More powerful maps, multi-person SMS lead new iPhone features

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Apple expanded the iPhone's capabilities Tuesday with a free software update that adds a location finder to the Maps feature, customized home screens, multi-person SMS chats, and the ability to add Web sites to the home screen. In addition, video playback on the phone has been enhanced, with support for chapters, subtitles and languages, and lyrics support has been added for music tracks.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the latest iPhone features during his Macworld Expo keynote.

The Maps interface has been streamlined in the latest update, with Search and Directions buttons in the middle; a button in the bottom right that curls up your map to offer the option to drop a pin anywhere you want, show traffic, and view in map, satellite, and hybrid views; and a button in the bottom left that finds your location on a map. Apple worked with Google and Skyhook Wireless to create the location feature. Google uses technology that looks for cell phone towers to triangulate your location while Skyhook uses 23 million mapped Wi-Fi hotspots. When it finds your location, Maps overlays a blue circle that shows your approximate position.

The iPhone's new Webclips feature lets you bookmark a Web page as a button on the iPhone's home screen. In addition to saving the site's web address, the Webclip icon remembers the Safari browser's page location and zoom settings, allow you to bookmark not just a single page, but a particular location on a page. To create a Web click, you navigate to a Web page in the browser, then click the plus-symbol icon at the bottom of the screen. When you choose the new Add To Home Screen option, the iPhone allows you to give your Webclip a custom name and then adds it to your home screen.

Speaking of the home screen, you can now move the icons on the home screen and rearrange them as desired. Hold down your finger on an icon and all your buttons will begin to shimmy, showing they are ready to be dragged around. You can also have up to nine screens worth of buttons, so you can put all your Webclips on a separate screen or move unused programs out of the way.

Video playback has improved with this update. When watching a video, you can now click on a chapters button to open the Chapter Guide. It shows you all the chapters in a video, along with thumbnails and the time at which they begin. And you can now take advantage of alternate languages or subtitles that are included in video files.

"The iPhone is not standing still," Jobs said.

According to Jobs, Apple has sold 4 million iPhones to date, averaging sales of 20,000 phones per day. That gives the iPhone a 19.5-percent share of the U.S. smartphone market as of the September 2007 quarter according to figures Jobs quoted from market-research firm Gartner. The iPhone only trails BlackBerry maker RIM, which has a 39 percent market share.

What's more, Jobs said, the iPhone's market share is equal to the combined percentage of the next three largest companies—Palm, Motorola, and Nokia.

Updated at 11:58 a.m. PT to add more detail on the Locations feature and market-share data.
Updated at 1:29 p.m. to add more detail on Maps, Webclips, and video playback features. Updated at 2:39 p.m. PT with additional information.

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