Thoughts on the New iPhone 4

During the WWDC 2010 (Apple’s flagship conference for developers), the new design for the iPhone has been announced: iPhone 4. Not HD, not 4G. Just 4. In some sense it is a good choice of words, better than iPad that’s for sure. Anyway, let me share some thoughts on the whole thing.

Firstly, I am a firm supporter of the underdog. The one that is perceived to be ‘losing’ in the market. As long as they still show some live, I will be supporting them, in general. The phone industry was monopolistic ever since Apple went into it in 2007. I hated the core parts of the phone, mainly, it was not open. It is too restrictive and it focused more on commercial gains than on consumer preference. In fact, there is no consumer preference. It is like Ford Motors all over again. Black or White. That’s it.

The arrogance in Apple showed with its 3G and 3GS iterations which were really pathetic increments over the previous models. All that changed when Android, Google’s flagship mobile operating system (OS) came into the industry 1.5 years ago. Google had been playing catchup since it came into the scene and this year, they finally caught up (OS wise). Apple finally had some serious competition. The result of it? The iPhone 4.

It has a beautiful design. 9.3mm thin (thinnest at the moment). Finally has an LED flash with a 5MP camera lens (capable of 720p 30fps). Front facing camera (VGA). A new antenna that is built into the casing rim (1st in phones). Highest pixel density on screen (300+ dpi). New gyro & accelerometer making it equivalent to the PS3 six-axis controller. On the software side, it sports multitasking ability, the new 1Gz A4 chip that is used in the iPad, and loads of new apps to take advantage of the new hardware, like iMovie and iBook.

The problem with Steve Jobs presentation is the need to distinguish between marketing drama & true worth. Apple does a good job of capturing mind share, and Jobs is a very capable speaker and presenter. The following are my thoughts (preferences are individually mine):

The design is a good refresh (with buttons to control music). It does borrow from its competitors somewhat, with the double mic noise cancellation (ala Nexus One). The glass tempered design is also sturdy and their ability to keep it down to only 9.3mm is very stylistic indeed. I think on the hardware design itself, many would want to consider buying it; style is what a lot of people look for.

I like the 720p HD video recording. It is one aspect that is a deal breaker for me. I take pictures, now more so with my baby around, and video is always an elusive thing for me because of the inconvenience and the low quality resolutions given. However, I am wary of iPhone 4 because how good a camcorder function is depends a lot on how easy it is to be transferred out of the phone. It is good that they allow us to share the video immediately and to allow editing of it (although you have to pay for the app), however, I’ll reserve my judgment till I see the options given. But rest assured, the movie quality would be good since Apple puts a lot of effort to ensure that it does. According to Engadget previews, it is also very fast and snappy. That’s excellent.

The other thing is applications. Yes, no one can beat the quality of apps on the Appstore. However, there will be a lot of expensive apps on there, one that caught my eye during the announcement was iBooks. This is the same application that runs on the iPad. Good news is the support for PDF files (finally!) and ability to add in notes and to sync across all devices that uses the same OS. That is an app that provides good utility. Reading is ALWAYS good. Coupled with the higher density resolution (what they call Retina Display), reading would be also enjoyable.

The processor has been upgraded to 1Ghz making it one of the faster processors around. Faster, not fastest since it is running on the older A8 Arm Cortex architecture. Samsung’s Galaxy S runs the fastest, Hummingbird, on the first released A9 architecture. But the OS should be very fast because Apple has always ensured that it did.

What else? Time will tell how good the receiver and phone quality is. On the previous iterations, iPhones were known for their poor reception and call quality. Hopefully, they took some notes from HTC and the noise cancellation will kick in and spruce things up. The antenna innovation is to be seen. Sure it sounds good on paper, but can you imagine dropping your phone? The first thing to be affected is the rim that encases the phone!!!

Battery has also been upped, which is extremely good news. They put the standby at 300 hours, and on 3G surfing around 6 hours. It is good, if its true.

Downside:

Restrictive nature of the OS. The video chat is restricted to Wifi only. This is NOT a new feature in any phones, since many phones have been doing video conferencing for nearly 5 years ago. The irony is using only Wifi and only for iPhone 4’s. Sad but what’s the use? Maybe this is a restriction from the telcos that lock the customer down into their carrier? Maybe. But it is sure limiting what customer’s would like to do with it.

The interface itself has not changed, and frankly, the iPhone OS homescreen is very boring. It is stale and robotic (almost). There is no customization and widgets. No ‘life’ or even ‘art’ though Apple seems to ‘champion’ these concepts.

One potential deal breaker for me is this: the screen size. I think a bit more would have been the least they could have done. 0.2″ is reasonable on the eyes. But I suspect that they think it should not matter much. I have to say that the iPhone screen sizes has always been too small for many people that I have spoken too. The other problem I have is the non-OLED or AMOLED screen. True, it has the highest DPI, but seriously, our eyes are more susceptible to viewing angles and reflection of sunlight and glare than on pixel sizes. Again, not many people will put their phone screens near to themselves till it touches their noses, so the RD might just be a small slight improvement.

Music player has not changed. I actually dislike the navigation and interface for iTunes and iPod. It needs a refresh, like Zune. I love Zune’s interface. Makes you really feel like listening and using the player!

Conclusion:

The hardware design and new features are enough to make me want to say “buy it”. However, knowing my personal preferences, I prefer a phone that can be customized and that allows me to differentiate from others. It is a nice design, no doubt, but I am sure HTC and Samsung and even Microsoft will be challenged to give other designs that may just fit our individual preference rather than one fit for all product. Not only that, the same old limitations are not resolved for now; replaceable batteries, microSD card slots (this is important for one who likes to have removable storage). I know there is something called the cloud, but seriously, which one would save your previous battery life? 😛

The other option is of course to jailbreak it. This is definitely the way to go with this phone. Too much potential that is just trapped and locked down like a stallion in a cage. However, Apple deserve the recognition that they worked so hard for. Why? They did make me consider getting it.

If only they had a physical keyboard 😛 hahaha.

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