It's been a busy two weeks in tech news for us geeks. With Apple's WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) and E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), there's been a flurry of announcements, demos, and releases with more to look forward to. The thing I'm most excited about is Apple's iPhone 4 and in this Tech Tip I'll tell you some things that should help you decide if the iPhone 4 is right for you.
As I write this, I am an iPhone 3G user and if everything goes according to plan, I'll have the new iPhone 4 by the time you read this, so I've already jumped into the iPhone ecosystem. But if you're not like me, there's a few things you may have to overcome to get on board with this whole iPhone thing.
The first thing to come to terms with is smartphones themselves. With their data plans, they can be expensive, they're full of superfluous functions many people don't really need, and did I mention they can be expensive? You can still get by in the world without one, too.
The number two thing is your carrier. If you already have a contract with someone other than AT&T, you may be subject to cancellation fees with your carrier, and I have a hard time recommending you pay them instead of letting your contract expire before making your decision.
The third thing is Apple's "walled garden" approach to their products. To put it simply, they want you to use their hardware their way or not at all. Your alternatives to the walled garden are "jail breaking" your iPhone or the number of Android OS offerings. You might also be one of the many people that have to use a BlackBerry for work, and that's a perfectly good reason to stick with what you have.
The last thing that may be standing in your way is the price if you don't meet certain requirements. The full price of the 16 GB iPhone 4 is $599 and $699 for the 32 GB, quite a far cry from the price for new customers and those that qualify for upgrade pricing, which is $199 and $299, respectively.
Let's Talk Hardware:
The iPhone 4 offers many improvements on the previous generation iPhone 3GS. The biggest new feature is its new screen. Called the Retina display, it boasts a display resolution of 960 x 640 and 326 pixels per inch (PPI). For a point of reference, 1024 x 768 resolutions were a common display setting for desktop PCs just a few years ago, and generally, the human eye can't differentiate more than 300 PPI. At the core of the iPhone 4 is Apple's A4 processor, the same one used in Apple's iPad. Protecting this pocket microcomputer are two panes of aluminosilicate glass that Apple says is used for windshields in helicopters and high speed trains. Sandwiched between the two panes and surrounding the inner circuitry is a steel band that functions as the phone's antenna which is supposed to improve call quality and reliability.
The digital camera has been upgraded, now with the ability to take stills at 5 megapixels as well as record HD video at 720p with an LED flash for low-light shooting and a front-facing camera has been added for taking pictures of your own face and using the FaceTime software, which I'll elaborate on below.
On top of the previous iPhone's accelerometer, the device that handles the tilt control, a 3-axis gyroscope has been added, a device that will sense the iPhone 4's orientation. It's hard for me imagine what this is going to be used for beyond games. The iPhone 4 also offers better battery life than the 3GS, up to an hour more longer depending on your usage. Other hardware improvements include 802.11n Wi-Fi support, dual microphones with noise suppression, and a slimmer, more compact design.
All in all, it's a bigger step up than it was from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS.
Let's Talk Software:
The iPhone 4 will be running the new iOS 4, which adds a ton of new features to Apple's iPad®, iPhone®, and iPod Touch® devices. In fact, there's enough new features, from Multi-tasking to iBooks, they probably deserve their own Tech Tip. As a result, I'm going to cover something unique to the iPhone 4: FaceTime. FaceTime is Apple's video calling software that makes use of the new phone's front-facing camera for iPhone 4-to-iPhone 4 video calls. It sounds exciting, but Apple has stated that these calls will be limited to Wi-Fi connections for the time being. By comparison, you can make video calls on HTC's Evo 4G from Sprint over the air, so it makes the Wi-Fi restriction seem silly to me. Surely if the competition is able to do this, Apple can too. I suppose Apple's position is that if they don't have it working as stably as they would like and would prefer it work well rather than have you try it a few times, have it fail, and never go back to it. Still, video calls are something I can live without for the time being.
Judging by day one pre-orders, the iPhone 4 is going to be a popular item for the rest of the year and even if you aren't wooed by Apple's latest offering, they've stepped up their game once again, which raises the bar for the entire smartphone market. This kind of competition is good for us all and I can't wait to see what comes from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and maturation in the Android OS.