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Apple Updates Maps, Apps in iPhone Firmware 2.2

Now that Apple has put most -- but not all -- of the complaints about the iPhone 3G's performance behind it, the company has turned its attention to adding new functionality and tweaking the existing apps on its best-selling phone.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) posted the iPhone OS 2.2 on Thursday evening, along with a point release to its iTunes software. Like prior updates, the iPhone update is a large file, clocking in at 246MB -- because the entire iPhone firmware is upgraded, not just selected parts.

The latest iPhone software update is centered around application upgrades, with changes to Google Maps, Safari and e-mail. Ryan Reith, senior research analyst for mobile phone products at IDC, said these upgrades were necessary.

"The focus is definitely now on apps," he told InternetNews.com. "I think if you looked at RIM [Research in Motion, maker of the Blackberry], they lag when it comes to software upgrades and Apple has made more progress in software upgrades."

Additionally, OS 2.2 is "an enhancement to the big announcements that were made around the time of the original 2.0," he said. "Moving forward, I expect Apple will be making continuous upgrades."

Google Maps has gotten a significant enhancement, adding Street View, a feature in the Android G1. Not only does it give turn-by-turn driving, it offers walking instructions and even transit routes, so you know when the next city bus is leaving a particular stop and even how much it will cost you.

Maps also enables you to share your location with others, sending a friend an e-mail with a URL directing them to your location on a Google map.

The iPhone's Safari browser has had a search bar added next to the address bar, a feature most users probably take for granted in their desktop and laptop. Now, instead of manually navigating to Google or Yahoo, a Web search can be done right from the Safari window.

iPhone OS 2.2 also adds podcasting, a feature in which users have shown interest for some time.

The company caused a bit of a ruckus last September when it denied a company called Podcaster the right to list its podcast playback software on App Store. As it turns out, Apple had its own podcast designs: iPhone OS 2.2 offers on-the-go downloading of podcast episodes with the ability to get more from the iTunes Store on the iPhone.

Meanwhile, the iPhone's App Store has been polished to offer new user-interface elements and new ways of organizing applications -- such as listing the most popular free or paid apps, or the most recent releases in each category. Screenshots of applications are now easier to view as well.

Other fixes include e-mail enhancements, tackling problems with scheduled mail retrieval and improving the formatting of wide HTML e-mail. The firmware update also provides stability enhancements to Safari, improved sound quality for Visual Voicemail messages and the ability to turn auto-correction on or off while typing.

iTunes 8.0.2 is mostly bug fixes, but also addresses sound quality issues when ripping MP3s, fixes proxy issues on Mac OS X and improves accessibility with VoiceOver.