iPhone… A revolution?

So the cat’s out of the bag. Apple is already in the computer business, the music business, the video/TV business, and now they’re joining the cell phone business. Wow, they’ve come pretty far in the last 7 years alone.

So what is this iPhone thing anyway? Steve says it’s going to revolutionize phones, and that it’s 5 years ahead of the current generation. So does it really stack up? Well, since it’s only a prototype at this point, that’s a little hard to say. The feature set is impressive, as was the demonstration given at Macworld. Most of the reviews I’ve read have been pretty positive too.

So let’s break this down a little bit and see what we have. The most noticeable difference is the complete and total lack of a keypad/keyboard. In fact, there are a grant total of four buttons on this thing, five if you count up/down volume as two. And only one of them is on the actual face of the device. This may seem odd at first, but the beauty here is that any application developed for the iPhone can arbitrarily create their own buttons. How? Why?

Well, the entire face of the phone is one giant touchscreen. In fact, it’s a multi-touch screen meaning that you can touch multiple points on the screen at the same time for some special effects such as zooming in on a picture. This means that developers are not tied to a pre-defined keypad and can create what they need as the application is run. So, for instance, the phone itself has a large keypad for dialing a telephone number. In SMS and email mode, the keypad is shrunk slightly and becomes a full keyboard.

As Steve pointed out in his keynote, this is very similar to what happens on a PC today. A PC application can display buttons and controls in any configuration it needs, allowing the user to interact with it through use of a mouse. Now imagine the iPhone taking the place of the PC and your finger taking the place of the mouse. Your finger is a superb pointing device and it’s pretty handy too.

The iPhone runs an embedded version of OSX, allowing it access to a full array of rich applications. It should also allow developers a access to a familiar API for programming. While no mention of third-party development has been made yet, you can bet that Apple will release some sort of SDK. The full touchscreen capabilities of this device will definitely make for some innovative applications.

It supports WiFi, EDGE, and Bluetooth 2.0 in addition to Quad-Band GSM for telephony. WiFi access is touted as “automatic” and requires no user intervention. While this is likely true in situations where there is no WiFi security in place, the experience when in a secure environment is unknown. More details will likely be released over the coming months.

Cingular is the provider of choice right now. Apple signed an exclusivity contract with Cingular, so you’re tied to their network for the time being. Being a Cingular customer myself, this isn’t such a bad thing. I like Cingular’s network as I’ve had better luck with it than the other networks I’ve been on.

In addition to phone capabilities, the iPhone is a fully functional iPod. It syncs with iTunes as you would expect, has an iPod docking connector, and supports audio and video playback. One of the cooler features is the ability to tip the iPhone on it’s side to enable landscape mode. The iPhone automatically switches to landscape mode when it detects the change in pitch. Video must be viewed in landscape mode.

So it looks like the iPhone has all of the current smartphone capabilities and then some. But how will it do in the market? The two models announced at Macworld are priced pretty high. The 4 Gig model will run you $499 for the 4 Gig model, and $599 for the 8 Gig. This makes the iPhone one of the more expensive phones on the market. However, it seems that Apple is betting that a unified device, phone/iPod/camera/Internet, will be worth the premium price. They may be right, but only time will tell.

UPDATE : According to an article in the New York Times, Jobs is looking to restrict third-party applications on the iPhone. From the article :

“These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

So it sounds like Apple is interested in third-party apps, but in a controlled manner. This means extra hoops that third-party developers need to jump through. This may also entail additional costs for the official Apple stamp of approval, meaning that smaller developers may be locked out of the system. Given the price point of the phone, I hope Apple realizes the importance of third-party apps and the impact they have. Without additional applications, Apple just has a fancy phone with little or no draw.

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