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New features in iOS 5 make some apps obsolete

by Phil Hornshaw

Pioneering iPhone app developers Marco Arment and Idea Shower better go back to the drawing board.

The two mobile app developers are behind Instapaper and Read It Later, respectively: two apps designed to make reading articles on the Internet easier, and which allow users to save articles to be read later in a scaled back, simpler, content-only form.

Instapaper especially has become very popular and received a lot of attention on iOS, Apple’s (AAPL) mobile operating system. In 2009, Wired called it “a $5 app that justifies your iPhone purchase.” It’s definitely well-regarded among the iPhone and iPad community.

But Apple may have just made Instapaper and Read It Later obsolete.

Is Apple now squeezing out developers?

Today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Co. showed off the newest version of the company’s mobile operating system, iOS 5, at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. The software is what powers iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches, and the new software will include more than 200 new features when it becomes available to consumers in the fall. Among those features is an addition to Mobile Safari called Safari Reader, which basically does what Instapaper and Read It Later do.

There is one crucial difference, however. The Apple service is free. Currently, Instapaper goes for $4.99 in the App Store, and Read It Later for $2.99 with an in-app purchase of $4.99 (there’s also a free version). But both those apps aren’t going to be able to compete with the built-in functionality of Safari Reader, which allows users to create content-only views of articles and save them to read later in an offline mode – just like the third-party apps. Safari will also allow users to sync a reading list of articles with their other devices, so you can start reading something in Safari Reader on your iPhone, then stop, and finish reading it on an iPad, an iPod Touch, or Safari on a Mac or PC.

New landscape for photo app developers

Apple might be quietly annihilating other apps in the App Store, as well. Another major addition to iOS 5 is its new camera support, which allows users to edit photos on the fly right after taking them to crop and lighten photos. Most of the editing support for photos is fairly minor with the new changes to camera – no one will be making major Photoshop projects with it, by any stretch – but they’re still significant because they represent the kind of changes most people make to most photos.

The iPhone could be on the road to becoming one of the most popular devices for shooting photos in the world, if some stats are to be believed. Meanwhile, the App Store is fairly brimming with photography apps. There are simply thousands of them in there, and many do exactly what iOS 5 now does. Again, Apple is offering these new features for free, but some developers are making their living off them.

Consumers win while developers lose

Not that iOS users are going to be complaining. Apple’s new features looked great when Senior Vice President of iOS Software Scott Forstall demoed them during Apple’s keynote, and they’ll bring a high degree of fast-moving functionality to users and move more quickly than opening up other apps and navigating through them. That’s the point of what Apple is rolling into Safari and the camera app, definitely.

It also means quite a few developers need to hit the books and find ways to keep their apps competitive, and quickly. The new iOS is due out in the fall (probably along with a new iPhone, which is expected in September), and that’s still plenty of time for Instapaper, Read It Later, and a host of photo editing apps to add features that Apple hasn’t. These apps aren’t necessarily dead yet.

But they are on the ropes, care of the steamroller that is Apple. The huge room at San Francisco’s Moscone Center where Apple delivered its keynote seemed to calm significantly during some of those iOS announcements as compared to many of the other new things Apple showed off. Perhaps this is because iOS developers were wondering if their apps could be suddenly rendered unsellable because Apple wants to give them away for free.