Good lordy, why does the ground-breaking news always seem to break while I'm away on vacation? Am I taking too many vacations? This time I'm on a ski holiday in Canada when Apple unveils the iPhone, and after skimming the specs and early news reaction, I'm left with the impression that calling it an "iPhone" sells the device way short of its actual capacity. It's only an "iPhone" in the sense that a laptop is an "iTypewriter."
For this is not just the "iPod with mobile phone capabilities" device we were all hoping for - it's something much more powerful and more flexible than anybody (outside the product team and the dealmakers) expected. It's capable of so much more than just being a phone that I don't really know how to describe it in 50 words or less, except to say that this device delivers a huge blow (Oliver calls it a "mortal blow") to other manufacturers in the portable entertainment and handheld computing market, whatever it should be called. In terms of capability and integration it appears to be so far ahead of all the other devices in those categories that it's as if Steve Jobs travelled back in time from 2020 to announce it today.
It's got so many cool features, and so many bloggers are going to cover those, and I really need to get off my laptop and go skiing this afternoon. So I won't cover the obvious stuff. But here's the shortlist of elements that really caught my eye this morning:
- It runs OS X, which means a unix kernel, and a secure, dependable, stable environment, and great efficiency when it comes to battery life and processor power, if Apple's laptops are any indication. Remains to be seen how much, if any, the widget versions of the calendar, addressbook, photo etc vary from their desktop equivalents.
- Could it (or a future version) also run small OS X apps that are not widgets? There's no information on the chipset and RAM capacity, even in the tech specs. Someone like Endgadget will no doubt break those details in the next few days. Could you run Parallels Desktop on it and run Windows Mobile on that? No reason to do so except to demonstrate to people why the iPhone is so superior to a Windows Mobile gadget. But there are many other apps that would be helpful, particularly instant messenger and VOIP apps (since the iPhone has quad-band GSM and EDGE and WiFi.)
- The phone features integrated tools from Yahoo! and Google, including search and maps. But there's no mention of an instant messaging client from Yahoo!, Google or Apple, and no mention of VOIP. Is that a concession to Cingular, which has the exclusive rights to sell the device initially, and future carrier deals? Because I don't see how that's going to prevent people from running their own VOIP app on the iPhone unless there are undisclosed barriers to doing that we have yet to discover in hands-on use.
- The device syncs with PCs and Macs, but there's no mention of any cooperation with MSN on this device, and I can well imagine that the gulf between Apple and Microsoft will have deepened with the launch of this device. Microsoft has sunk a lot of cash into trying to build an early lead in mobile communications devices, and it looks to me like Apple has just leapfrogged Microsoft by five years of product maturity with its very first product in the segment.
- The two-finger touch screen user interface is truly ground-breaking, especially when tied to the accelerometer. I love the way you zoom in and out by drawing your thumb and forefinger together and apart. I also like the way the object onscreen 'bounces' when you try to drag it past the borders of the screen - nice silent way to indicate there's nothing more hidden 'below the fold'.
- Finally, and least importantly, does it come with an unscratchable crystal face like an expensive watch? Because this thing is all screen, and it's a touch-screen too, so I'm going to get muffin residue all over it regularly, which I'll want to wipe off with whatever is readily at hand - not with a fancy soft cloth. And I do NOT want to buy a third-party clear acrylic shell for this thing of beauty like I had to do with my iPod Nano.
initially in the US only this July