ll be wanting that hour of my life back. Luckily, I seem to have a bigger imagination than BGR, so I think that the big news will be a UI overhaul, which includes better app management, greater use of background processes and real resolution independence. These three things combined make for a much stronger and larger iPhone OS ecosystem.

I have 62(!) apps that I downloaded from the App Store, plus the default apps that can’t be removed plus a couple of jailbreak apps (Qik and Winterboard) all spread out over seven pages and the dock. I have made some attempts at organization, but I find myself flicking between app pages way too often, and its gotten irritating. I don’t know what the best approach to app management on the iPhone is, but I do know that this ain’t it.

I’m expecting that the iPhone v.3 hardware, unlike the iPhone 3G, will have some significant upgrades. Newer, better SoC, more efficient, more storage flash RAM, but most importantly, more RAM. More than anything else, the limited 128MB of RAM in the iPhone (EDGE and 3G) is the limiting factor. I wanted an iPhone 3G until I realized that its guts were basically the same as the original. It was basically a 2008 phone using 2007 hardware. I figured that Apple would have to do a hardware update every year, so a two-year upgrade cycle should work for me.

I don’t think there’s any way that the v.3 iPhone won’t have significantly more horsepower to throw at the OS. Clearly, looking at the hardware that’s in the Pre, that 2009 vintage smartphones are significantly more capable than 2007 phones. Or, let me put it this way: if Palm was under the same constraints that Apple was under when it was developing the iPhone, the Pre wouldn’t have been possible. This should go without saying, especially when you compare what Palm was shipping when the iPhone shipped to the iPhone or the Pre. There’s such a difference between the Pre and the Treo 750 or 680 that the only thing that gives you any indication that they were made by the same company is the logo is the same on both.

Apple has now had two years of real-world experience of how to interact with a mobile platform and how to tweak hardware to the limits of its capabilities. I’m hoping that Apple grows the iPhone’s anemic RA from 128MB to at least 512MB or, even better, a gig. I think that lots and lots of RAM is essential for a good mobile experience. Of course the CPU, which may or may not be a new PA Semi design will be more efficient and sip less juice, probably have better antennas and there’ll be more flash memory. All of this is good, but the memory’s the key. I think we’ll know for sure if true background processes are in the new SDK.

The Pre has a great UI and an interesting paradigm. Clearly, Apple is not going to blatantly rip off Palm’s UI, but there are some really good ideas there. The really interesting thing is one that won’t have an immediate payoff: resolution independence.

Currently, the iPhone’s UI is based on bitmapped images. This assumes that the iPhone’s screen will be the same size and resolution. I’m also assuming that the v.3 will have the same size screen, if only because the iPhone has to remain pocketable. It can, however, have a higher resolution screen. A resolution-independent SDK allows Apple to do this without breaking third-party apps. Just like how Apple held its original SDK event in order to give developers enough time to populate the App Store when it launched, Apple again needs to give developers time to update their apps to take advantage of the new features. Apple has updated the original SDK several times since it was announced and since the App Store went live, usually with no announcement. By making such a big deal about the 3.0 OS and SDK, Apple is putting developers on notice by making sure that every iPhone user will be aware of the new features and will be demanding them when 3.0 goes live. If the iPhone OS goes resolution-independent with version 3.0, you can bet that there will be an Apple tablet this year, and it will be running on the iPhone OS, not Mac OS X.

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