Yesterday Apple held a press event to release details of the next version of the iPhone software, called version 3.0. You can read some of the highlights and watch a video of the whole presentation at Apple’s website. I sat down and watched it late last night, and have to say I was impressed. I was expecting to finally get some of the things I’ve really wanted, but I was blown away by the scope of this new release, and in particular, just how many new tools they are putting into the hands of the developers. Apple are notorious for inflating numbers through generous interpretations of terms, but even when you bear that in mind, 1,000 new APIs for developers to use is impressive, as indeed is 100 new user-level features from Apple themselves.

Lets start with the shinny stuff Apple is going to give us, the end-user, directly. I think it’s fair to say that cut, copy, paste, and undo are the most demanded new features. Exactly how the iPhone has made it this far without these features has frankly baffled me. It’s true that you don’t need them often, but on those rare occasions when you do, you REALLY miss them a lot. Considering how long we had to wait for these features I figured that Apple couldn’t get away with just doing them, they’d have to do them very well. Judging by the demo, they have. I had a few ideas in my head, but none were as clean and un-cluttered as what Apple demoed yesterday. I’m not even going to try explain the technique here in words, if you want to see how well Apple have implemented this, go watch the video. What I will say is that I love the etch-a-sketch-esque implementation of the undo feature, you shake the phone/iPod to bring up the undo menu!

The next big-thing that I think people will really like is the proliferation of support for the landscape keyboard in all Apple’s core apps. This is not something that I care about at all, I actually prefer typing with the iPhone in portrait mode (maybe I have small fingers?), but I know a lot of people are very passionate about this, so it’s good to see.

Another announcement that I really don’t care about at all is the introduction of MMS support. To be honest this surprises me. MMS is an out-dated, and IMO, obsolete protocol. We have email for cheaply and easily sending photos to each other, why on Earth would anyone want to pay the phone companies extortionary prices for a less-powerful solution? Apple are notorious for having no tolerance at all for technologies they see as out-dated. In the past Apple angered many by being among the first to drop floppy drives from their machines, but they didn’t back down, they stuck to their guns and were shown to be right in the long run. You can find many more examples of this attitude throughout the years, right up to this month with Apple’s abandonment of FireWire 400 in its new Desktop line. I really didn’t expect Apple to back down on this one, but they have. Like I say, I couldn’t care less, but I’m sure many teens will rejoice when 3.0 hits the street.

What I do think is a huge deal is the introduction of a global search feature to the iPhone. Not only will search be added to Apple’s core apps, but there will be a global search feature added that will search everything at once. This is basically just like Spot Light on real OS X, and will really be a big help as we start to put more and more of our stuff on our iPhones and iPod Touches. I doubt this feature is going to get much press attention, but I can tell you it’s going to get a lot of use!

A very small and trivial thing that I like none-the-less is the long over-due addition of notes synching. I really can’t see why Apple didn’t implement this small and trivial feature from the start, but hey, at least it’s coming now!

Apple didn’t publish the full list of 100 new features, but they did put up a slide which had many of them listed in a sort of tag cloud. I didn’t get a chance to read them all, but one that caught my eye in particular was better proxy support. The iPhone is still not great at dealing with some more locked-down corporate environments. This really affects me because our wireless network in work requires users to BOTH dial a VPN AND use proxies, something the iPhone can’t do ATM. It can do one or the other, but not both.

So, that’s some of the stuff we’ll be getting directly into our hands, but as with the 2.0 software last year, the real power is in the tools Apple is making available to third party developers. Some of this stuff is quite boring, tedious and technical, like the addition of support for more pricing models within the App Store, but some of the changes will make a huge difference to the apps we’ll all be installing over the next year.

Two things in particular struck me as being really significant, support for developers to use both the dock connector and the bluetooth chip to interact with custom hardware, and built-in support for peer-to-peer communication, both over WiFi and bluetooth. I really didn’t expect Apple to open up the APIs for interacting with that dock connector at all. I’m sure there are limits on what they’ll let developers do with it, but the fact that they are letting them use it at all shocks me TBH.

The peer-to-peer stuff is also a really big deal. This puts some weight behind Apple’s claims that they see the iPhone and iPod Touch as gaming platforms. One of the Nintendo DS’s big advantages over the iPhone and iPod Touch was its support for wireless multiplayer games. Now that the iPhone has provided games developers with the tools to trivially add that feature to the games they develop for the iPhone, expect to see a lot more cool games come to the iPhone and iPod Touch soon. Of course this technology has uses beyond gaming, but I’m pretty sure the games companies will be the ones to jump on this new functionality with the most gusto.

Obviously the elephant in the room is Apple’s continued refusal to allow background apps. Apple had promised a workaround called push-notifications last year, but it never materialised. In a refreshing display of humility, Apple admitted they’d dropped the ball, and explained that they had initially underestimated the demand for this feature. When it became clear just how much traffic the system would have to be able to digest, they say they had to totally re-architect it, which obviously took time. I’m eternally grateful that they chose not to release an unfinished product, but to keep at it till they got it right instead, even if that meant being almost a year late. We really don’t need another fiasco like the Mobile Me launch last summer! Apple also made use of the event to explain, yet again, why they are doing things this way. They claim to have tested the effect background processes have on phones, and concluded that allowing apps run in the background has a number of negative effects, chief of which is a massive reduction in battery life, as well as a reduction in performance. Assuming this is true I’m happy with the compromise. Obviously, in an ideal world we could have true background apps without loosing anything, but sadly the real world is rarely so accommodating.

Apple mentioned a few more of the supposed 1,000 new APIs for developers, but again, didn’t give us a full list. It strikes me that Apple is being very generous with its use of the term API though, considering the shake API to be a separate entity from the regular motion sensor API for example. Still, 1,000 more digital goodies for developers to play with can only be a good thing.

Some that were mentioned that caught my eye were support for email sending within third party apps, and support for embedding interactive Google Maps panes into apps. Another thing that will be interesting is the lifting of the ban on turn-by-turn directions. For licensing reasons the standard Google maps API can’t be used for this feature, but if developers provide their own maps, or maps they them selves licensed they can now use those as the basis for turn-by-turn directions on the iPhone.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering who will get to play with this new toy, the answer is everyone. This new and improved version of the software will be supported on all iPhone models and all iPod Touch models. Granted, a few features won’t work on the older apps for hardware reasons, but the vast vast majority is for everyone. As usual, for accounting reasons, iPod Touch users have to pay for the upgrade, but it’s cheap, coming in under ten dollars.

So, what do I make of it all? I think this update removes yet more of the reasons people may want to jail brake. There are still some valid reasons left, but, just as with 2.0, many of the desired features have now come to the official iPhone, reducing the advantages you get in exchange for the risks of jail breaking. Again, similarly to iPhone 2.0. the real advantages to the 3.0 OS won’t be instantly noticeable, they’ll come in the form of third party apps making use of all the new power Apple has placed in the hands of developers.