As iPhone 3G Launch Nears, Boston Developers Ready Their Apps
The last time Steve Jobs got up on stage and talked about the iPhone, at January’s MacWorld expo, he had a big piece of Boston-related news: local firm Skyhook Wireless had been tapped to provide the Wi-Fi-based location finding feature for the iPhone’s newly upgraded map application. As it turned out, Boston didn’t have a horse in the race during yesterday’s keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, where Jobs unveiled the new iPhone 3G. Even the nearly endless series of demos of third-party software applications that will be available from the new iPhone App Store didn’t contain a single example created by Boston-area developers.
But don’t despair—there’s no doubt that local companies will have a hand in the round of innovations, upgrades, and changes being served up by Apple starting next month. For one thing, it’s already clear that Skyhook’s Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) software will be part of the iPhone 3G. Though Jobs revealed that the new iPhone will include GPS-based location finding—a first for Apple—the newly updated Apple website says the phone will find your position with that technology “or by triangulating your position using Wi-Fi and cellular towers.”
I checked with folks at Skyhook today, and they said they couldn’t comment on any of the specifics of today’s announcements from Apple. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the company came out with news in the near future about the general issue of hybrid, iPhone-style approaches to location-finding, where WPS is integrated with GPS and cell-tower triangulation. There are plenty of scenarios—in urban canyons and indoors, for example—where it’s difficult or impossible to get a lock on the GPS satellites, and something like WPS is a crucial backup solution.
On other fronts, it’s only a matter of weeks until Apple launches the App Store. This clearinghouse for third-party iPhone apps—that is, applications that run “natively” on the iPhone, as opposed to Web-based apps—will be a built-in feature of the iPhone 3G, which goes on sale worldwide July 11. The App Store will also show up as a new feature of existing iPhones as the result of a software update that Jobs said is coming in “early July.” (It’s almost certain that the update will also come on July 11.)
From covering the local mobile software scene, I know of at least four companies who’ve said on the record that they’re working on native iPhone apps. I’d expect to see apps available from most of these outfits as soon as the App Store opens, though it’s not clear which will be free and which will be fee-based:
- Mobicious, of Needham, MA, which has already launched a nifty online photo-sharing site called SnapMy Life that’s customized for the iPhone’s Safari browser, and is working on a native version that interacts directly with the iPhone’s camera and photo-album apps.
- uLocate, based in Boston, which ported its Buddy Beacon friend-finding service to Safari for the iPhone in February and has had a functioning, native iPhone version for some time.
- Veveo, of Andover, MA, which makes a very clever video search application called vTap that works well in Safari and will be even cooler as a native app.
- Urban Interactive, of Somerville, MA, which will use the iPhone as one of the main platforms for its augmented reality tourism adventures.
There are other Boston-area companies working on native iPhone apps, but they’re staying under the radar for now. It’s easy to understand why: I’ve seen the non-disclosure agreement that Apple makes third-party developers sign before they can get their hands on the iPhone software development kit, and it’s extremely restrictive, to the point that companies can get in trouble for even showing their apps to outsiders. And according to a story in The Unofficial Apple Weblog, the NDA will remain in effect until July 11. But if more local iPhone developers come out of hiding before then, we’ll let you know.
Update, 6/11/08: Nuance Communications of Burlington, MA, has developed a prototype speech-driven search application for the iPhone and plans to sell an app starting in August, according to a June 10 post at CNET.