Third-party developers are busy cooking up hot apps for the iPhone 3G. Our top picks for those likely to be winners include Quickoffice, NotepadSync, Nuance OSV, and OmniFocus.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

July 8, 2008

15 Min Read

Apple is breaking the padlock on the iPhone. The new version of the smartphone operating system will allow users to run third-party applications, the first time they've been able to do so with Apple's blessing.

The iPhone 2.0 software will run on the new iPhone 3G, available Friday. Most applications will also run on the iPod Touch, and on existing iPhones once the new iPhone 2.0 software has been downloaded.




QuickOffice for the iPhone will let you edit, view, and synchronize Office apps, such as Excel.

Apple is requiring developers to distribute apps through its App Store, a part of iTunes. Developers will need to get approval from Apple before distributing apps, and Apple will take a 30% cut of sales.

In exchange for submitting to those restrictions, developers get to offload the distribution and payment-processing onto Apple, and Apple provides a big marketing boost.

When will we be able to download all these juicy apps? Well, um, actually, we're not sure. Apple isn't providing a specific day or time. You need the iPhone 2.0 software to run the apps. Stores will be opening at 8 am Friday to sell the iPhone 3G, which comes with iPhone 2.0 software installed. Existing iPhone and iPod Touch customers will get the iPhone 2.0 software pushed out on the Internet to them on Friday.

But users won't be able to get their hands on the third-party applications until the App Store goes online, and Apple wouldn't say when that will happen. It is widely expected to open July 11th or soon thereafter.

As developers are lining up to write and sell programs for the iPhone, we took a look at the applications in development, and picked the nine that looked most interesting. They encompass productivity, social networking, and just plain fun.

Quickoffice

Quickoffice is working on technology to eliminate one of the chief competitive disadvantages the iPhone has when compared with other smartphones: The ability to edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, and to sync those documents between the smartphone and desktop or laptop computers.

Quickoffice's iPhone service will be an adaptation of its existing services for Nokia, Palm, and Symbian devices. "Our heritage is doing the mobile office, and we will be bringing full editing capability to the iPhone as well," said Paul Moreton, VP of product management for Quickoffice. "Not only can you access files, not only will you have full editing, but you can e-mail them and share them. You'll have full collaboration capabilities from the iPhone."

Documents are stored on Quickoffice's server, which means that users will be able to access their files even when their Windows or Mac PC is shut down or otherwise disconnected from the network. They'll need a Wi-Fi, 3G, or EDGE connection from their iPhone or Touch to access the file initially, although the service also has an offline mode.

However, don't look for the service soon. Quickoffice expects it to be available late this year or early next year. Pricing will likely be similar to pricing for the service on the Nokia S60, $20 per year for up to 10 GB of documents. NotepadSync

The iPhone solves some really tough technology problems, many of which stumped other smartphone vendors for years -- mobile Web browsing, Internet video, fast text input without a hard keyboard, and a multi-touch interface. The iPhone's genius makes some of its lapses particularly baffling. For example, how did Apple manage to leave off an app that lets you synch text memos back to the desktop? The very first PalmPilots, which came out 12 years ago, had a memo pad that synched to the desktop. It was old technology even then -- how is it missing from the iPhone?




NotePadsync lets you write text memos on your iPhone and have them sync to an application on your Mac desktop, and vice-versa.

NotepadSync closes that gap. Developed as a personal project by Brian Tunning, a Microsoft development lead in Shanghai, NotepadSync lets you write text memos on your iPhone and have them sync to an application on your Mac desktop, and vice-versa. A Windows version is in development. (Yes, that's right, the Microsoft guy developed the app for the Mac before Windows.)

Users can drag test anywhere on the screen, which at least starts to make up for another puzzling lapse in iPhone capabilities: No clipboard for cutting and pasting text and other information.

The iPhone and desktop applications sync using a custom service, using ActiveSync synchronization technology from Microsoft and sync technology from LapLink. Notes are stored on Amazon S3 storage servers. Syncing happens in realtime. "As soon as you make a change to a page or a note, the application will wait one or two seconds to see if you're making another change, and it'll synchronize," Tunning said.

The application will be free for users who don't want to sync their data. Tunning said he's still deciding how to price the sync service, but he is considering doing it for $14.95 per year. Tunning plans to make the software and service available within a month or two of Apple launching the App Store.

Nuance Open Voice Search

Nuance Communications, which makes the popular Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software for Windows and the Mac, is developing an unnamed open voice search application (code name OSV) that will allow iPhone users to use voice recognition to dial phone numbers in the Address Book, search for locations on Google Maps, or to search for information on the Web. Check out these video demos.

Ask OSV to dial the phone, speak the name of a person in your Address Book, and OSV will dial the number. Ask it what time it is in Singapore, and it'll search the Web and tell you. Ask it to find the nearest pizza place, and OSV will search Google Maps and display the result, said Michael Wehrs, vice president of industry affairs and evangelism for OSV.

To handle the Web search, OSV has a database of commonly asked question, based on its voice search capabilities already available for other cell phones from most of the major manufacturers.

Nuance is primarily a speech recognition company, with about $1 billion revenue. Its products include interactive voice response systems, telephone directory assistance systems, and medical transcription. It also makes speech recognition for GPS systems from TomTom, Garmin, and Magellan.

The software will be available in the fall. Pricing has not yet been determined.

OmniFocus

The Omni Group is bringing to the iPhone its software for getting yourself organized. OmniFocus is an application for applying the personal-productivity principles outlined by David Allen in his cult book Getting Things Done. The software has been available on the Mac desktop since January. The iPhone version brings OmniFocus's features into your pocket -- plus a couple more tricks.




OmniFocus for the iPhone is a mobile version of the powerful personal task manager for the Mac.

Like the desktop app, OmniFocus for the iPhone will allow you to create tasks, assign them to projects, and assign them to contexts. "Contexts" are the GTD way of describing the places where you can do a task. Examples of contexts are: "at home," "in the office," "at a phone," "at any Internet-connected computer," and "on the laptop on a plane." Tasks can have start dates, due dates, and you can flag them to set them aside for special attention. And OmniFocus for the iPhone will sync to OmniFocus on the desktop.

A couple of tricks special to the iPhone app: You can attach voice recordings to a task, and you can also attach a photo taken with the iPhone camera.

And contexts are linked to the iPhone 3G's GPS. So, for example, if you save your office's location on the iPhone, the iPhone's GPS will tell OmniFocus when you're in the office, and OmniFocus will automatically bring up your tasks with an office context. You can do the same with your shopping list at the supermarket, or with your office supplies at the local Office Depot. You can either provide OmniFocus with a specific location for a context, or set a Google Maps query as a context -- for example, you can set a task for yourself to buy a new printer cartridge, set the context of "office supplies" as a Google Maps query, and the iPhone will call up the list with that context next time you're in a store that sells office supplies.

OmniFocus for the iPhone is designed to function both as a companion to the desktop version and as a standalone app. "We wanted it to be a great standalone tool for people who just want something simple to use on their phone," Omni Group CEO Ken Case said.

The Omni Group expects the app to be available when the App Store opens, priced at $15-$20.

This is the application I'm personally most looking forward to; I'm a dedicated OmniFocus user for the Mac, it's where I keep my to-do list and how I know what I should be working on every day. I love the idea of bringing this useful tool to the iPhone.

Things

Things, from Cultured Code, is another tool for organizing your task list. Like OmniFocus, the iPhone version of Things is extremely similar to the version for the desktop. Unlike OmniFocus, which can be a bit hairy to use, Things is designed to be easy to use at first, with more complicated features as added options. You can start by just using it as a task list. If you decide you don't want to handle a task in the near future, you can move the task to the "someday" list. You can schedule tasks, and group tasks into projects.

Both the desktop and iPhone version of Things let you sort tasks by due date, or create a "today" list of tasks you definitely want to do that day.

Pricing is not yet determined, and the iPhone app will be available at or around the time of the App Store launch.

The desktop version of Things is in beta, and is "very close" to being finished, said Cultured Code co-founder Werner Jainek. One feature still missing: The ability to synch the desktop and iPhone versions of Things, although the iPhone version will be able to back up its data to iTunes on the desktop, so if your iPhone is lost, stolen, or breaks, your Things data won't disappear. Loopt

Loopt is a mobile service that allows users to track friends on a map and communicate with them. It's now available for BlackBerry users on Alltel, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T, and it's coming to the iPhone, according to a report on InformationWeek last month.




Loopt will allow iPhone users to track friends on a map and communicate with them.

You download the free program, set up a network of friends, and tag their locations and your own using the handsets' GPS. Loopt will alert you when a friend is nearby, you can post and share geo-tagged photos, read and maintain a mobile blog, and comment on others' uploads. Users can turn the services on and off on a friend-by-friend basis or all at once.

Loopt declined to comment for this article, so we don't know when the app will be available.

Qik And TomTom

Qik is a social networking application for sharing videos that you record yourself, it is available on more than 30 devices and Qik plans to support the iPhone. according to this video on the Qik Web site. Qik, however, didn't respond to requests for information on pricing or availability.

TomTom, the popular vendor of standalone GPS devices, is planning to sell a version of its software for the iPhone, according to a report on Reuters. TomTom wouldn't confirm that report. However, the company did confirm in e-mail that they've made their system run on the iPhone, and "it looks good and works very well. We will have to look more closely to Apple's strategy before we can say more about what kind of opportunities this will bring us."

Enterprise Apps & Games

Now that's a weird juxtaposition, right? Enterprise apps are very, very serious, and games are, well, not. Enterprise apps help you get your work done and make the economy run, and games are what you do to get away from the drudgery of using the enterprise apps.

However, games and enterprise apps have a lot in common when it comes to the iPhone. Until now, the iPhone has been weak at both kinds of applications, but the iPhone 2.0 software will likely make the device a powerful tool for both work and play.

For enterprise users, the iPhone 2.0 now supports Microsoft ActiveSync, which means it can get push e-mail, calendar, and contact synchronization from Microsoft Exchange. It supports Cisco IPSec VPN and wireless network services with WPA3 Enterprise and 802.1X authentication. Enterprises can deploy applications privately to their own users, without having to make them generally available on the public Apps Store. And, for security purposes, the iPhone can be wiped remotely -- useful when an iPhone gets lost, stolen, or an employee leaves the company.

The iPhone will likely prove to be a great platform for gaming. It's got responsive hardware and operating system, a great display, the built-in accelerometer will allow for Wii-like action, and the network connection will permit multiuser gameplay. In a few months, we will likely see the iPhone not only as a market-leading smartphone, it'll also be competing with Nintendo and Sony devices as a top-tier handheld gaming unit. That combination of enterprise apps and games would have seemed unlikely a decade ago, but the millennial generation and the younger Generation X grew up with gaming consoles both in their living rooms and pockets. They're now in responsible positions in the workplace, but they still play computer games. They work hard and play hard, and why not do both with the same device? The mobile gaming market will hit $4.5 billion this year, according to Gartner.

iPhone games coming down the pipes include Rolando, an indescribable game shown in this video demo. Other iPhone games include Sega, which has built an iPhone version of Super Monkey Ball; Pangea Software, which plans a physics-based puzzle and a racing game using caveman characters, and Digital Legends Entertainment, with an action-adventure game for the iPhone. And Vollee is developing a version of Second Life for the iPhone.

MLB At Bat
For gamers who want to keep an eye on the pros, there is MLB At Bat. Baseball fans will be able to keep up with their games with an application from Major League Baseball that displays statistics and video highlights nearly in realtime.




MLB At Bat will display major league baseball stats and video highlights on iPhones nearly in realtime.

The application will offer video highlights of great plays seconds after they happen, using game video MLB.com is already recording for its Gameday Web application. "We have a factory in place that sends out at least five clips per game, for every game," said Dinn Mann, executive vice president of MLB.com.

MLB believes that sending out game updates on the iPhone, and through other Internet channels, fuels interest in baseball by reminding fans of what they're missing, Mann said.

MLB At Bat will be available when the App Store goes live, priced at $4.99 for a subscription to all the games for this season. MLB hasn't decided on pricing for next year and after.

Third-party applications will be the single biggest feature of the iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 software. Third-party developers are flocking to the iPhone with applications for document editing, social networking, recreation, personal productivity, the enterprise, gaming, and more. We're looking forward to getting our hands on those applications and giving them a good workout.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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