New iPhone small step towards global domination

June 9, 2009

tom_dunmore-Tom Dunmore is editor-in-chief of Stuff magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Yesterday, Apple unveiled the latest version of its wildly popular iPhone. And it was quite a show, despite the absence of Apple’s usual ringmaster Steve Jobs.

The keynote speech at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco was heaving the massed ranks of the global media, hyped by rumours of mini iPhones, touschscreen Macs and Steve Jobs’ early return from sick leave.

In the end, Apple’s hardware announcement was more prosaic – the new iPhone 3G S looks exactly the same as the old iPhone 3G but is faster, has a better camera, and offers voice control.

But it quickly became clear to the audience that the iPhone is about much more than hardware. Developer after developer took to the stage to show off their new software, which ranged from multiplayer games to a medical application that allows doctors to remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs.

There are already 50,000 programs available from the iTunes App Store, and the 40million iPhone and iPod Touch users have each downloaded an average of 25 apps – taking the total downloads to over 1billion since the App Store launched less than a year ago.

Many app downloads are free, but plenty of developers are making a good living from selling their wares to this growing audience, and the new iPhone 3.0 software – due out on June 17 – will allow them to charge for updates and subscriptions from within their applications.

The new iPhone software also enables turn-by-turn satellite navigation – which is destined to be a huge success, judging by the demonstration of iPhone software from TomTom.

And because iPhone 3.0 software is a free upgrade for existing iPhone users, there’s already a massive market for any new applications taking advantage of its new features.

Meanwhile Apple’s biggest rivals are preparing to release smartphones that are arguably technically superior to the iPhone. Nokia’s N97 will be released in the UK on June 19th – the same day as the iPhone 3G S – while Palm’s Pre has just hit the US market. Both iPhone rivals feature their own application download stores – but neither has the iPhone’s momentum. And without a vibrant community of developers, a smartphone is little more than a complicated way to make phonecalls.

The iPhone is changing the shape of the mobile phone market. The technical specification of a handset is no longer the key selling point – the hardware is now just a platform, and it’s the software that’s built upon it that really counts.

Until rival platforms develop a critical mass of users and developers, Apple can continue to turn small changes to the iPhone into great leaps towards global domination.


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