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Appiphilia: Apple releases iPhone 3.0 software update

June 17, 2009 |  3:47 pm
Iphone copy paste
The iPhone's cut-copy dialog . Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

The time every iPhone owner has been waiting for is here. No, not the launch of the iPhone 3G S -- that's Friday.

The third major software update, iPhone 3.0, is available for download through iTunes -- free for iPhone owners and $9.95 for iPod Touch users.

Of course, we've been testing betas of the new version for more than a month. Not to rub it in or anything. But that means we've had plenty of time to try it out in real-life scenarios. We'll tell you what shines and what gets forgotten.

Cut, copy and paste: It's pretty sad when a feature that's been in most smart phones for years (and just about every computer for decades) is the biggest news. But lo and behold, we're actually getting excited for copying text or photos and pasting them into other programs.

All jokes aside, the feature is well executed. Double click or hold your finger down on a word, and up pops a small window asking whether you want to cut or copy the text. You can drag ...

... the blue dots at either corner of the highlight box to grab a larger block of text. Navigate to where you want it pasted, and do the same finger trick to paste.

Finally! We found this to be the most useful addition overall.

Spotlight search: Located at the top of most apps, including Mail, iPod and Notes, is a search bar. There's also a universal search that scours most of the files on your phone. Like on the Mac, results are displayed in seconds.

Still, we found ourselves using this considerably less than expected. Maybe we're just used to going to the Phone application to dial a contact or flip through the home menus to find an app. Maybe we're just not fast enough with the iPhone's virtual keyboard to want to use it for every function.

But for the times when you're really not sure where something is on your phone -- say, that e-mail from your boss that you got a couple of weeks ago -- it's handy. And the ability to search e-mail that's stored on the server (rather than on your phone) is great -- just too bad Microsoft Exchange doesn't support it.

Iphone3gs_mailwide
The iPhone's landscape keyboard. Credit: Apple

Landscape keyboard: The wider keyboard that gets activated in the Safari Web browser when you turn the phone on its side has been rolled out to a lot more apps. This is a crucial addition in text-input-heavy apps, like Mail and Notes.

Voice Memos: What's this? A new app! Sure, Apple could've just left it up to some enterprising third-party developer to slap together a voice recorder. But why let them have all the fun?

The new app displays a microphone graphic that shows a sound levels readout, which changes depending on how loud it is at your location.

You've got a record button and another button that lists previous recordings that can be edited within the app. Completed sound snippets get synchronized with iTunes and show up in a playlist called Voice Memos.

The fidelity of the audio recordings is surprisingly good. Very handy for reporting. Seriously, we've considered replacing our field recorder with this.

Sure, it's another feature that phones have had for many years. So if Apple is going to take this long to get it in there, we're glad they did it right.

Other additions: Apple has tweaked some things here and there that you're bound to notice. But they won't drastically change the way you use the phone.

For example, the iPod app has Shake to Shuffle -- a feature recently added to the iPod Nano. This is particularly useful when you're working in another app and want to switch your music to the next song. You can double tap the home button, shake the device, then return to what you were doing. Cha, cha, cha!

The Stocks app now has business news and a more detailed stock ticker. Automatic log-in for Wi-Fi is handy, and auto-fill for Safari, which remembers user names and passwords, is even nicer.

Some of the biggest changes, however, won't come into play for presumably a more few days, as developers release updates to their apps. IPhone 3.0 opens a bunch of new features for third parties to take advantage of.

Soon, ESPN will be able to use push notifications to display score updates or audio alerts even when the app is closed. Twitter apps could pop up a text overlay when you receive a new direct message on the service.

You'll also be able to purchase small additions, like new vehicles or levels in games, through the App Store. Developers can also tap into the Google Maps library of information to offer geographical information.

Those features AT&T won't let us have: Finally, we have multimedia messaging (MMS) and Internet tethering. Or rather, we don't have them.

These two features won't be available for American consumers for some time, but many of our international brethren can already take advantage of them. Don't call us bitter.

OK, yeah, we're bitter.

AT&T says MMS for iPhone is coming before the end of the summer. Before long, you'll be able to send and receive goofy snapshots, videos, audio snippets and location data to and from your friends.

As for tethering, which lets you hook up your phone's 3G Internet connection to your computer to browse the Web, AT&T is mulling over its options -- which will probably include charging a premium for it.

But we hear whispers that some folks have discovered that you can hook it up for free right now by downloading a small patch on your phone. Of course, that's not supported by either AT&T or Apple, so you'll have to decide whether it's worth the risk. And if you think it is, the hack probably won't last very long.

-- Mark Milian

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