iPhone OS 3.0 hype fit for a rock star

I suppose I should add to the noise and write about Apple’s iPhone OS 3.0 release. But before I do, I should clarify: it’s not actually a new phone, it’s just an operating system upgrade. And it’s only for developers at this stage, is still full of bugs, and won’t ship to users until later in the year. In spite of this, I even read about it in my local newspaper this morning. It’s like a new version of Windows has just arrived (perhaps it has).

What it demonstrates is just how much momentum the iPhone is building. This was reinforced by numbers released at the same time on Apple’s progress with this device. To date, it’s sold 30 million units (13.7M are iPhones, the rest are iPod Touches). Compare that – slightly unfairly, I admit – to under 1 million ebook readers from Amazon, Sony and others. And since it opened its App store less than  a year ago, it has had 25,000 applications written for it. As Microsoft has proved, owning the developer space is the key to long term success with a platform.

Among the 100 or so new features Apple has announced with this upgrade, perhaps the most interesting from an ebook point of view is its introduction of “in-app” purchases, that is the ability for you to buy something, such as a book or subscription, directly from within the application. Purchases will go via the App store and Apple will clip the ticket to the (i)tune of 30%. But the potential is there to build a really good user experience and an easy route to the transaction, great news for encouraging users to buy books.

Of course, you can already access catalogues of ebooks for sale from within iPhone apps like Stanza but this method essentially takes you to a third party store with no cut going to Apple. This has led TeleRead’s Chris Meadows to speculate that Apple in future might look to limit these ways of bypassing it.

Regardless of whether that concern is real, I think one thing that will be real is the high quality of the buying and reading experience that could come from tightly controlled app-plus-content packages. This, after all, is one of Amazon’s greatest strengths with its Kindle strategy, its almost total control over the user experience.

So it’s likely that Stanza, eReader, or other ebook reader apps will take this route, perhaps with a new “premium” edition since it’s an Apple requirement that only paid apps will qualify for these in-app stores and these readers are currently free. But this in-app store route needn’t result in the likes of Stanza controlling the entire book food chain like Amazon. It’s likely that some of them will license their reader apps to other booksellers to create their own branded “in-app” bookstores. They’ll make their own decisions about whether their core business is software and services or bookselling.

For more on the full list of iPhone OS 3.0 features announced, see this ReadWriteWeb story. The iPhone OS 3.0 upgrade can be applied to existing iPhones and iPod Touches. The iPhone 3G upgrade will be free, the iPod Touch will be US$9.95 making the trusty Touch something of a second class citizen.

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