What the iPad beta SDK revealed so far

Apple has a history of keeping a few announcements about their products under wraps, most likely due to the fact that they'd want to build up a bit more hype a week or so before the release. The original iPhone is a great example of this, with Apple announcing that the device will have a longer battery life than initially noted, as well as featuring a glass screen. Now that Apple's most recent product, the iPad, is drawing closer to its release date at the end of March, people are wondering: what is Apple keeping from the public this time around?

Universal iPhone OS Apps

One of the things that concerned developers upon the iPad's announcement was how Apple would be handling multiple versions of apps (for example, an app that works on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad). Many weren't so hot about the idea of creating separate apps to run on each device (though it certainly is possible), though the Cupertino-based company was one step ahead: applications can be compiled in a 'Universal Application' binary format, making it easy for developers to include support for both devices in a single app, which will adjust based on which iPhone OS device it is being run on. This will prove great for consumers, who won't have to purchase separate versions of applications in order to have the full experience, but at the same time it may lead developers to improve the pricing.

Improved App Store Submission Process

Another benefit for developers is that the new version of Xcode, Apple's software for developing iPhone and Mac OS applications, will provide multiple methods of speeding up the App Store approval process (which lately has been much improved, with some applications approved and available on the store within a couple hours). Instead of developers submitting their applications to Apple and hoping that it makes it through the various automated tests that check for private APIs and the like, they can now choose to validate their application directly in Xcode. In short, this means that all the tests that Apple runs on submitted apps can now be executed directly on your machine, saving a lot of potential time during the application approval process. Additionally, there will be a 'Submit Application for Distribution...' option when the final version of Xcode 3.2 is released, saving developers the time of going through Apple's iTunes Connect service and allowing them to submit their apps directly with the software. 

Possibility: Widgets

A lot of mystery remained after Steve Jobs and co. showed off the iPad to the world, particularly around the lack of apps from the home screen of the device (namely Weather, Stocks, Voice Memos, Calculator, and a number of others). The iPad's larger screen would make it rather silly to have a Calculator app running on it, which has raised the question of whether or not Apple will implement a form of Dashboard on the device, in order to run widgets similar to what can be found on Mac OS X. Those of you who have used an Apple computer will be well aware that a button found on the keyboard will activate Dashboard, and you will also have heard that the iPad will be compatible with a hardware keyboard – this in itself isn't a big deal, however: the aforementioned hardware keyboard was noted to have a blank key on it, right where a possible Dashboard button could go. While Apple could easily have included it for aesthetic purposes, that would seem a bit odd, even for them; perhaps all will become clear when the iPhone OS 4.0 is revealed (most likely next month).

A good example of this is Apple's Contacts application. As AppleInsider reported, it has been suggested by evidence found in the iPad SDK that mini-applications (widgets) will be allowed to run, drawing information from their full-version apps. In the end, this will save power and still allow users to get the information they need without having to open the main application. If you're not quite sure about all this, it's a similar system to how Windows Mobile 7 manages widgets, with small amounts of info found on the home screen.

Possibility: Camera / Video Chat

A lot of people were disappointed that the iPad wasn't announced with a camera (even though it would be rather awkward to take photos with, unless of course it was front-facing for video chat). Many have yet to dismiss a camera as a feature of the device, as many references to video chat have been found in the iPad SDK, leading a number of people to believe that it will make it into the final version, when March rolls around. In the first beta for the iPad SDK, an option was found in the Contacts app to 'Take Picture', in order to produce the photo of the contact in question.To add fuel to the fire, apparent physical evidence for a front-facing camera was revealed not too long ago (keep in mind that this could be fake). 

File Downloads / Uploads

The beta 3 SDK released today (and promptly removed apparently due to a single, critical bug discovered) has revealed that the 3.2 iPhone OS will support file downloads, allowing users to download files from the Internet and store them locally. This will no doubt be another feature that will come in handy for Apple's iWork suite, and a number of other third-party apps that rely on documents heavily. Additionally, it seems users will be able to upload files as well, a feature that could work well with Apple's iDisk service, packaged with MobileMe.

A number of smaller features have been uncovered as well, such as a file sharing option which will allow files to be transferred from your computer to the iPad (presumably this will be advertised with Apple's iWork suite for the mobile operating system), including those made by third-party developers. Basic thesaurus support can be found in the iPad's Cut, Copy & Paste menu now, with a 'Replace' option found at the end; this ties in with multiple dictionaries found in the files for the iPad SDK. Finally, users will be able to add their own entries to the AutoCorrect dictionary of the device, saving a deal of frustration with frequently used uncommon words.

Apple will almost certainly have more to say on all this come next month, when their usual iPhone OS event is held, as version 4.0 is expected to be revealed.

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