What the iPhone 3GS and 3.0 OS Means for Geo Devs

Yesterday’s announcements around the iPhone 3GS and new 3.0 OS were significant to consumers and developers. Here are some of the changes that will make geo devs happy.

Google Maps Views (Mapkit) – Developers can now take advantage of Google Maps within their apps. This means that you no longer have to building your own mapping system for your native apps. Companies like Platial and Pelago who made huge resource investments in building their own maps early on that did will now have to decide if they should continue the maintenance or go with Google.

zipcar dynamic marker wwdc

Dynamic Map Markers – Map markers in mapping apps can now be changed based on realtime data on the server. This is used in the featured ZipCar app (screenshot) to show which cars are available to use at a certain time.

Safari – The new Safari will be faster, allow for offline content and provide access to location APIs. This is huge. It means that a web application can find a user’s location. Google showed a version of Latitude using this at Google I/O. The faster browser also means that developers can have richer apps with less performance fears. Finally, the ability to have offline access will allow content to be cahced. Unfortunately, there is no word if Safari will have access to the Compass (I doubt it) and it still does not have access to the Camera (a key component to many geo apps).

In-Application Purchases – iPhone 3.0 should also bring the ability to purchase content/items from within an application. Developers will be able to sell geo data and upgrade app services with this feature.

Here are some iPhone 3GS goodies that are available due to the new hardware and are only available on the iPhone 3GS.

Camera – The new camera is 3MP and has video capabilities. Awesome, but more importantly for geo developers it has an auto-focus macro-mode. This will allow users to take pictures of small Barcodes and QR Codes. The previous iPhone camera had issues reading them. These physical marks (QR Codes especially) are often used to convey digital information like an URL or email address.

compass slide wwdc

Compass – The digital compass provides orientation to the phone. With orientation apps that layer virtual information (AKA Augmented Reality) over the camera view become possible. This is a great boon to the iPhone. Hopefully we’ll see some great designs come forward. No word on whether or not Safari will have access to the compass.

Peer-to-Peer (GameKit) – This API lets two apps talk to each other over BlueTooth. It is designed for gamers, but if the API is open then it will be used by geohackers to do proximity checks (who is nearby me) and for geocontent sharing.

Accessories API – Apple has released the ability for third-party hardware to interact with the iPhone. This is going to be a huge boon to hardware hackers everywhere. The iPhone can take in and transmit sensor and location data for them. Nike won’t have to go through this API; support for Nike+ is built-in giving all hardware hackers something to dream about.

Graphics – The new phone will have improved performance and increased 3D support. You mostly hear news about how this will affect games, but awesome 3D geo apps like Google Earth and UpNext will also get the 3D benefits.

Even with all these goodies, there are some obvious carrots that are out of reach for developers. Some of them are:

find my iphone

Find My iPhone – If you have MobileMe iPhone 3.0 users can find their phones, send a message to their phone and perform a data wipe on their iPhone. This is a service; not an API. It will probably get Apple a lot of MobileMe accounts. Apple did not provide any way for apps to passively get a user’s location, however they obviously have the ability to get that info.

Tomtom Turn-By-Turn Navigation – Apple forbid third-party developers from developing turn-by-turn navigation, obviously waiting for a big partner to take on the task. Tomtom won the honor.

There were of course some disappointments:

Push Notifications – Apps cannot send data to the server unless they are open. That means that location data cannot be sent to the cloud in the background. This is a big disappointment for those of us who want Latitude, Fire Eagle, Loopt, Whrrl, BrightKite to be able to track our every move. Maybe it will come in a future release.

I’ve discussed my disappointment about the lack of background location support before. Read Apple’s Big Location Chance, Or When Is The iPhone Going To Use That GPS? for an expanded read on why Apple should do this.

Thanks to Raven for your help on this post and Ryan Block for the gdgt photos from WWDC.

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  • nebben

    I don’t think the 3G S is the biggest announcement from WWDC, though. Here’s why, http://bit.ly/dSlG2.

  • Mike

    I thought I heard a while back that Google would be including Latitude functionality in a new version of Google Maps that would roll out with a new version of the iPhone OS. But I haven’t heard anything about Latitude in relation to iPhone OS 3.0. Any news there?

  • bowerbird

    > Finally, the ability to have offline access will all There is
    > no word if Safari will have access to the Compass


    > The new phone will support have improved
    > performance and increased 3D support.

    say what?



  • We have already implemented push-notifications in Centrl, and while this doesn’t let Centrl update user’s location in the background, the ability to be pinged from Centrl by a friend or another user is very powerful. It allows for a continuous experience even if Centrl is not running.

    Please check out http://centrl.com to see more.

  • abcyesn

    They are ripping us off! They want only $199 from new customers, but existing customers must pay $499… Even with a 2 year extension. It’s right on their website: “For non-qualified customers, including existing AT&T customers who want to upgrade from another phone or replace an iPhone 3G, the price with a new two-year agreement is $499 (8GB), $599 (16GB), or $699 (32GB).”

    We have to rise up and stop this. Apple has listened before. We have to make them listen again.

    Express your view at http://www.iPhone3GS.org let your voice be heard.

  • Jack

    The iPhone SG3 is already available to order mobiles.co.uk! They must be proper well prepared as the page was up the morning after Apple announced it. I just pre-ordered mine. Luckily i held off buying the old one so i dont have to buy out the old contract :) The link is below for anyone interested. Enjoy


  • Joe Zydeco

    Stop whining, abcyesn. You got a subsidized phone when you bought your 3G, and now you want another one?

  • You can find a full run-down of all the new 3GS features here: http://www.theiphoneappreview.com/06/iphone-3gs/

  • brady forrest

    @nebben – that is big news in a different way (and is not specific to geo devs). The new 3GS puches the platform forward in many big ways (see above). The $99 iPhone 3G brings the platform to millions more people.

    @bowerbird – thanks. Fixed.

    @abcyesn – I do not have the same issue. I bought my iPhone two years ago, however I do not think your complaints are without merit. When consumers purchase a phone they do not have all of the information that the company(s) has. AT&T and Apple knew that the next iPhone would be released a year later. They could offer some insurance at POS against hardware upgrades.

    @murat – Glad to hear that Centrl has found lemonade. Push notifications will be great, but they are still only a half-measure.

  • bowerbird

    > AT&T and Apple knew that the next iPhone
    > would be released a year later. They could offer
    > some insurance at POS against hardware upgrades.

    heck, they should _pay_ people to stay upgraded!

    when you take your biggest cheerleaders for granted,
    and even try to stiff ’em, you’re just asking for trouble.
    that’s the kind of treatment customers remember for
    a long time…


  • Ive been readying coments about the iphone since they presented, but all I read was the same we could read in apples site. Good article.

    In my opinion, as user those new abilitys still dont mean so much. We still have to choose between an Internet phone and a good camera phone. Cant a cell phone be complete in this point? We have good phones that are almost there, but not really there in both way. As someone that admires technology, and how it can make our lives easyer, I see this is a fast foward. We see that Iphone 3gs turns the cell phone each day more into our lives. Not just as a cell phone. But as a tool for other many things.