Even as the Electronic Entertainment Expo continues in full swing in Los Angeles, preparations are under way for Apple's much-anticipated Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) just up the coast in San Francisco. Banners are being hung -- the first declares "One Year Later. Light Years Ahead," a reference to Apple's phenomenally successful App Store -- and rumors are ricocheting around the blogosphere.
The rumor mill was stoked earlier this year by the announcement that Apple has scheduled the release of the iPhone OS 3.0 at this year's WWDC. That news was quickly followed by hints of an updated iPhone, leading bloggers and tech writers to spend hours scouring beta code and patent applications for clues to new features.
Share and Share Alike
One of the more intriguing possibilities, BusinessWeek reports, is that the new version of the iPhone OS may allow iPhone users to share applications directly with their friends.
Over the next five years, the market for applications is expected to climb to a staggering $25 billion. The very popularity of mobile applications, however, makes it increasingly difficult for publishers to stand out among the myriad offerings, or for consumers to easily find applications that interest them.
Microsoft's Zune, which allows users to share music content via Wi-Fi, has already demonstrated the power of a friend's recommendation in driving the sale of music tracks. A similar feature could help steer iPhone users to useful or interesting options among the App Store's 35,000 (and counting) products.
As is typically the case for the notoriously secretive company, Apple's press office offered a firm "no comment." "We've made no announcements at this time," said Apple spokesperson Jennifer Bowcock.
Over the past few months, five different versions of the beta software for iPhone OS 3.0 have appeared; the most recent is the first to contain any suggestion of app sharing.
The marketplace may be forcing Apple's hand. In addition to the evident popularity of music sharing on the Zune, sources within the Android community told BusinessWeek that Google software developers are actively considering the possibility of peer-to-peer app sharing and gifting.
A successful app-sharing capability would address one of the long-standing gripes among iPhone app developers and customers: The lack of an easy way to test applications before purchase (hence the large number of apps with "lite" versions). A sharing capability would presumably come with the ability to try out the app before purchase is required.
Although Apple's App Store holds a dominant position in the mobile app market, having recently crossed the "one billion apps served" threshold, it is evident that there is little opportunity for Apple to rest on its laurels. The company's erratic and often-inexplicable app-approval process has created opportunities for competitors (particularly the wide-open Android Market), and absent innovation, Apple will find itself increasingly challenged. Let the games be shared!