Raising the stakes
While the hardware side of the mobile Internet business remains as diverse as ever, the software and services side has been whittled down to four major stakeholders, taking it in turns to out-do each other with their latest innovations.
In the last couple of weeks it has very much been Apple's turn, with the iPad hitting the shops and, yesterday, previewing version four of its iPhone operating system.
For end-users, the most significant addition will have been the addition of multitasking - the ability to run more than one application at a time - the omission of which had been considered a major failing of iPhone OS together with the lack Flash support, which remained unchanged.
"We're delivering over 100 new features, including multitasking, folders, a unified inbox, deeper Enterprise support, and an iPhone version of our iBooks reader and online iBookstore," said Apple boss Steve Jobs.
Folders is a way of organising and grouping apps according to their type, while the unified inbox does what it says on the tin - displays all email accounts in a single inbox. There was a preview of Game Center - an API that enables social gaming and the new enterprise features include improved security and compatibility with software such as Exchange Server 2010. The iBooks stuff we can't help feeling was done more with the iPad in mind.
But the most significant addition for the mobile Internet industry was iAd - Apple's new mobile advertising platform. This move was broadly anticipated and is the culmination of Apple's acquisition of mobile ad company Quattro at the start of this year. iAd will allow users to click on ads without leaving the app they were in, and offers developers the ability to embed iAd opportunities in their apps (with Apple selling and serving the ads) while keeping 60 percent of iAd revenue.
Google had been hoping to beat Apple to the mobile advertising punch when it out-bid Apple for AdMob last November but, such is Google's dominance of the search advertising space, regualtors are taking a long, hard look at this deal before they allow it to go through. Meanwhile Apple has drawn first blood, Microsoft is likely to introduce an equivalent platform in Windows Phone 7 and we wouldn't be surprised to see Intel and Nokia do the same with MeeGo.
The iPhone OS 4 will be available to iPhone and iPod touch users in the summer and iPad users in the autumn. Multitasking will only work on the iPhone 3GS and the third generation iPod touch.