iPhone Update Expected by Summer, Analysts Say

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The timing of last week's announcement from Apple Inc. that it will preview iPhone 3.0 next week is a sure sign that the company is on track to launch an updated phone this summer, analysts said.

Last year, Apple unveiled iPhone 2.0, and its supporting software developers kit, or SDK, in early March 2008. It then followed that with a coming-out party for the new iPhone 3G in June and sales in July.

Analysts unanimously agreed that the timing of next week's preview of iPhone 3.0 software and SDK points to a similar timetable for a refresh of Apple's hardware.

"I would expect the same timeline," said Jeff Kagan, an independent wireless and telecommunications analyst in Atlanta.

"Certainly makes sense," agreed Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "You want the SDK out there to give developers time to come up with something."

Another benefit, added Baker, is the possibility that CEO Steve Jobs, who is on medical leave through the end of June, would make an appearance to launch a new iPhone at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) -- the same venue he used last year to strut the iPhone 3G.

"If Steve comes back [for WWDC], that would be nice timing for Apple because everyone would get all excited that he's back," said Baker. "If that happens, the stars would all be aligned to give them quite the splash."

Apple has not published this year's WWDC schedule, but the event has been held during the first half of June for the past two years. Recent reports, meanwhile, have pegged the most likely dates as June 6-12, with the keynote -- where Jobs has traditionally trotted out new products -- on Monday, June 8.

The analysts also ticked off some of what they expect to see next week -- and this summer -- added to the iPhone's existing feature set.

"The obvious things that come to mind are adding video to the iPhone," said Baker, "and adding turn-by-turn directions. Those are a couple of glaring omissions."

Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., echoed Baker. "There are some things that are obvious gaps in the feature set," he said, ticking off support for capturing video, not just stills, with the built-in camera.

"MMS would be great," he said, referring to Multimedia Messaging Service, the feature sported by most cell phones that lets users send photos and video as attachments to text messages. Users have dinged the iPhone for its lack of MMS support since it debuted in June 2007.

IPhone 3.0 might also add Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash to the smartphone, both Baker and Golvin said. "The question is, are they going to make a deal with Adobe?" asked Golvin. "Apple's promised that the iPhone gives you the 'real' Web, but without Flash, it's not the entire Web."

Last month, however, Adobe said it was still not ready to deliver Flash for the iPhone, although the company is committed to doing so. "We're working with Apple on what we have," said Anup Murarka, director of partner development and technology strategy at Adobe's platform business unit, in February. "We're committed to make the Flash plug-in work on the iPhone."

"Beyond those things, it's anyone's guess," said Baker.

Exactly, added Kagan. "We can all speculate, like we did when Apple came out with the iPhone the first time, and then again last year, but may be wrong this time, too."

The only sure thing, said Kagan, is that iPhone 3.0 would work on not just the new hardware that Apple is expected to start selling this summer, but older iPhones as well. "The software will be able to upgrade everyone's devices," he said. "You won't have to buy a new phone. Of course, some of [what's in iPhone 3.0] will be specific to the functionality of the new phone, like 3G was to last year's iPhone 3G."

Apple will preview the iPhone 3.0 operating system and SDK next Tuesday, March 17, on its Cupertino, Calif., campus at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

This story, "iPhone Update Expected by Summer, Analysts Say" was originally published by Computerworld.

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