Review: iPhone Apps Store - InformationWeek

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Mobile // Mobile Devices
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7/29/2008
11:37 PM
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Review: iPhone Apps Store

The best part of iPhone firmware 2.0 is its ability to access the iPhone Apps Store. You want apps? It's got apps. The store is sheer, addictive fun. Here is an in-depth review of how it all works.

Applications from third parties have been available for the iPhone since shortly after its initial release in June 2007. Those applications, however, were not sanctioned by Apple at all, and required users to jailbreak (unlock) their iPhones. Jailbreaking tools were commonly available for free on the Internet from hackers and developers. Anyone wanting to take the risks of unlocking (potential bricking of the then-$600 device) was rewarded with access to hundreds of crafty applications for the iPhone.

With the introduction of the iPhone Apps Store, Apple has taken away those risks and empowered all iPhone users -- not just the adventurous ones -- to add applications to their devices at will.

(Still, software that allows iPhone users to load non-Apple-approved applications on their handsets running firmware version 2.0 was recently released by hackers.)

Timeline

The original iPhone's inability to download applications from third-parties was a major complaint when the device first became available. Most standard cell phones -- even the free ones -- can download applications from their associated carriers' deck. For AT&T, this means from MEdiaNet, for Sprint, this means the Vision Store, for T-Mobile that means T-Zones, and for Verizon Wireless, that means Get It Now. Each of these decks offers users ringtones and wallpapers, as well as Java and BREW applications such as games and productivity software.

The iPhone was exempt from all that, which, in part, spawned the jailbreaking movement last summer.

Fast-forward to March 2008, and Apple announced that a more advanced version of the firmware controlling the iPhone is on its way. This new firmware will allow iPhones to download applications from third parties via an entire store built for the purpose of selling them. Apple also introduced a software developer kit (SDK) so developers could create their applications.

And so the iPhone Apps Store was born. It recently arrived with the 3G iPhone, and we've spent the past two weeks testing it out.

Interface(s)

There are two ways to get to the iPhone Apps Store. First, there's an icon on the iPhone's screen that takes you straight there. You can also jump into the store through Apple's iTunes software on your computer. Via iTunes, the Apps Store resembles the iTunes Music Store, which is used to search for and download music. First, however, we'll look at how it works on the phone.

Layout

Using the Apps Store on the iPhone itself couldn't be easier. The main home page of the store has two buttons along the top that link to the newest and most popular applications. Below that are two large buttons that take you to a rotating selection of featured applications. The rest of the home page is filled with a vertical list of about 20 more applications. You can see what each application's icon looks like (which is how it will appear on the iPhone's desktop), see the current user review ratings (1 to 5 stars) and what the application costs.

Along the very bottom of this home screen are five permanent icons that take you to different ways to search for and discover applications. They are: Featured, Categories (of which there are 19 at the time of this writing), the Top 25, a Search box and an Update option.

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