Spoutin' Off: The iPhone changes everything
By Michael Rau
January 15 2007
OK -- I had a completely different column about three-quarters of the way written on Monday when Steve Jobs stepped on stage and made his opening presentation at the Macworld Conference (and it didn't even mention Apple).
Oh sure. There had been the usual rumormongering among fellow tech-types about what big announcement would flow from Jobs' mouth, but I for one wasn't expecting anything earth shattering. Then the reports hit the wires, and I knew I'd be writing about something else this week.
Apple manages and manipulates spin and buzz as well as any company I've ever seen. The two devices introduced Monday morning have been subjects of speculation for, literally, years. We'll look at the one garnering the most attention first.
Analysts and prognosticators have predicted for ages that in some form or fashion, Apple would get into the cell phone business. I always wondered about this because, frankly, I didn't understand why they should. I guess the new iPhone explains a lot.
OK, so it's a phone. But that's not what makes in special. Through what is arguably the most user-friendly and intuitive graphic interface ever devised, and the high-speed data connection through service-provider Cingular, it is what I would describe as the first true mobile Internet appliance.
It runs on OS X instead of some stripped down excuse for an operating system, and thus uses applications that look and function like those on your home computer. It uses iTunes to manage digital media, and as a player, is for all intents and purposes, the best iPod ever produced.
But that's not what makes it special - it's the interface.
Take a full-sized iPod (maybe a hair bigger), remove the thumbwheel control, expand the screen to take up almost the whole face, and you pretty much have the iPhone in terms of appearance. Turn it on and the screen becomes something magical.
Need to use the cell phone feature? Touch a button on the screen and a dial pad appears on the screen. Want to surf online or check your email? Again, touch a button on the screen to open the browser or e-mail client and use it just like the one on your computer. And how do you navigate? The face of the screen functions just like the touchpad on a laptop. You run one finger over it to scroll the cursor, two fingers to scroll the page, and tap on the screen to click.
Another cool feature: Let's say you want to watch a video clip like you would on a video iPod. You open iTunes, and click on the video. Then, if you turn the iPhone sideways, an inertial sensor detects this and rotates the orientation of the video 90 degrees to take advantage of the full screen.
Of course, at least part of what makes this all possible is the high-speed wireless connection provided by Cingular (soon to again be AT&T) through it's cellular service (the iPhone also sports 802.11 WiFi connectivity, as well as Bluetooth).
But again, the amazingly intuitive touch-screen interface, which eliminates all other controls, and which Apple says was under development for years, is what makes this device special. It seems like almost a no-brainer to me that the next-generation video iPods will use this technology while leaving out the cell phone features.
The iPhone won't come cheap - It'll be $499 for a 4 GB model and $599 for twice as much storage space when it's finally available in June. And that's with a two-year service agreement with Cingular. But as someone who thought the iPod was too expensive to become popular and was obviously wrong, I'm guessing it'll sell like hot cakes. It's also going to make Blackberrys and Treos and Palm Pilots and Zunes, and pretty much all other such appliances seem somewhat obsolete in comparison.
Now before I sign off here, I also want to mention the other major release announced by Apple, which I'll also have to discuss in more detail down the road. It's called Apple TV, and it's the closest they've come to creating a device such as one that I predicted they would release last year. While its impact might initially be subtler than that of the iPhone, in some ways it represents a larger shift in the existing paradigm.
Simply put, Apple TV is a device that networks your computer with your TV. Any video that resides on your computer can be played and viewed effortlessly on your TV through this system. We're rapidly approaching a point where all your home electronics will be seamlessly integrated and this represents a very significant step in building the bridge.
I also believe that this represents only the first step. Apple TV is not a true Digital Video Recorder in that it has no integrated TV tuner or supporting software. It also isn't really ready to manage the ever-increasing amount of HD content becoming available with such a small hard drive. But it's still a significant development.
If I were playing "Stump the Expert" this week, Apple would have beaten me again.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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