Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iPhone OS 3.0
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When Apple first previewed the iPhone OS 2.0 last year, it announced that a feature was in the works to allow applications to send notifications to the iPhone and iPod touch for the purpose of providing status updates and other information. This was intended to compensate for the fact that third-party applications could not run in the background, thereby making it impractical to run apps that might otherwise provide real-time status updates, such as instant messaging or news apps.
iPhone OS 3.0 finally brings the Push Notification feature to the iPhone platform. While we are still mostly waiting on third-party applications that take advantage of this feature, iPhone Developers have already been given a preview of its usage for mobile news and Instant Messaging applications, and many new push-enabled apps will likely follow today’s official release.
Push Notifications provide developers with the ability to send notifications to the iPhone or iPod touch via Apple’s Push Notification server. These notifications must come from external servers rather than the iPhone itself, so not every app running on your iPhone is going to be able to take advantage of status notifications—it’s limited to apps that depend on frequent communications with the Internet.
The notifications themselves can be displayed on your device in three different ways: playing a custom sound, displaying a pop-up notification, and updating the application’s icon badge count. Once you have installed an application that uses Push Notifications, a menu option appears in the main “Settings” app where you can configure your Push Notification preferences, either enabling or disabling them globally, or enabling and disabling specific notification types for specific applications.
While not entirely a replacement for background applications, properly-implemented Push Notifications can bring an improved experience to applications that rely on real-time notification, such as Instant Messaging apps.
Expect this feature to be leveraged for everything from IM and social networking apps to online games.
Enhanced Bluetooth Support (iPhone 3G / 3G S / iPod touch 2G only)
Bluetooth capabilities have until now been the exclusive domain of the iPhone, and limited only to the mundane task of handling handsfree, monaural phone audio for earpieces and car-kits. This was despite the fact that various teardown reports made it clear that the second-generation iPod touch actually did in fact contain a Bluetooth chip.
iPhone OS 3.0 has now effectively unlocked the Bluetooth chip in the iPod touch 2G and expanded the Bluetooth capabilities across both of the current iPhone models, providing A2DP/AVRCP stereo Bluetooth audio and remote control capabilities for media playback as well as the ability to connect with other nearby iPhone and iPod touch devices for gaming and other third-party multi-user applications.
Note that the expanded Bluetooth capabilities will not be available on the first-generation iPod touch at all as it lacks the necessary hardware, and some of the Bluetooth functionality such as A2DP will not be coming to the original first-generation iPhone either. An article discussing the new stereo Bluetooth functionality in greater length is available here.
Home Button Preferences
The options for which application to open when double-clicking the Home button have also been expanded. In addition to the previous options of simply returning to the Home screen, opening Phone Favorites, or displaying the iPod app, users can now also choose to use the double-click to bring up the iPhone Camera app or the Spotlight Search screen.
Internet Tethering (iPhone only)
iPhone OS 3.0 now lets users—some users, at least—use their iPhones as modems for their computers. This is accomplished either with a wireless Bluetooth or cabled USB connection.
Tethering options must be enabled by your cellular carrier, and are hidden from your iPhone preferences unless they are specifically provided by your carrier. If your carrier provides the tethering feature, you can enable it from the iPhone’s Settings app under General, Network, Internet Tethering. There are no specific iPhone-configuration options other than enabling or disabling tethering, although the Internet Tethering settings provide a bit more detail on how to connect your computer to your iPhone.
To tether your iPhone via USB, you must be running iTunes 8.2 on the computer you wish to tether with, since it contains the necessary drivers for USB tethering. In this configuration, your iPhone will simply appear to your computer as an Ethernet network device, and the connection should be automatically established as soon as you plug your iPhone into your computer.
Bluetooth tethering for Mac users requires Mac OS X 10.5.7 or later on current model Mac computers, although pre-Unibody Macbooks and Macbook Pros can use tethering on older versions of Leopard. Windows users require a Bluetooth card that supports the Personal Area Network (PAN) profile. Note that iTunes does not need to be installed to use Bluetooth-based tethering.
While operating your iPhone in tethered mode, a blue status bar will appear on the lock screen or at the top of your menu bar to remind you that you are in tethering mode. Standard data usage rules apply: If you are tethering over a 3G connection, you will still be able to use your iPhone to make or receive phone calls without interrupting your data connection.
Note that tethering may require additional data plans or incur additional usage fees from your cellular carrier, as not all iPhone on-device data plans will include tethering. Even if your carrier has enabled tethering support on your device, you should always check into your data plan before enabling it to avoid any nasty surprises at the end of the month.
iPhone OS 3.0 now expands the number of languages supported on the iPhone and iPod touch to 30, with over 40 different keyboard layouts supported. Some of the new language and keyboard support added includes Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Indonesian, Malay, Portuguese and Thai, along with formatting and localization for new territories.
SMS & MMS Messaging (iPhone only)
With iPhone OS 3.0, the old Text application has now been renamed “Messages” and enhanced with several new features including widescreen viewing and landscape keyboard support, multimedia messaging, and the ability to forward and delete specific messages.
Multi-Media Messaging (iPhone 3G / 3G S only)
Another iPhone feature that has been long-awaited by some users is support for Multi-Media Messaging, also known as MMS, a feature that essentially allows you to send multimedia content such as pictures and audio files to other cellular phones similar to text messages.
MMS support is combined with SMS/text message support in the new “Messages” app, and multimedia content can be added to MMS messages either directly from within the Messages app itself, or by sending the content directly from other compatible applications such as Photos.
Note that MMS must be enabled by your cellular carrier in order to be used on the iPhone, and it is not available on the first-generation iPhone models, even with the iPhone OS 3.0 update. MMS-related options are hidden entirely within the iPhone unless they have been specifically enabled by your carrier.
Forward and Selectively Delete SMS/MMS Messages (iPhone only)
The Messages app now also provides the ability to forward SMS/MMS messages and selectively delete parts of an SMS/MMS conversion thread. An “Edit” button now appears in the top right corner when viewing an SMS/MMS conversion thread; tapping the Edit button provides an interface where you can tap to select individual messages from the conversation thread and then either Delete or Forward them by using the buttons at the bottom of the screen.
A new “Messages” section now appears in the iPhone’s Settings, allowing you to configure your SMS and MMS preferences, including whether SMS/MMS previews should be shown on the standby/lock screen and whether new SMS/MMS alerts should be repeated. Both of these behaviors were changed somewhat arbitrarily in previous iPhone versions without any configuration options to disable them; iPhone OS 3.0 now provides these as user options.
MMS messaging can also be disabled entirely from here for users who don’t want to use this feature, and the option to use the subject field for new MMS messages can also be toggled on and off. Again, MMS settings will only appear on this screen if MMS has been enabled by your cellular carrier, so AT&T users will not see these appear until later this summer when AT&T rolls out MMS service.
Voice Memos (iPhone / iPhone 3G / 3G S / iPod touch 2G)
Traditional Click Wheel iPod models have offered voice recording capabilities for the past few years, which made the lack of a built-in voice recording application a conspicuous omission on the part of the iPhone and even the iPod touch.
Several third-party developers stepped in to fill that void when the App Store first came online last year, and most iPhone users by now have a wide range of options for voice recording on the iPhone and iPod touch. As of iPhone OS 3.0, however, Apple has now included its own built-in Voice Memos application to provide basic voice recording capabilities.
The Voice Memos app itself is relatively straightforward. Start it up and you’re presented with a simple screen that provides a picture of an old-fashioned microphone, a level meter and two buttons: one to start a recording, and the other to bring up a listing of previous recordings. On the iPhone, audio can be recorded either from the built-in microphone or through a mic attached to the headphone port. The iPod touch 2G lacks a built-in mic and therefore requires an external mic.
Most recordings are saved as 44.1kHz Apple Lossless files in monaural mode at a bit-rates of around 325kbps. Tapping the recording list button in the bottom-right corner brings up a list of previous recordings in a layout similar to the iPhone’s Visual Voicemail application. From here you can listen to your recordings, share them via e-mail or MMS, or delete them from your device. Certain stereo recording accessories can be attached as well, automatically triggering stereo recording mode and higher bit rates.
The Voice Memos application has a couple of useful twists. First, the app provides the ability to trim existing voice recordings right on your device, with a nicely-designed slider interface that allows you to adjust the beginning and end points of your recording and preview your changes before trimming.
Second, as with the voice memo capabilities on traditional iPod models, any voice recordings on your device are automatically synced back to your iTunes library the next time you connect your iPhone to your computer, eliminating the need to work with third-party tools.
Apple’s own Voice Memos application takes advantage of a feature not available to third-party developers: the ability to run in the background. Once you have started a voice recording, your device will continue recording even if you exit the Voice Memos application. A red status bar is displayed at the top of the screen to indicate that a voice recording is in progress.
Note that despite its background capabilities, you cannot record a phone call in progress using the built-in Voice Memos application. Starting a phone call while the voice recorder is running will stop recording, and attempting to start recording while on a phone call will inform you that you must end the phone call first. Whether this restriction is for legal or technical reasons is unclear at this point.
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