Coming Soon: iPhone Software Updates

Apple may be about to unleash a slew of software upgrades for iPhone users. The upgrades will include iChat, says a person familiar with the matter.

This blog is a collaboration between writer Aaron Ricadela and I:

Ever since the iPhone’s debut, users have been compiling wish lists of how Apple’s first cell phone should be improved. Well, some of these wishes might come true soon, has learned. Apple and its partner and exclusive U.S. iPhone service provider, AT&T, are preparing to unleash a slew of software updates. Among them is an iChat Instant Messaging application, says Richard Doherty, director for consultancy The Envisioneering Group. The iChat function should be announced this summer, says Doherty, citing conversations with Apple executives.

Representatives of the company decline to discuss planned iPhone applications, but copies of an iPhone-related training manual produced by AT&T and a survey AT&T sent to its iPhone users have made their way onto the Web recently. Both mention iChat, currently not supported on the iPhone. Besides instant messaging, iChat for the iPhone will also support audio chat among as many as five people, Doherty says. Unlike iChat for Macintosh computers, the software won’t support video conferencing, as the current version of iPhone lacks a video camera. It’s possible iPhone’s chat function will also let users dictate messages. “We are working closely with Apple to provide a more robust experience in the future,” says AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. He declined to address the prospect that iChat will be added to the iPhone. Indeed, iChat is likely only one of several applications and software upgrades likely to be added to the iPhone in the coming weeks. That doesn’t include more than 150 applications that independent developers have announced for the iPhone, which went on sale in the U.S. on June 29. These third-party applications, available through various Web sites, allow for such features as news, weather, games and even cookbook recipes. An early July iPhoneDevCamp had resulted in 58 more applications, including software turning the phone into a dictation device and an iPhone counter, keeping track of the total number of iPhones in the world. Apple may also be considering introducing support for Adobe’s (ADBE) Flash software, which lets users view crisp online video and graphics on the Web, says a software developer familiar with the matter. Adobe’s Flash Player would make iPhone users’ Web browsing experience more seamless by supporting Flash-based Web sites and applications. The Flash Player, used for viewing rich content such as video, is more widely used than any other, including Java and RealOne Player. Adobe declined to comment. But Bill Perry, who manages global developer relations for mobile and devices IS at Adobe, has recently posted a long article on his blog,, urging developers to ask Apple for Flash support. “We suggest that developers speak to Apple directly about what technologies the iPhone will support and integrate,” he wrote. “It's important to note that our relationship with Apple continues to be strong. Naturally we believe that support for Flash is essential for any mobile device that wants to deliver a great experience for customers.” More applications from Google and Yahoo could be forthcoming as well. The phone already wirelessly streams YouTube videos, supports Google Maps, and features built-in Google and Yahoo search. More applications from Google in particular could be coming soon, Doherty reckons. Google, whose CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple’s board, may collaborate with Apple on a mobile voice search application, providing for search via voice commands and/or text messages. Google is currently testing what could be a prototype, Google Voice Local Search, which can be reached at 1-800-Goog-411. Analysts also expect Apple to make a series of minor changes to existing applications to make the iPhone easier to use. One tweak that may come out soon would be availability of landscape mode for more iPhone applications, believes Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research. Today, the phone’s users can watch movies and surf the Web in a landscape mode, but they can only type e-mails in portrait. Meanwhile, typing in a landscape mode would be easier. “It’s something that a lot of users would welcome,” he says.

The users may also welcome a cheaper version of the iPhone, an iPhone Nano that a recent J.P. Morgan report claims is in the works for release later this year. The phone, likely to be operated with a scroll wheel, is expected to retail for less than $300, according to the report, and to sell as many as 40 million units next year.

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