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Apple caters to developers by delivering iOS 6 packed with new features

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Peggy Albright

There's no question that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) likes its developers. As the company made clear yesterday at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, the apps and services developers have created for iOS have launched an incredible market and ecosystem. And with the release of the latest version of its operating system, iOS6, Apple intends to keep expanding its reach. Its new mapping tools and social networking capabilities should provide much of that intended impetus, but developers should also pay attention to m-commerce and search functions enabled by the new iOS.

First, the market numbers: Apple CEO Tim Cook said that developers have earned more than $5 billion for their iOS apps. The Apple App Store now offers more than 650,000 iOS apps, including 225,000 optimized for the iPad tablet. Consumers have downloaded more than 30 billion apps in all. The company has sold 365 million iOS devices.

The beta version of iOS6, released yesterday to developers, offers 200 new features that developers can use to begin creating new apps in anticipation of the commercial release of the OS. The new OS will support iPhones beginning with version 3GS , and second-generation and later iPads.

As expected, Apple introduced a new maps feature that it has created in-house, ending its longstanding reliance on Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps and location data. The company made a very public move in that direction in April, when it began dropping Google Maps from certain applications, and several recent technology acquisitions that allowed it to create its proprietary mapping database and services signaled this shift in recent weeks. The new application offers turn-by-turn directions and incorporates features from third-party entities, such as Yelp, which provides local business information for 100 million businesses. The maps application also offers a 3D feature, called Flyover, which provides very stunning, aerial views of local settings.

Deeper integration with Facebook is another leading feature of iOS6. The company has integrated Facebook in a way that is similar to its integration with Twitter. With iOS 6, developers will be able to offer single sign-in across all Facebook-enabled iOS apps and sharing from photos, Safari and maps.  Apple will also integrate Facebook into iTunes and the App Store, enabling consumers to "like" apps and features and browse their friends' recommendations.  

Siri is also now available in more markets. The company has made it available for the iPad and expanded its language support to cover 15 countries. It will also work with the new Maps and Facebook apps.

Apple's new Passbook app should also have an impact. The new app can store customers' boarding passes, retailer loyalty cards, movie ticket apps and related consumer information and documents.  It will allow customers to scan their iOS 6-based devices to use coupons or check into hotels. The incorporation of these features into the platform will make it easy for developers to add these capabilities. No doubt, participants in the escalating m-commerce industry will be watching to see how consumers adopt use of these options.

The better incorporation with Facebook is expected to strengthen the social networking performance for iOS-based devices, and the benefits of that feature will accrue to both Apple and Facebook. The new Maps application will have an adverse effect on Google, which could lose up to a third of its mobile users in Western countries, according to Analysys Mason. Google's stock was in fact down after yesterday's announcements.  

The Maps application, combined with better capabilities from Siri, should also yield substantial and improved search functions for the iOS. While the industry will have to get their hands on Apple Maps to use it in real-world circumstances, "Apple is now in the search business," wrote Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land.

iOS6 is barely out of the box, and developers will now begin innovating with it. We will see, in the coming months, how significant these features can be, the extent to which they'll bolster the capabilities of apps already made popular with iOS, and how much further they can drive up revenue and market penetration figures for developers and Apple.--Peggy