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Monday, June 08, 2009, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Apple unveils new iPhone 3.0 features, sets release for June 17th

At WWDC, Apple revealed a few new details related to its iPhone 3.0 operating system update for existing iPhone and iPod touch users, including its release date set for June 17, 2009. Meanwhile, new information clarifies why U.S. wireless carrier AT&T has delayed support for tethering and MMS features of the software.

iPhone Software 3.0 will appear as a free download on June 17th for iPhone user, which is just two days before the iPhone 3G S goes on sale. iPod touch users will be able to obtain the update for $9.95.

Newly unveiled features

While many features in iPhone 3.0 were announced back in March, a few new ones have only been hinted at by developer leaks since then but were confirmed by Apple today, including:

  • Purchase and rental of movies from iTunes, along with TV shows, music videos, audiobooks, and new access to free iTunes U content. The software also supports creating a new iTunes account directly from the device.

  • Shake to shuffle in iTunes playback.

  • New Parental Controls limiting the iPhone App Store software by a content rating, as well as ratings limitations on movies and TV shows.

  • New features for MobileMe subscribers, including a web based interface to pinpoint the location of an iPhone on a map, send it a text message, have it play a sound in order to find it locally, and remote wipe the device to destroy all local data when the phone is lost or stolen.

  • New Safari features, including autofill and the use of contact information to fill out forms, much faster JavaScript, and support for new HTML5 features.

New details about AT&T support for tethering, MMS

Apple also revealed that its US partner won't be supporting the tethering features it built into iPhone 3.0. The company tactfully describes the feature as "not currently offered in the US." Apple is clearly using its leverage in being able to attract mobile subscribers to push global mobile providers to support the feature, but AT&T has been unable to support it so far.

The company already allows tethering on other phones it sells when the user pays extra fees, but its network would face a significant hit were tethering opened up to iPhone users who are likely to use it extensively, given how easy Apple has made it. Even iPhones cracked to run on T-Mobile as an alternative provider won't be able to take advantage of tethering, as T-Mobile does not support 3G data service compatible with the iPhone.

MMS features, including the ability to send pictures, audio and video clips, contacts and location files as multimedia text files, are planned for support on AT&T's network "in late summer." Speaking in an interview, AT&T Executive Director Mark Siegel insisted that support for MMS was not related to the company's 3G network but said it was a secondary service.

Asked if support for tethering was tied to the same system upgrade, Siegel answered "Yes. But we don't have a date for when we will announce tethering, but it won't be at the end of the summer."

The interviewer also stated that Apple and AT&T had initially resisted support for MMS messaging as a protocol, calling it "ugly" and hoping to direct users to use free email instead.

The MMS service upgrade AT&T is rolling out to support the iPhone 3.0 software is part of a larger upgrade happening this year. Apple's website also notes that "MMS is not supported on first-generation iPhone. Sending video via MMS is not supported on iPhone 3G."

iPhone 3.0 features unique to iPhone 3G S

Meanwhile, some features of iPhone Software 3.0 rely upon or are enhanced by new hardware unique to the new iPhone 3G S. These include:

  • Support for Voice Control, a new app for voice dialing or voice command of iTunes playback. Use of the app requires the new phone's faster processor.

  • Support for new features in the improved new camera, including rapid shutter; low light; macro and autofocus; touch controls for automatic refocus, exposure and white balance settings; and higher resolution 3 Megapixel images.

  • Support for video capture, including trim editing and MMS delivery of video clips and publishing to YouTube and MobileMe.

  • Hardware encryption of all internal data. This makes remote wipe instantaneous because the system can blank the device without needing to scrub individual files using secure delete.

  • Support for faster 7.2 Mbps HSDPA 3G data service where available for faster browsing and downloads.

  • Electronic compass support for indicating the direction you are facing and orienting map display.

  • Accessibility features including the Voice Over screen reader and triple tapping to zoom the display.

  • Nike + iPod support for use with running shoe sensors and other gym equipment.

Developers received access to a gold master version of iPhone 3.0 software today with instructions to ensure their apps were compatible and to assign their apps a rating appropriate to their content for Parental Controls. The 3.0 software will be made available to the public on June 17, and the iPhone 3G S will go on sale two days later on June 19 from Apple, AT&T, BestBuy, and WalMart.