Friday, April 09, 2010

Thoughts on iPhone OS 4.0 and Section 3.3.1

I'm on vacation right now. Earlier in the week, I took my kids to the Kennedy Space Center:

Now I am in my hometown of Panama City, Florida visiting family and friends. However, yesterday Apple released the beta of iPhone OS 4.0. I read about it briefly on my iPhone while riding around town yesterday. Saw that it supported multi-tasking -- yay! Saw some nice features, like unified inbox, multiple Exchange accounts, geo-tagged pictures, etc. I was psyched, and planned on reading more about it later.

Later came, and I started reading more details on my laptop. Of course what everyone was talking about was Section 3.3.1. Soon I went from being psyched about OS 4.0, to being very annoyed about it. Now I know that some people do not think Apple is singling out Adobe, but it damn sure seems like a reaction to Flash CS5. Let's not forget that Apple also made several barely-disguised jabs at Google-owned AdMob while unveiling Apple's own iAd platform. OS 4.0 is all about Apple going after other big software companies that are making money or trying to make money off of the iPhone. However, in the process, Apple is going to take out other companies like Appcelerator. Not that Apple cares...

So yeah, Apple is screwing lots of other people who are trying to make a dime while at the same time enabling more developers to support the iPhone/iPad platform. Nothing to see here, move along. A number of people have pointed out that Microsoft in all of its monopolistic, evil ways never tried to pull anything like this. In fact, this is polar opposite of Microsoft. For all of their faults, Microsoft always supported developers. Sure they wanted to sell you Visual Studio, but if you wanted to use Java Swing or GTK or C++ using make, they did not care. Heck, they even weighed down Windows for years and years to maintain backwards compatibility APIs used by 3rd party developers.

Enough negativity... there are many good things about OS 4.0. The most obvious thing is its multi-tasking. To be honest though, it is fundamentally flawed. It is an "OS" feature that is purely designed around use cases. It's like Apple saw ads by Google/Verizon and Palm, that showed users listening to Pandora in the background, or using GPS, or receiving VOIP calls, and told their engineers "Can we do this without really enabling background processing?" Background apps are limited to these use cases: Pandora (music), Garmin/Magellan (GPS), and Skype (VOIP). That is lame. Background apps are also prohibited from networking (wait does this screw Pandora after all?) Better than nothing? Yes, but lame.

As part of this background processing stack, Objective-C blocks have finally come to the iPhone. Yep, that means closures. Of course, it's grafted on top of Cocoa, so that means you can't just take a button and set its event handler to a block of code. But again, better than nothing. Maybe we'll see some Cocoa evolution that will allow developers to take advantage of this.

Back to the meat of the background processing... One of the use cases mentioned above is geolocation. One of the new features added in OS 4.0 is advertising via iAd. As mentioned earlier, this is a clear attack on Google's AdMob platform. The impending explosion of advertising and constantly location-aware applications suggests that location based advertising could also see an explosion. Of course a background app that is location aware cannot make network calls, a prerequisite for fetching relevant ads. Ah, but they have iAd! Apple has positioned itself quite well to take advantage of mobile advertising.

Finally, I've probed the new version of Safari. It's version 532 of WebKit, up from build 528 in iPhone 3.1.3 and 531 in Safari 4.0.4. However, it still doesn't support Web Workers... Shortly after OS 4.0 was announced, Apple also announced WebKit2. This appears to be WebKit built on multi-processing, a la Chrome. No word on when it will come to the iPhone and iPad, but perhaps that is where Apple's efforts are these days.