Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iPhone OS 3.0

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Announced on March 17th, then promised for worldwide release on June 17, Apple’s iPhone OS 3.0 upgrade was officially released for public consumption earlier today. The third major release of the iPhone OS brings a number of features that many will likely feel have been too long in coming to the iPhone platform; however, this latest release succeeds in making the iPhone OS feel more grown up and ready to face a wider audience.

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Downloading and Installing

As with all previous iPhone and iPod touch updates, the iPhone OS 3.0 is downloaded and installed via iTunes. Note that you must be running iTunes 8.2 to receive the update, which is a free and automatic download for all iPhone models. For iPod touch users, this is a more optional update that must be purchased from the iTunes Store for $10.

Other than the purchase requirement for iPod touch users, the download and installation process is relatively transparent. Simply use the “Check for Updates” option found on the iPhone Summary page in iTunes 8.2 and it should locate, download and install the 3.0 update automatically. In some cases, iTunes may already indicate that an update is available, in which case you will simply see an “Update” button instead of a “Check for Updates” button.


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Note that the installation may or may not result in the wiping of your device’s existing media, contacts, and other data; it should not happen, but can under certain conditions. In addition to the backups that iTunes normally keeps, an additional backup of your device will automatically be made prior to applying the update. This is simply as a precaution, as the update process does not normally remove any data from your device, but simply applies the update over the previous iPhone OS version. In the event that the device is completely wiped clean, using the backup and re-synchronizing your media will take some time, but fully restore your device to its prior contents.

iPhone vs iPod touch

With the iPhone OS 3.0 release, Apple has brought the iPhone and iPod touch back to feature parity in terms of software. In November, Apple added iPhone-only enhancements to the Maps application such as Google Street View and transit directions. iPhone 3.0 now brings these features to the iPod touch as well.

There are still obvious hardware differences between the iPhone and iPod touch of course, and iPhone 3.0 features will differ slightly on each platform due to these hardware differences, however the software-only features between the iPhone and iPod touch appear to have come back into line with the iPhone 3.0 release.

General and System-Wide Changes

The most significant changes in iPhone 3.0 are not specific to any one particular app, but rather focus on changes to the operating system and UI as a whole. Some of these are relatively minor, while others are very significant.

Home Screen

While many were expecting a significantly revamped home screen layout in iPhone 3.0 with better application organization, the changes to the home screen are minimal and almost entirely cosmetic in nature. The default home screen layout remains essentially the same other than a slight reorganization in the third and fourth rows to accommodate the new Voice Memos app, which can of course still be user-customized in the same way as before—users updating their devices will have their existing app layout preserved with the Voice Memos app appearing in the first open icon slot.


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Other cosmetic changes to the home screen include the renaming of the Text app to “Messages,” along with a new icon to reflect 3.0’s new support for Multimedia Messaging (MMS); there’s also an updated design for the Stocks icon with sharper peaks and no calendar months at the bottom of the icon. The iPod and Phone icons also receive minor cosmetic diagonal line background tweaks to bring their designs more in-line with the new Messages icon, for whatever reason.

The Home screen now also supports a total of eleven pages of apps, up from the previous nine-page limit. This brings the total number of apps that can be usably installed on the iPhone up to 180 versus the previous limit of 148.


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A small magnifying glass now appears to the left of the white and gray page indicator dots above the dock, and swiping to the left of the first Home screen page will now take you to the Spotlight Search screen. Further, pressing the home button from the first home screen page of icons will also take you to the Spotlight Search screen, and pressing it again from there returns you back to the first page of icons.

Spotlight Search

iPhone 3.0 now includes the ability to search for content within certain apps on the iPhone, either from within the specific apps themselves or globally from the Spotlight Search screen found on the left-most home screen.


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Prior versions of the iPhone OS provided a search bar within the Contacts app, and in iPhone 3.0 similar search bars have now also been added to the Mail, Calendar, Notes, and iPod applications. As with the Contact search, entering text into the search bar in these apps will search the content within that particular app. Most apps open with this search bar hidden – you will need to scroll up to see it, and some apps only show the search bar in certain views—List view in the Calendar app, for example.


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The Mail app adds one additional interesting search-related feature. When you first enter text into the search bar, a list of buttons appears immediately below the search bar to allow you to further refine your search to certain mail-specific fields such as from, to and subject. Mail also provides the ability to extend your search beyond the messages stored on your device and onto your Mail server via IMAP.


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It’s worth noting that Apple promoted this as a feature of MobileMe, but the Mail search itself works with any IMAP-based e-mail account and not just MobileMe accounts. There is a downside, however: the search only includes message headers; a full-text search of message content is not performed, either locally on your device or on the server.

The Spotlight Search feature from the main Home screen simply allows you to perform a search through all of your searchable applications at once. Entering any text into the Spotlight Search screen will present a list of results across all of your searchable applications, organized by app and identified by each application’s icon. Tapping on a result will open that specific application and bring you to the selected search result.


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You can choose which search results are included in the main Spotlight Search and which order they are displayed in from your device’s Settings, under General, Home, Search Results. Simply tap each category to enable or disable, or drag them up and down the list to reorder how they’re presented to you in the Spotlight Search results.


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Widescreen Mode and Landscape Keyboard Support

With iPhone OS 3.0, Apple has finally brought a long-requested feature to built-in apps in the form of landscape orientation viewing and the wider landscape keyboard. Among the built-in apps, the landscape keyboard was previously only available in the Safari browser. With iPhone OS 3.0, this has now been expanded to include the new Messages application, Mail, Notes and Contacts. Landscape viewing in any form remains conspicuously missing from the built-in Calendar application. It should also be noted that landscape viewing of Contacts is only available in the separate “Contacts” application—the contacts section in the Phone application remains in portrait view only.


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iPhone 3.0 also adds a new widescreen view to the built-in Stocks application. Turning your device while viewing the Stocks app will present a detailed widescreen stock chart view, and you can switch between stock charts by swiping left and right in the same way as you would for Photos.


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Note that as with previous iPhone versions, third-party apps must still be specifically designed for landscape viewing and keyboard support. There’s nothing magical that the new iPhone OS does to automatically allow landscape viewing and keyboard for any other apps—Apple has simply chosen to update a few of their own core apps to provide a landscape orientation mode.

Editing Enhancements: Cut, Copy and Paste and More

For serious smartphone users, the ability to copy and paste text was quite possibly the single most glaring omission in the iPhone OS over the past two years. iPhone OS 3.0 finally brings this feature to the table, and implements it in a very polished manner.

First, as one would expect, the iPhone OS 3.0 cut/copy/paste features are not app-specific, but rather work system-wide across any application that supports text editing and entry fields. This means that there is no extra support required by third-party developers or applications to take advantage of this, and even apps that were released for iPhone OS 2.0 last summer can still benefit from the iPhone OS 3.0’s new text editing capabilities, provided they’re using standard text editing controls.

To start selecting text in any app, simply hold down your finger where you want your text selection to begin, in a manner similar to that used to move the insertion point in previous iPhone OS versions. A pop-up menu will appear with options to begin selecting text, select all displayed text, or paste in any content that is already on your clipboard.


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After tapping select or select all, two blue dots will appear around your selection which you can then manipulate to highlight the text that you would like to cut or copy. The pop-up menu will also change to provide options to cut the selected text, copy the selected text, or paste the content of the clipboard over the selected text.


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Note that you can also double-tap to select an entire word and can use the keyboard delete key or start typing to replace any selected text without cutting it to the clipboard.

The text selection and cut/copy/paste capabilities are not limited to plain text, either. The iPhone OS also handles selection of rich text and graphics from within applications such as Safari, which can be copied to the clipboard and then pasted into a rich-text field somewhere else, such as into a new message in the Mail or Messages applications.


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Of course, the new selection features make it too easy to accidentally banish entire chunks of text from your screen, so iPhone 3.0 also has another new hidden text-editing trick up its sleeve: undo. Simply give your iPhone or iPod touch a shake while editing in any text field, and you’ll be offered the opportunity to undo your changes, whether you’ve simply deleted a few characters or an entire paragraph.


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Shaking the device a second time after an undo will offer a chance to undo the next-previous action, or redo the undone action. Several levels of undo/redo are supported.


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In-Line Links

With the new copy and paste capabilities of iPhone OS 3.0, in-line links to information such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and URLs now gain additional options. While tapping on a link will behave the same as it did previously, you can now tap-and-hold on a linked item to bring up a pop-up menu of additional options for things you can do with that information. For example, tapping on a phone number or e-mail address will give you options to call the number, send a text message, or use it for a new or existing contact. Tapping on a URL will offer options to open the URL or copy it to the clipboard.


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