When Apple Inc. launched an updated iPhone at its annual gathering of software developers last June, its biggest competitor was the iPhone that Apple had introduced the year before.
That wasn’t the case at this year’s conference, which opened June 8. Now the next version of Apple’s touch-screen phone has to outdo a slew of rival gadgets that emulate or improve on some of the iPhone’s best features.
Much is riding on Apple’s ability to appear well ahead of its competitors. Apple’s shares have jumped 73 percent since March even in the absence of revered CEO Steve Jobs, who is on medical leave largely because of high expectations for the iPhone. Just two years after entering the fray, Apple enjoys a 19.5 percent share of the smart phone market, according to IDC, and investors are betting on a continued run of success.
“Apple, from a practical standpoint, has consistently tried to stay one to two years ahead of the competition on both the hardware and software levels,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies and longtime Apple analyst.
Apple, in keeping with its usual secrecy, wouldn’t saying what was to be unveiled at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Usually the event is the company’s stage to demonstrate computer software changes that aren’t widely relevant until programmers use them to build neat new applications.
Last year, though, Apple used the conference to announce the iPhone 3G, and many Apple-watchers expect the Cupertino, Calif.-based company to produce another version this time, and to reveal more about the new iPhone operating software it previewed in March.
Since last year’s developers conference, rival phone makers galvanized by Apple’s challenge have responded with formidable touch-screen devices of their own, including Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Storm and T-Mobile USA’s G1, which runs Google Inc.’s Android software. Palm Inc. is coming out with its new Pre and promises to follow with similar devices using its flexible webOS operating system.
For now, RIM is still by far the top seller of feature-packed smart phones, with 55.3 percent share, according to IDC. Palm has 3.9 percent.