Tuesday at the MacWorld Expo, Steve Jobs announced the latest Apple products including a new Airport Extreme wireless networking solution using 802.11n, the Apple TV for wireless playback of iTunes content in your living room, and the hotly anticipated iPhone cellular telephone.
I’m not that enthusiastic about Apple TV… I find it hard to believe you are going to get a true high definition quality picture from a downloaded file. Popping a disk into a drawer and pressing ‘play’ just doesn’t seem that much work to me to enjoy a movie, nor does the process of renting or buying said disk. I think true on-demand video content is still a few years, and 500MB/sec download speeds, away. The new wireless 802.11n is intriguing as it is 5 times faster and twice the range as 802.11g, but I feel no burning need to redo my home wireless network. Nope, that stuff is interesting but doesn’t get me too excited.
The iPhone, however….
The iPhone is Apple’s entry device into the world of cell phone. This is going to be a big deal if it works as advertised. The entire unit works via a touch screen interface. There is only one mechanical button… the rest is virtual buttons and menus worked via the touch screen. The interface itself has the OS X look and feel, with the glassy, shiny graphics and the same elegant use of images and text. Physically it has the Apple stamp on it… beautifully designed and stylish. That’s one thing Apple does very, very well, and the iPhone is no exception. It looks like an iPod but a little longer and slightly thinner, I think.
As a gadget it has a lot of features.
It’s a phone- You can make calls via an on-screen keypad, or access numbers via a contact list, favorites list or recent calls list… again all via a touch screen. When on a call, you have a menu that comes up with options like “mute”, “speaker”, “end call” etc. If you get a call waiting call, the menu changes to allow you to answer while it shows you the caller’s name. Then it will change again with new options like “merge call”. In typical Apple fashion, the menus don’t just change but transition in manners like growing and shrinking, flipping in a 3-D effect, etc. It also handles voicemail in an innovative and cool manner. If you have voicemails, you will see a small red circle in the corner of your “Phone” icon in the bottom menu bar with the number of voicemails you have. Instant visual voicemail information. Touching this icon gives you a visual list of voicemails and their caller IDs, which you can play in any order. No more waiting through unimportant messages to see if the one you want is in there. With SMS text messaging, it gets even cooler. If the person you are corresponding with has a caller ID or is in yoru contact list, your messages are ‘threaded’, meaning they appear as sent messages/responses in chronological order like an instant message session looks. It has a 2 megapixel camera, which might actually be useful if e-mailing the images is actually easy instead of the cryptic mess it is on most cell phones. You can zoom and scroll easily with your fingers on the touch screen. The best part for me is seamless syncing with my Mac Address Book.
It’s a video iPod- It works just like your current iPod, but by using the touch screen instead of a touch wheel. The appropriate controls appear depending on your playing content. Music, playlists and such sync with your computer’s iTunes just like a regular iPod. As far as video goes, this is a true video iPod, allowing you to rotate the iPhone horizontal so you can view a widescreen movie in 16:9 ratio format. That will make movies a lot more enjoyable to watch on such a small screen. Finally, the iPhone takes a page from the latest iTunes and uses the more graphic album cover jukebox-like visual organizer, where you flip through album covers or video cover images like a virtual jukebox if you want.
It’s a web browser- Like the PSP, the iPhone is a real web browser as opposed to a truncated one that only shows “mobile” versions of site like cell phone WAP browsers. The iPhone runs a real version of Apple’s Safari browser, and you see the actual websites. I assume that means flash content, etc. Since the device is both EDGE and Wi-Fi compatible, you can use the browser on a wireless netwrok if available, or via the cell phone itself. You can get real download speeds via Wi-Fi, but if you are stuck with using the actual cellular service like EDGE or GPRS it would be very slow. You can rotate the phone horizontal to see a wider web page and can zoom in and scroll so you can read even text heavy pages. For e-mail, you can use a real rich HTML e-mail client to get POP3 or IMAP mail from your real mail account, as opposed to the limited ‘sort of’ e-mail anything but the Blackberry or similar was capable of. It even has a GPS Map application for easy directions and maps anywhere. Finally, it even uses widgets like a Mac for all sorts of cools tuff like weather, stock reports, calculator, etc.
The touch screen promises to be a real innovation, and the sensors that sense vertical or horizontal rotation, ambient light, proximity to the ear (raising it to your era will shut down the screen, and taking it away will turn it back on) are very advanced. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so I assume it will allow for wireless syncing with your computer, and will be able to use wireless headsets and other bluetooth devices.
Of course, nobodies gotten this into their hands yet. The more advanced something is the easier things can go wrong. Maybe the sensors will not work properly or crap out quickly. iPods have not been known for their durability. Maybe that beautiful, glassy screen will scratch with the first few touches and be rendered unviewable within a year of regular use. Certainly issue like those will be a big problem considering the price tag ($499.00 for the 4 GB model, $599.00 for 8 GB). I also hope that Apple had the foresight to think about potential problems like using this device on an airplane… will they let you watch a movie or listen to music on a device that would also be sending and receiving signals? I hope they have an “airplane” setting that turns off the phone and wi-fi/bluetooth features and turns it into an iPod only device for that reason. It should have a visual cue to identify this mode, so some nazi flight attendant doesn’t have a problem with it.
As advertised, it looks like the coolest gadget to come out since… well… the iPod. The amazing thing is that the iPhone doesn’t really do anything that other cell phone PDA devices don’t already do. It just does them smarter, better and with way more visual appeal.
The iPhone has a debut date of June, with Cingular being the only company that will have the device for the foreseeable future. I am already a Cingular customer, so I might just be in line to get one of these beauties this summer.
753 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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