Apple totally turns iPhone 3.0 into a game platform

The iPhone's operating system has secured the fourth-largest share of the global smarphone OS market, and has been increasing fourfold annually. While it has won the hearts of many, it has done so despite a prominent lack of certain built-in functions. The "Top 8" of these absent features are: MMS support, Adobe Flash support, video recording, Bluetooth modem tethering, push notifications, SMS forwarding, background applications, and -- an old favorite among the Mac faithful -- cut-and-paste.

While cut-and-paste functionality, and roughly four of the top eight needed functions were indeed added, they were piled under no less than a dozen other new abilities intended to advance videogaming on iPhone.

Background processing, video capture, and Flash support were not listed among the iPhone's newest features. However, the painfully absent support for MMS has at last been added, and message forwarding has been included as well. And push notification has been added, but in a uniquely Apple way. The "Apple Push Notification Service" can retrieve messages from third-party servers without continually running an app in the background.

Cut, Copy, and Paste lets the user double-tap the screen and then slide a selection tool over the desired text to be altered, while a long press of the screen highlights large blocks of text. Somewhat like an Etch-a-Sketch, the user must shake the iPhone to undo selections.

The Maps API has been opened, finally allowing turn-by-turn navigation software; and a universal search feature called "Spotlight" has been added, which lets the user search through mail, contacts, calendar, notes, and iPod data. Though only touched upon momentarily in the presentation, Spotlight updates the iPhone's home screen with an additional panel that bears a strong resemblance to the home screen of the Palm Pre.

Another common complaint about previous iPhone versions was the lack of a standard landscape-mode keyboard for all applications, most notably within Mail. This function has been added too, along with enhancements to Calendar, the Stocks app and the addition of Voice memo. Tethering was not discussed in the presentation, and it was only mentioned in the Q&A afterward, essentially repeating the rumors that the ability is pending.

The major improvements in the iPhone 3.0 SDK, it seems, appear to benefit game developers the most.

Furthering the device's image as a video game platform, Apple has included microtransactions within the app store, enabling what it calls "In-app Purchasing." When a user has purchased a game, for example, additional content can then be added with their approval, and their iTunes account will be automatically billed. The iPhone has also received peer-to-peer IP connectivity via Bonjour, which will allow local multiplayer games.

Also, Apple has greatly expanded accessory and peripheral support. It showed off an app which controlled the built-in FM transmitter, as well as an odd Sphygmomanometer app, and Johnson & Johnson displayed a glucose metering and dietary organizational app for diabetics.

But the major appeal here in terms of gaming will be the growing field of external controllers it can support. An API function for in-game voice communication has been added, as well as API functions to grant iPod library access, use of the proximity sensor and data detectors, "text selection," and functions that could lead to more "rumbles" in games (though not for the first time).

EA made an appearance at the presentation, showing off Sims 3 for iPhone. It utilizes many of the features provided by the 3.0 update, including in-game microtransactions and the ability for the Sims character to play iPod content on its virtual home stereo. Game company Ngmoco also took the stage to show off a multiplayer first-person shooter called LiveFire.

Users of the iPod Touch and first generation iPhone will have to shell out $9.95 for an update, and will likewise receive amended versions that take into consideration the hardware limitations. Developers enrolled in Apple's iPhone developer program will get first crack at it today.

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