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

by Brady Forrest @brady

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 all 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 support 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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