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Apple Launches iPhone & Gets It Right!

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So with the opening keynotes from this year’s MacWorld 2007 Apple finally got around to unveiling the worst kept secret in the technology world: the ‘iPhone’. So was it worth all the hype?

The answer has to be an unqualified YES. Although the product branding will surely meet with legal threats from Cisco
Jobs’ announcement was greeted with a level of acclaim I’ve never before witnessed in my seven years as an IT journo and his proclamation that the device is “Three revolutionary new products” in one rings true (please excuse the pun).

So what we have ended up with is a widescreen, touch screen product that somewhat resembles a slick PDA. At just 11.6mm thick it is the thinnest smartphone in the world and comes with Mac OS X installed as its core operating system! Perhaps disappointingly the iPhone doesn’t support 3G – an oversight I would suggest since HSDPA is taking off – just GSM and EDGE but it is Quad band and offers integrated wireless b/g and Bluetooth 2.0.

A two megapixel camera makes it onboard along with the anticipated audio and video playback (supported codecs not revealed) and the large 3.5in, 320 x 480 resolution display automatically detects whether the phone is being held in a landscape for portrait position. Battery life for video/web browsing and audio are quoted as 16 hours and five hours respectively. There’s also support for Push Email and IMAP and POP3 email accounts.

To be honest however listing the iPhone’s specifications don’t really do it justice since Apple is famed not for its hardware but more so its intuitive and stylish interfaces and it is here where the iPhone really shines.

The company has patented a new input method called ‘Multi-touch’ which ignores accidental finger touches and instead concentrates on specific finger movements – for example, ‘slide to unlock’ or placing two fingers on the screen and pivoting them 45 degrees to rotate the screen. It sounds complicated but, trust me, it isn’t (check out this video as evidence) and what’s more it does away with the need for a stylus.

Now a clever input method is nothing without a stylish and simple interface and once again it is here the iPhone excels. Everything works from the root menu (above) which is accessed by the only button on the iPhone which is at its base. The root menu lists the device’s four main functions along the bottom: ‘Phone’, ‘Mail’, ’Web’ and ‘iPod’ and a user configurable selection of widgets above them including shortcuts such as ‘Weather’, ‘Camera’, ‘Calculator’, ‘Notes’, ‘Maps’ (yes, Google Maps is installed natively!) and many more.

Select ‘Phone’ and you’ll be transported to a simple finger scrollable list of all your contacts and shortcuts: ‘Favorites’, ‘Recents’, ‘Contacts’, ‘Keypad’ and ’Voicemail’. There’s full phone functionality, a large virtual keyboard that pops up for text messages, conferencing capabilities, the lot and it all works seamlessly with the iPod functionality pausing music or video for incoming and outgoing calls and resuming them when you hang up.

As for the iPod feature itself, the menu structure is very similar to that seen in current 6G players but again is navigated via your finger movements rather than a scroll wheel. What’s more, the interface also integrates parts of iTunes so you have scrollable album art too.

Finally, the other breakthrough part of the iPhone is the web browsing. With a 320 x 480 resolution screen more of a page can be seen than ever before (though Hitachi’s 800 x 480 miniature panels will soon beat that) and all surfing is done from a fully functional version of Apple’s Safari web browser complete with tabs and customisable searches.

Two versions of the iPhone will debut in the US in June: a 4GBer for $499 and an 8GBer for $599 when coupled with a two year contract on Cingular (an exclusive partnership) so it isn’t cheap. In the UK we’ll have to wait until October before we get them and no network agreements have yet been announced or even intimated.

So are there any downsides to the iPhone? Certainly once the hysteria has worn off people will see some:

*Price and contract length certainly, since it will lock you into the first generation iPhone while second and possibly third generation devices come out
*No 3G, as I’ve already mentioned, is a major let down – especially with a full blown Safari web browser at your disposal
*The two megapixel camera isn’t particularly cutting edge.
*Finally, there was a distinct lack of information regarding what office productivity software could or even would be used on the iPhone so that is a factor to consider.

Quibbles aside, the iPhone has clearly gone far beyond what either myself or even any self respecting fanboy could have reasonably expected and – for once – I feel Steve Jobs’ hyperbole has stood up. We are indeed looking at a revolution in mobile devices.

You’ll never look at your Blackberry the same way again…

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Apple iPhone

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