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New iPhone OS Adds Missing Features

The update aims to address most user complaints.

Apple’s iPhone may have set new standards for smart-phone usability and functionality, but that hasn’t stopped users from complaining that it lacks some key features–most notably, the ability to connect to other devices via Bluetooth; to let applications run in the background; to send photos in a multimedia message; and to cut, copy, and paste text between apps.

Cut, copy, paste: The iPhone’s long-awaited cut, copy and paste feature is demoed at Tuesday’s preview event.

Today, at a press event in Cupertino, CA, Apple demonstrated an upgrade to the iPhone’s operating system that addresses most of these issues and a few other ones to boot. In addition to 100 new features, the company said that the new software will make the iPhone’s hardware and software more accessible to software developers. For instance, they will be able to integrate Google Maps with their applications and use Bluetooth to enable multiplayer gaming between several iPhones.

There are still a few things that will not be addressed with the new software. One gaping hole remains support for Flash–a multimedia software plug-in that is commonly used to show Web videos. And there is no mention of upgrading the iPhone’s built-in camera software to allow it to capture video. Video capture is, incidentally, possible with unauthorized software that runs on unlocked (or “jail-broken”) iPhones.

Still, the operating-system upgrade covers almost all the major gripes that users had with the iPhone’s current OS. The upgrade, which is available for developers today and will be released to the public in the summer, will integrate more features into the applications. One of the major changes is the way that people can buy content from the Apple app store. Currently, it’s only possible to buy apps, music, books, videos, and games with a one-time purchase. After the upgrade, a user will be able to buy a subscription to a magazine and purchase items from within an app, such as new add-ons for a game.

A common complaint about the current iPhone software is that its wireless Bluetooth functionality is limited. With the 3.0 software, this function will be expanded, allowing people to pair their iPhones with a number of new accessories, including, for example, a wireless glucose monitoring system and wireless headphones.

During the Apple event, representatives also demonstrated a feature called push notifications. These can enable, for instance, an automatic update of the score of a basketball game without the user needing to hit “refresh” or reopen an app. This feature also allows instant-messaging applications to run on the iPhone.

One of the most notorious oversights of the original iPhone is the ability to cut, copy, and paste text from one application to another or within the same application. This makes transferring text between e-mails, notes, text messages, or Web pages impossible. The operating-system upgrade provides a way to do this between all applications.

Other new features include an upgrade to the maps application allowing turn-by-turn directions based on a person’s real-time position; the ability to send pictures via multimedia messaging service (MMS); and an app that lets a user record, edit, and share voice memos. More applications will also support “landscape” keyboard mode, which kicks in when the phone is turned on its side.

Another important upgrade is the ability to search within applications such as mail. Right now, the phone loads only a limited number of messages from the mail server at a time, and none of them are searchable. With the new operating-system changes, it will be possible to search the subject, body, and “to” and “from” fields of any e-mail message, even if it resides on the e-mail server. The new operating system also offers a way to search across all applications using Spotlight, a feature currently available on Apple’s Mac computers. Searching for a particular restaurant using Spotlight should pull up all the e-mail messages, text messages, and notes that mention it.

The iPhone 3.0 operating system will be offered as a free upgrade and will work on the second-generation iPhone hardware; owners of the original iPhone won’t have access to certain features, such as MMS and stereo Bluetooth. And the operating system will also be available to iPod Touch users at a cost of $9.95.

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