Apps take center stage at Apple event

March 18, 2009

As Apple events go, Tuesday’s iPhone 3.0 operating system preview at the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters lacked some of the panache of past Apple gatherings. Although the iPhone’s software update and new kit for application developers are undoubtedly important and closely-watched, they don’t quite stir the imagination in the same way as the launch of a new gadget or computer.

The event did provide a showcase for plenty of nifty new iPhone features, and the company trotted out a number of developers to demonstrate the remarkable applications being designed for the smartphone.

One of the highlights was a musical interlude by Ge Wang, an assistant professor at Stanford and the co-founder of Smule, which makes the Ocarina app for the iPhone. The hugely popular program allows users to “play” the iPhone like a musical instrument by blowing in the device’s microphone. Dr. Ge gave a brief demonstraton on stage to a healthy round of applause.

“It is fair to say that without the iPhone and the SDK [software development kit] there would literally be no Smule,” he said.

Apple held a brief Q&A after the main presentation. During the media session, the company was asked why it took so long to add cut-and-paste functionality to the iPhone, as the company is doing for version 3.0.  Scott Forstall, senior vice president for iPhone software, said it wasn’t as easy as it looks.

“It’s not obvious exactly how to do it… there’s a lot of pieces there that we really cared about and … we wanted to nail it and get it perfect as opposed to send out something that didn’t quite work right.”

The company was also asked about so-called “tethering,” or the ability to share your mobile phone’s Internet connection with your laptop. Apple was rumored to be adding a tethering capability to its next-generation iPhone software, and according to Forstall, they basically are.

“There’s two pieces needed to support that. One is client side … and the second is working with carriers and making sure you get on to their carrier network. So we’re absolutely supporting tethering in the client side in iPhone 3.0. We’re building that support in. We’re also working with our carriers around the world to figure out when they can add tethering support on their networks. So stay tuned for that.”

Apple was queried about performance issues and reported lag time on the current iPhone operating system, and what the company plans to do about it. Forstall said only that “we absolutely care about performance and are addressing it in a number of ways.”

Some developers have reported difficulty in getting their iPhone apps through the Apple approval process. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of product marketing, downplayed any problems, noting the the blockbuster growth rate in the App Store, which now has more than 25,000 offerings. He said 96 percent of apps are approved.

“We want developers to have a lot of apps and be super successful in the store, we also want a store where customers feel great about the quality of what they get and comfortable with what’s available. And so the numbers speak for themselves. We’ve done a great job improving the turnaround time.”

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