The Mobile App Trends Series is sponsored by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

As the mobile application space continues to explode, developers are increasingly using HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 to aid in the creation of web apps and native mobile apps. This process is especially useful when dealing with cross-platform development or when working with content that already exists in some form on the web.

We’re going to take a look at how some of the best HTML5-centric, cross-platform mobile frameworks are being used to help developers deliver native app experiences on a variety of devices.


Given the hype and buzz surrounding HTML5, it would be easy to believe that it is a technology that will do your laundry, mow the lawn and make you dinner. In truth, HTML5 isn’t the second coming, and it isn’t an officially ratified standard — yet. The spec continues to edge closer to completion, however, and when combined with JavaScript and CSS3, HTML5 can do some really incredible things.

This is particularly true for mobile devices. A de facto requirement for any modern mobile operating system is the inclusion of a modern HTML5-compliant web browser. The leading modern mobile platforms — iOS and Android — both use WebKit as their bases. Likewise, BlackBerry and HP/Palm are also using WebKit and Microsoft is going to release a mobile version of Internet Explorer 9 for Windows Phone 7.

What this means is that out of the box, modern smartphones and tablets support the bells and whistles that make HTML5 so special. It also means that developers can feel free to use those technologies when creating their applications and not have to worry that the device itself won’t support a particular function.

It also means that developers that choose to create HTML5 web apps for the desktop — like for the Google Chrome Web Store — can often use the same code when crafting an app for the iPad or for other tablets.

Earlier this month, leading iOS developer ScrollMotion released its first simultaneous e-book for the iPad and Chrome Web Store.

Because ScrollMotion has built its underlying app platform in HTML5, porting the content to a non-iOS device, like the Chrome browser, required very little work.


Choosing what mobile platforms to support continues to be a vexing problem for developers both big and small. Supporting one platform can be difficult enough, but now developers not only have multiple operating systems to consider, but multiple device types as well. iPhone and iPad apps can be packaged together, but both require separate experiences and views.

Likewise, Android developers that want to target the upcoming wave of Honeycomb tablets will need to create variations of their apps for the different device types. Add in the BlackBerry PlayBook, HP’s TouchPad and the future devices from Nokia and Microsoft, and it’s not difficult for even a large development team to become overwhelmed.

Fortunately, this problem has created a microcosm of cross-platform mobile development tools. We’ve covered a number of these platforms and frameworks in the past, but we want to highlight a few that specifically target HTML5 and JavaScript.

Appcelerator Titanium

Appcelerator’s Titanium platform was designed from the offset to help web developers create mobile and tablet applications with ease. Over the last year, the platform has seen tremendous growth, and new features and devices are added at a fast pace.

Appcelerator recently acquired Aptana, which should ensure that the tools for building its apps continue to improve and evolve over time.

Some of the apps that have been built with Appcelerator include GetGlue for iPhone, iPad and Android and ScoutMob’s excellent iPhone app.


PhoneGap is an HTML5 app platform that lets developers build native apps using HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. What really sets PhoneGap apart is that it lets developers create a full-functioning mobile web app but place that app in a native wrapper, so that it can use native device APIs and get submitted to the App Store or Android Market.

In essence, it enables mobile developers to cre
ate an app just as if they were targeting the mobile browser but with the benefit of being able to get into the App Store.

PhoneGap Build is a new service (still in beta) that lets developers quickly and easily create app-store ready versions of their apps for various platforms. It does all the work of compiling the code for various platforms and gives the developer a final build suitable for submission to the app market of their choice.

Ars Technica used PhoneGap to build its iPad app. This is a great example of using web standards to deliver an app that presents existing content in a customized view and experience. Clint Ecker’s post about how the app was built is worth a read.


Rhodes is a Ruby-based framework designed to help developers create native apps for a wide range of devices and platforms. The reason we included Rhodes in this roundup — despite being a Ruby tool — is that it uses HTML, CSS and JavaScript in its views. That means that HTML can be used for the interface aspect of the app — even if Ruby is what is powering the work on the backend.

Unify Project

The Unify Project is a set of tools designed to make it easier for developers to create smartphone apps using HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. Sponsored by Deutsche Telekom, Unify is published under a dual open source license (MIT and Apache version 2.0) and it uses PhoneGap, Adobe Air, Sass and the quooxdoo JavaScript framework.

Additional Tools

Using various mobile web frameworks alongside an HTML5 platform is a common approach to mobile app development.

Developer Pete Freitag recently gave a presentation on building mobile apps using jQuery Mobile and PhoneGap. Freitag made the slides available on his website and the presentation offers a nice overview of how to use two emerging web frameworks together.

Feitag’s tracking and reimbursement app Mileage Pad was built using PhoneGap and jQuery Mobile.

Other web frameworks that can be used alongside PhoneGap or Rhodes include Sencha Touch and SproutCore.

Or Just Make an HTML5 App

Of course, an increasingly viable option for mobile developers is to just use HTML5 to create a mobile web app.

As HTML5 gets better and browser support of HTML5 improves, the differences between running an HTML5 app in a native wrapper, a la PhoneGap, and accessing an HTML5 web app from an app shortcut on your home screen is going to continue to disappear.

Lots of companies — including Facebook — are looking at HTML5 as the future platform for their apps that target next generation devices.

Earlier this month, 37signals decided to forego building a platform-specific mobile app for its Basecamp product and instead created Basecamp Mobile. This decision initially drew some criticism, with members of the developer community questioning the company’s decision to just use HTML5.

With the recent Readability kerfuffle, it’s possible that more developers will start considering a mobile web approach for their applications. Readability’s Rich Ziade and Dan Benjamin discuss the issue in length, including what it means for mobile developers, on “The Daily Edition.”

The Future is Bright

Whether it’s through a framework, via an application wrapper or as the basis for a mobile web app, HTML5 is going to continue to be an important driving force for mobile application development.

In fact, as the technology evolves, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more HTML5 elements popping up in native desktop applications as well.

Are you using HTML5 when building mobile apps? Let us know.

Series Supported by Sourcebits

The Mobile App Trends Series is sponsored by Sourcebits, a leading developer of applications and games for all major mobile platforms. Sourcebits has engineered over 200 apps to date, with plenty more to come. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iPhone, Android and more. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out how we can help your app stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter and Facebook for recent news and updates.

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Image courtesy of iStockphoto, a_Taiga

More About: appcelerator, css3, HTML5, javascript, jquery mobile, Mobile App Trends Series, phonegap, rhodes, sencha touch

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A new App Store rejection sheds some light on the real implications behind Apple’s new in-app subscription policies, and the results aren’t pretty.

The iOS app for Arc90′s recently re-launched Readability service was rejected on Friday for “utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase (IAP) API to purchase content, functionality, or services.” This is significant because unlike companies like Rhapsody (who are already on the record as being firmly against the new policies), Readability is not a a traditional content provider.

As Readability creator and Arc90 founding partner Richard Ziade says in his “Open Letter to Apple” blog post, “Readability’s model is unique in that 70% of our service fees go directly to writers and publishers.” He continues, “if we implemented In App purchasing, your 30% cut drastically undermines a key premise of how Readability works.”

We spoke with Ziade after he posted his letter and he offered us this additional insight:

A big problem with this isn’t just the model (which is a big problem on its own). It’s the additional hoops we’d have to jump through just to make all this work. Imagine two payment distribution systems — one for iOS subscribers and another for web — that would have to exist. It’s just a big obstacle on our roadmap if we decided to do it. We’d rather put our energy towards making Readability better.

About Readability

Readability started as a bookmarklet that provided users with a better-formatted reading experience. Ideally suited for long-form content, Readability cuts out the clutter of modern web writing and presents text in a clean, focused way. The original proof of concept was so popular that Apple even based its Safari Reader feature on Readability.

Last month, Readability evolved into a total reading platform. While the basic bookmarklet remains free, users can subscribe to the Readability service (starting at $5 a month) and add articles, Instapaper-style, to a reading queue accessible from any web browser. What sets Readability apart is that publishers of the content that users choose to read get a percentage of the profits. In fact, 70% of a user’s subscription goes directly to the content writers.

The iOS app, which was developed by Instapaper’s Marco Arment, was supposed to be a special bonus for paid subscribers. It’s based on Instapaper and offers and optimized, offline reading and queuing experience.

Apple’s decision to reject the app doesn’t change the fact that the Readability is still usable within iOS. As a Readability subscriber, I’ve added “Read Now” and “Read Later” bookmarks to Mobile Safari on both my iPhone and iPad and am fully satisfied with the experience.

Instead, the decision very clearly sets the tone for what the rules for subscription-based service apps are going forward.

iOS Adverse Implications

The iOS platform is no stranger to criticism. Even before the official iPhone SDK made its debut in March 2008, developers were complaining about Apple’s policies in keeping the platform locked down, closed off and under a stringent set of guidelines. Through the years, some restrictions have lifted, rules have been better explained and more service offerings have opened up. Still, this is Apple’s show, and anyone who develops for the platform knows it.

For most developers, it’s worth the trouble. Despite Android’s tremendous gains in adoption, developers make more money on iOS and are more likely to cultivate repeat customers. New features tend to appear in the iPhone version of an app first; the iPhone and iPad get more exclusive titles; and the overall app experience tends to be more cohesive and complete.

Major brands and larger development houses target iOS and Android, but there are far more independent developers and smaller software shops that make their living entirely off of the iOS ecosystem than from Android. If Apple isn’t careful, it could start to push some of those indie developers away.

First launched with The Daily, Apple’s new subscription purchasing policy seems largely targeted at print publishers of magazines and newspapers. In that context, we have a hard time finding fault with Apple’s decision to take a 30% cut of all subscriptions obtained through the application download. Newspaper and magazine publishers might not be happy with the arrangement (though they can still offer subscribers the ability to subscribe outside the app), but in the grand scheme of things, 30% is likely on the low side of subscriber acquisition costs.

Even for streaming content services like Rdio, MOG or Rhapsody, we can understand Apple asking for a cut of a subscription rate — if only because those companies typically charge much higher rates for subscriptions that include mobile device support.

Plus, for consumers, the benefits of an in-app subscription system for magazines or music services is to their advangate. Not only is canceling a subscription faster (no having to wai
t on hold with an operator), but user privacy is better protected, too. Furthermore, at least in the case of published content, most content is going to be consumed on the device. If I subscribe to an iPad magazine, I am going to be consuming that content on the iPad.

This isn’t the case with web apps and cloud-based web services like Readability. Readability is an app built for the web browser. Having an iOS app is great — but fundamentally, the app and the service are designed to be platform agnostic and the desktop browser is definitely a major target.

How Far Does This Go?

The frustrating aspect of the Readability rejection is that this makes the road for apps that tie into cloud-based services in the future much less clear.

As Dan Benjamin and I discuss on a near-weekly basis, the line between web apps and native mobile apps is starting to become less and less distinguishable. A recent Appcelerator study showed that cloud connectivity is one of the top requirements for developers when building a mobile application.

Cloud connectivity can often mean plugging into subscription ecosystems. What worries us is what this means for native clients for web services.

Does 37signals now have to offer an in-app Campfire subscription in its Campfire for iPhone app? What about Evernote? Moreover, what about third-party apps that plug into the API for systems like Evernote or Campfire or Basecamp — are they also subject to this new subscription pricing policy? If so, how can that be enforced if the API doesn’t designate a payment or subscription option?

At the end of the day, we think Ziade summs it up best in his letter:

To be clear, we believe [Apple has] every right to push forward such a policy… But to impose this course on any web service or web application that delivers any value outside of iOS will only discourage smaller ventures like ours to invest in iOS apps for our services.

More About: app store, apple, In-app subscriptions, Instapaper, iOS, readability

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The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: PostalPix

Quick Pitch: PostalPix is an iPhone app that lets you order prints of your iPhone photos in a variety of formats.

Genius Idea: After Isaac and Christina Lay had a baby boy, the couple started snapping photos of their new bundle of joy with their iPhones. They soon realized there was no simple way to get those photos off their phones and into the hands of friends and family. Shortly thereafter, Isaac Lay co-founded PostalPix, a service for ordering prints of mobile photos.

PostalPix is as straightforward as it sounds. iPhone owners can use the app to order 4 x 6 and 8 x 10 prints and mouse pads of photos pulled from their phone’s library. It’s as simple as selecting print size, picking photos, specifying quantity and paying for the prints.

Prices appear to be reasonable — a pack of three 4″ x 6″ prints is $0.99, and a single 8″ x 10″ print is $3.47. App users can purchase their prints in-app via PayPal or credit card. Mashable readers can get 25% of their first purchase using the code “mashable” at checkout.

One reason mobile photo sharing services have become so popular is that they present the user with an instantaneous way to publish photos to the web, eliminating the hassle of having to transfer photos to a computer. PostalPix applies the same logic to prints, offering iPhone users a frictionless way to develop their digital photos.

The overall application experience could be improved, and the photo loading and upload process for users with larger image libraries needs work. We’d also like to see a few more supported formats as well as integration with photo apps. But when all is said and done, PostalPix works as advertised.

Having only had a live product for just over month, PostalPix is still very much an early stage venture. The bootstrapped startup caters to a very specific mobile audience and has managed to carve out space in between photo printing services on the web and photo applications for mobile. It’s a tiny space with lucrative potential, which means competition is inevitable.

Founded in August 2010, PostalPix turned out to be more difficult to build than originally anticipated. “It was a pain in the butt to integrate our custom technology with shipping processes,” says co-founder Michael Sarlitt. Sarlitt and Lay brought Joel Vanderhoof on board, and he helped with the tricky supply and print center details — details PostalPix believes gives them an advantage over potential copycats.

PostalPix users can expect new features, formats and products in the months ahead. The team also hopes to build for Android and other mobile operating systems once they perfect the iPhone app.

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: bizspark, iphone, mobile photos, postalpix, spark-of-genius

Rdio, a uniquely social music subscription service, reportedly just garnered financial support from Mangrove Capital Partners.

According to Paid Content, the news first surfaced via a tweet from Mangrove partner Mark Tluszcz to MC Hammer (awesome), reading: “@MCHammer check out the company I just financed… Hope to see you at our Jamboree this year in Florence.”

Paid Content confirmed the news with Mangrove, but there’s no word yet as to how much money Rdio received, or how it will use the cash. We’ve reached out to Rdio for comment.

Rdio — which launched this past summer — is a super social music subscription service that lets you follow friends and listen to their musical collections, as well as listen to music on-demand.

Lately, the service — which is currently only available in the U.S. and Canada — has been on the up-and-up, partnering with Merlin, a licensing agency for indie acts — a move that helped make its library much more diverse. Rdio was also integrated into the MusicMapper, a mobile app launched as part of the Grammy Awards’ Music Is Life Is Music campaign.

Wireless music system Sonos also recently introduced Rdio into its musical offerings, marking Rdio’s first foray into consumer electronics (before it was only available on the desktop and on mobile devices).

More and more, music subscription services are gaining popularity — what with MOG’s Fusion Program facilitating its integration into electronics and cars, and rising anticipation over Spotify launching in the U.S. This recent funding news just further indicates that the music subscription space is one to watch.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, shulz

More About: rdio

We’ve seen a lot of inventive music videos this past year — interactive videos, crowdsourced videos, HTML5-based videos — but we hadn’t seen a 360-degree video, until now. Black Eyed Peas frontman just launched his digital media company, will.i.apps, and to kick off the app-travaganza he’s out with a Peas-branded app featuring a pretty immersive vid.

The app — titled BEP360 — is the first release from will.i.apps, a company founded with Edo Segal of Futurity Ventures. Like pre-existing services like Mobile Roadie, will.i.apps will help artists create mobile apps to best showcase their music and brand.

That’s the aim of BEP360 — to bring the fan into the Black Eyed Peas’s world. The app features a video for the band’s song “The Time (Dirty Bit)” the first single from new album, The Beginning, which allows the user to explore the world of the video (basically a party) by moving his or her phone around. IE, If you point your phone at the ceiling, you’ll see the ceiling of the party. It’s like Google Earth, with more scantily clad chicks.

The app also includes an augmented reality view, which brings the latest album cover to life; a photo session that lets you take pictures of the band members in a virtual, 360-degree “photo shoot”; a virtual map that displays comments and pictures posted by other fans (you can take snaps with the virtual band members in the AR view and share them out); the Peas’s Twitter feed; and a puzzle game.

Overall, the video is far and away the coolest aspect of the app, but, frankly, I wouldn’t shell out the $2.99 to download it if you’re not a pretty big Black Eyed Peas fan.

We’re far more interested to see what other apps will.i.apps creates for artists, seeing as how it’s a company founded by a working musician.

BEP360 is currently available for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad [iTunes link].

More About: apple, black eyed peas,, will.i.apps

Using Google Cloud Print, Gmail users will soon be able to print documents from their iOS and Android devices.

Similar to Apple’s AirPrint and HP’s line of ePrint printers, Cloud Print is designed to help users print from multiple locations or devices without having to worry about setting up a printer or installing drivers.

Google Chrome gained Cloud Print support back in December. Right now, a computer running Windows is required for the initial setup; however, Google says that support for Mac and Linux is coming soon.

After connecting a printer to Google Cloud Print, users who access from iOS or Android will be able to print messages or attachments directly from their device. Supported document types include *.PDF and *.DOC files.

The neat thing about Google Cloud Print is that you can send documents to a printer even if you are in another location or not directly connected to the local network. That means that if you want to print some files on your home printer but are at the office or in the car, you can still initialize the print job from your phone.

If your computer is online, the job will process through without your intervention. If the printer is unreachable, Google will add the item to your print queue and it will be printed as soon as the device comes back online.

On the Gmail blog, Google says that Google Cloud Print for mobile Gmail will be rolled out in U.S. English over the next few days.

We hope Google releases an API for Cloud Print so that third-party mobile apps and websites can add support for this cool service.

More About: AirPrint, android, cloud print, cloud printing, eprint, gmail, Google, Google Cloud Print, iOS

MusiXmatch, a provider of digital lyrics solutions, announced at Midem 2011 new partnerships with BMG, Kobalt, Universal Music Publishing Group and Sony ATV Music, making musiXmatch the largest authorized lyrics database in the world, according to the company.

MusiXmatch, now replete with 5 million lyrics, is today launching a commercial beta that will let developers legally integrate lyrics into their applications.

In a statement, musiXmatch claims to be the only lyrics API to fully offer international rights management.

“The search term for lyrics drives more traffic than any other term on Google,” says Max Ciociola, CEO and founder of musiXmatch. “MusiXmatch gives developers the lyrics that they need to create deeper and more engaging online music experiences.”

The online lyrics space has existed in a rather shady area for the large part; the quality of lyrics can be spotty, and often they are presented sans rights. MusiXmatch’s latest partnership — and newly launched commercial API — should prove to be valuable for users seeking better-quality, legal content.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, jayneandd

More About: api, developers, midem-2011, music, musixmatch

Yobongo, an iPhone application for serendipitously connecting nearby people in mobile, chatroom-like environments, is launching in private beta Monday.

The previously stealth startup hails from Caleb Elston and David Kasper, both formerly of The two started working on the application in March of 2010 and left their jobs in October to pursue Yobongo full-time. Their mission is to help people better connect with others in the world around them.

Yobongo, as described by Elston, is a new way of communicating with real people. At launch, the application automatically drops the user in a chat room — based on location — where he or she can start chatting in a group environment with others in the room. Chat room members can also see each other’s avatars at the top of room, and start one-off private conversations with other room participants.

The key difference from applications such as MessageParty is that Yobongo controls who gets placed into what rooms and when. It’s a serendipitous experience engineered by a number of variables that the service uses to determine the makeup of each mobile chat room.

Location does factor into the experience, but the application is more people-centric, says Elston. So, rooms dynamically adjust based on where people are and the flux of a city, but the velocity of users coming in and out of the app and the nature of the individuals (i.e. if they’ve chatted before) also play a role in where users end up.

Prior to today’s private beta launch, Yobongo was being privately tested by a small group of individuals, which means many of Yobongo’s features are unproven.

In a short test, I experienced firsthand just how fast the messaging experience is — in terms of mobile messaging, it’s as real-time as it gets. But because of the restricted nature of the private alpha, I was messaging in the application’s only room. The experience was entertaining and fun, but none of the people or location factors mentioned above played any role in determining how I was placed in the chat room. The private beta will continue to be a controlled test, so the elasticity of the application will still be hard to see in action.

Yobongo is currently self-funded, but Elston and Kasper are said to be in talks with investors. The two believe that as the market for location-based advertising matures, Yobongo will find a way to monetize its service.

Yobongo has fielded interest from thousands of would-be users, but Mashable readers can cut the line. iPhone owners can sign up here to receive priority access to the private beta.

Image courtesy of Flickr, nitot

More About: iphone app, location-based apps, Mobile 2.0, startup, yobongo

Discovr is a new music discovery app for iPad that shows connections between bands, and with a quick double tap, you can see the musicians’ videos on YouTube and a lot more.

Launched today, the $2.99 app is described as “interactive map of the world of music for iPad,” and we took it for a spin. Take a look at the video above, and you’ll see the graceful graphics showing connections of the bands that you can drag around the screen.

Discovr is like a visual version of Pandora radio, where you can read about all your favorite artists and study the relationships between them. Search for a band or artist, and you’re presented with a diagram of that band or artist depicted as a hub, with related artists connected as circular pics resembling spokes to that hub.

By double-tapping on one of the bands, you’re presented with a wealth of information about each one, including a biography, links to blog posts, places to buy the music, and a variety of YouTube videos of the band (if it’s popular enough). As you get down to third-tier bands and musicians, biographies and videos are not quite as frequent, but even so, the depth of this application is remarkable.

Staying in its diagram mode, it’s surprisingly smart, able to make connections between different hubs, and letting you continue to drill down as the bands get more and more obscure. As I continued exploring, I was able to create a huge tangled web of musicians, with the app often making connections between them that surprised me.

I tried looking up lesser-known jazz musicians, and it was interesting to see the relationships between various soloists. Who played with who? You can often find the answer, and the results were accurate.

Another nice touch is the way Discovr finds songs you have loaded on your iPad, and includes a strip of pictures of them across the bottom of the application, inviting you to start searching your favorite musicians right away.

The application crashed a couple of times when I taxed it too much, and I’m hoping the developers will get to the root of that and fix it as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, I found this to be a fascinating application that helped me understand the relationships between bands, and assisted me in finding new music according to bands that I already like. Fix the instability, and it would be an A-list app.

Find out more about Discovr here.

More About: bands, discovr, hands-on, ipad apps, music discovery, reviews, youtube

In an early developer build of the upcoming iPhone operating system iOS 4.3, sleuths have found evidence that Apple might introduce a social media capability called “Photo Streaming.”

According to 9to5 Mac, hidden inside that updated file system is a “Media Stream” folder, containing a “Photo Streaming” folder that contains strong evidence that it will allow iPhone users to let friends subscribe to their collections of photos, perhaps residing in the cloud.

There’s further evidence of social media capabilities, including privacy preferences that would let the user decide who would be allowed to follow the streams, and graphics inside the operating system for the “Photo Stream” feature.

Beyond that evidence, when Gizmodo‘s Rosa Golijan was testing iOS 4.3 Beta 2, she found what she called “a mysterious error message” using the term “Photostream,” as you can see in the graphic above. She also noticed an invitation system, and a connection to Mobile Me.

This isn’t the first evidence found for social media features in this iOS 4.3 developer build. Just last week, a “Find My Friends” feature was revealed, along with AirPlay video support for third party apps and personal hotspot support for the iPhone.

It was unclear when any of these features would be appearing in Apple’s iOS.

Image courtesy of Gizmodo

More About: ios 4.3, iOS 4.3 developer build, iphone, Media Streaming, Photo streaming, social media, trending