If it's March, it must be time for Apple Inc. to start beating the iPhone drum.
That's the quick analysis of Tuesday's preview of the next generation of its iPhone software, which will add a slew of features, some that users have been yelping about since Day 1, to the popular smartphone and its iPod Touch cousin.
Last year, Apple introduced iPhone 2.0 at a March 17, 2008 event, then followed that several months later with the iPhone 3G and the money-making App Store. That's what everyone's expecting this time around, too: Get the software in developers' hands now, then delivery new hardware this summer.
iPhone 3.0 has too much to offer to cover in just one FAQ; this story will play out for months, just like last year's iPhone 2.0. But we wanted answers to a few questions right away. So here goes:
When do I get iPhone 3.0?
On Tuesday, Apple got no more specific than "this summer" for the public release of the upgrade, although developers in the iPhone program were able to download a beta Tuesday, as well as the supporting SDK (software developers kit).
Last year, when CEO Steve Jobs -- who didn't attend Tuesday's preview, as he's still on medical leave -- announced iPhone 2.0, he said it would launch in "late June." In reality, Apple launched the upgrade, as well as the new iPhone 3G hardware, on July 11.
We're betting on a similar timetable for iPhone 3.0. Most analysts, for example, peg the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which will probably take place in early June, as the platform for Apple's inevitable-at-this-point introduction of one or more new iPhone models, with availability some weeks after that.
How much will the upgrade cost me?
iPhone owners, including those holding first-generation iPhones, will be able to upgrade to 3.0 free of charge, said Apple. People with an iPod Touch -- first or second generation -- will have to fork over $9.95 for the update, however. The latter is in line with past Apple practice, and stems from the company's approach to accounting, which distributes iPhone revenue over the 24-month life of a network contract, but drops all iPod Touch sales directly into the bottom line.
Speaking of the iPod Touch, Apple for the first time gave out a number for the iPod Touch's installed base: 13 million. That's less than the 17 million iPhones Apple has sold, but still impressive -- and a nice arguing point for those, including Jobs, who have pitched the Touch as Apple's answer to Windows-based netbooks.