Navigation app developers turn away from iPhone 3G

Apple's iPhone 3G drops at retail on Friday, but the feverish anticipation hasn't engulfed the mobile developer community--at least not navigation services developers, anyway. Forbes reports that despite the inclusion of built-in GPS technology, the iPhone 3G seems more like a dead-end to navigation developers because of Apple's distribution and billing model: For one thing, all applications for sale via Apple's App Store tie to a user's iTunes account, not a specific device, meaning consumers pay only once for apps they can run across multiple iPhones. In addition, most navigation developers bill their users monthly or daily access fees for mapping services, arguing the repeat charges help keep their data up-to-date and underwrite the costs of regular map updates--for now, however, Apple's billing model limits options to free distribution or a one-time fee. 

But the major obstacle in navigation developers' path is competition. There's a growing sentiment that Apple plans to introduce its own location-based applications, calling into question the wisdom of developing third-party iPhone apps--at its annual developers' conference last month, the computing giant confirmed nothing beyond the 3G device's addition of embedded GPS technology and a commitment to support social mapping and communication service Loopt. Undoubtedly other navigation applications and services will turn up in the App Store as well--still, it's interesting to compare the iPhone 3G with Google's forthcoming Android mobile OS, which appears poised to offer an excess of location and geo-centric apps if the recent list of Android Developer Challenge winners is any indication. Of course, everything could change once developers actually get their hands on the new iPhone this weekend, but at least for now, the device is anything but the place to be. -Jason