When the new iPhone goes on sale Friday, Apple Inc. will also launch an online software store peddling a potpourri of programs such as games, pedometers, tip calculators and language translators for the device. The company hopes that by enabling buyers to transform the phone into a personalized electronic Swiss Army knife of sorts, it can boost sales.
"We live in a post-modern world of fragmented preferences," said Shiv Bakhshi, an analyst at research firm IDC. "The more applications out there, the more people will find the iPhone useful."
The store is another way that Apple is changing the mobile market since the first version of the iPhone went on sale in June 2007.
The new App Store will be the only retailer of Apple-sanctioned software programs for the iPhone family and the iPod Touch. It's an approach that breaks from tradition; typically the manufacturer of the phone doesn't sell software, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.
The updated phone is the Cupertino, Calif., company's biggest push yet to expand its share in the cellphone market and turn the iPhone from a luxury item to a mass market hit. With the new iPhone 3G, the iPhone could regain some of the momentum it lost in recent months. And that could be helped by the launch of the App Store, which could open its virtual doors as early as today to accommodate early iPhone buyers in places such as New Zealand.
But there's a risk in opening up the iPhone to a plethora of outside programs, Enderle said. For example, he said, will the iPhone be able to handle various new programs that zap its power? And, he added, will the programs hurt the iPhone's reliability and performance?
For current iPhone owners, the App Store will appear as an icon on their phone screen as part of a free software update. (Owners of the iPod Touch can update their software for $9.99.)
By clicking on the icon, a customer will see categories such as "lifestyle," "entertainment" and "productivity." Apple has already demonstrated some of the programs at an Apple developers' conference in June, such as a virtual musical keyboard activated by touching the screen.
Other programs expected include medical references, an EBay auction tracker and a home automation remote controller. If a customer wants to make a purchase, the program is wirelessly downloaded to the iPhone and a credit card is billed.
CareerBuilder.com, the online jobs site, has developed a program for the iPhone called Jobs that enables iPhone users to access CareerBuilder's database on the go, with results given by the users' location.
"We think job searching can be an impulse thing," said Marcelino Alvarez, an executive interactive producer at Wieden & Kennedy, an advertising agency that worked with CareerBuilder. A user on vacation in Honolulu, for example, can check out job openings in Hawaii.
Lexcycle, a firm in Portland, Ore., created a product called Stanza, which enables a user to read electronic books -- mostly classics -- for free.
Apple initially resisted allowing outside developers to have access to the iPhone's core programming information but changed its position this year.
Since March, more than 200,000 copies of the developer kit have been downloaded. Some have paid $99 to register as an official iPhone developer and go through a certification process to make it into the App Store. The developer sets the price, Apple processes the sales and keeps 30% of the revenue.
For software developers, the payoff is unknown. But it has a potential to be huge, said Luc Vandal, a software developer in Montreal. He is selling two programs at the App Store: Linguo, a $2.99 application that translates sentences into 17 languages; and Steps, which for $1.99 turns the iPhone into a pedometer by using the device's motion sensor.
"There's only one place that millions of users can get iPhone applications," he said. "I would be surprised if it's not a good success."
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The iPhone and Apple
As soon as today, Apple will launch its App Store, a virtual shop for programs for iPhones and the iPod Touch. Here are some of the programs expected to be available when the doors open:
Use the iPhone to remember where you parked the car and map how to return to it.
Price: 99 cents
An updated selection of scary videos to show friends.
Price: 99 cents
Turns the iPhone's touch screen into a virtual musical keyboard
Type in a sentence and hear how it would sound in one of 17 languages.
Sources: Apple and software developers