By Michael Rau
June 16, 2008
I wasn't really expecting to be writing this particular column for a couple of months yet, but as has often happened, Steve Jobs forgot to consult me before making the latest of his signature "surprise" announcements.
Okay - so this one wasn't such a surprise. Speculation had been swirling for a couple of weeks that Jobs would introduce the new 3G iPhone at the Worldwide Developers Conference event, and that's exactly what he did.
It represents a reasonable advancement in the device. It runs on the more robust 3rd generation (3G) wireless cell network. Physically, it's a bit more ergonomic in that the edges are slightly thinner and the body is thus a bit more rounded. It's also a few grams lighter.
The issue which prompted Apple to originally introduce the iPhone configured to run on the slower 2G network - power consumption - has been significantly addressed. The phone uses a third more power running on 3G (although it will still run on 2G, if you choose), but improvements in the chip, as well as the battery, mean that the phone will run for 5 hours on the 3G network - still less than the original device on 2G, but acceptable.
The big buzz at the announcement was generated by the fact that Apple is dropping the price of the iPhone by half - from $399 to $199. But before you get all excited about that fact, there's a caveat of which you should be aware.
AT&T - still the sole domestic service provider for the iPhone - is raising the price for their service plan by $10 a month. That means that, over the course of the two-year mandatory contract, you'll actually pay $240 more, making the final cost $40 over the current price.
Is it worth it? Obviously, that's contingent on your particular needs and usage. But I still think the iPhone is a significant evolution in handheld portable communication devices, and the $30 over my current monthly cell phone plan I'd pay for iPhone service might very well make it a rational investment for me.
I've considered getting a so-called smartphone - mostly for remote email access - for a couple of years now, but could never quite justify it. Blackberrys and Palms have evolved into powerful, sophisticated devices. But there's always been something missing from them.
I think the iPhone fills that gap.
There are two things that particularly set it apart. The first is the simplicity of the touch-screen interface. It's really quite remarkable. But the second is more important, and more fundamental.
It's the operating system.
Unlike the operating systems of the Blackberrys and Palms, which were written from the bottom up to meet the growing capabilities of the devices, the iPhone code writers started with OS X and removed only those parts of the OS that weren't germane to the functions of the iPhone. As a result, it has what for all intents and purposes is the same superior OS as the Mac.
The net result of this is that the iPhone is just one step away from being a full-blown portable computer. Just surfing the Web on an iPhone using the Safari Web browser is radically different than on any other handheld device.
The fruits of the superiority of the operating system will become much more evident in the coming months due to the recent release of the software developers' kit. Third party companies now have the means to develop applications for the iPhone that will take it far beyond the usability of other smartphones.
Perhaps the most significant development is one we mentioned in our April column about the development of the SDK.
The one area where other smartphones currently have a great advantage over the iPhone is in their ability to communicate and synchronize with Microsoft Exchange servers. Most larger corporate environments (including my own) use Exchange for intra-office communications of all sorts. The iPhone's lack of such support made the device less-than-attractive to business users.
That will change with the 3G iPhone. Support for Microsoft Exchange will become integrated into the device when version 2.0 of the iPhone's OS is released at the same time as the new gizmo. Support for Lotus Notes, Cisco virtual private networks, and the WPA2 security standard for Wi-Fi connections, configurations of particular importance to enterprise users, should become available at about the same time.
One other cool new feature is particularly worth mentioning. It's GPS support - an increasingly popular feature in cell phones. With this, you'll be able to see a map showing your exact location, as well as being able to get directions
So when July 11th rolls around and the new 3G iPhone is released, should you run right out and buy one? As usual, I'd caution against doing so until there's a chance for early-adopters to shake out the bugs. That's what I'll do.
But I think the time has come for me to bite the bullet and take the plunge sooner rather than later.
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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