WWDC 2010: iPhone 4 Thoughts

WWDC didn’t really bring much in the way of things we didn’t already know. We got to see the iPhone 4 in all its glory for the first time officially. The device at first may look a bit more chunky than its predecessor, but in actuality, although it is less curved, it is thinner than the previous model. The new, incredibly detailed retina display is housed behind a thin but incredibly strong piece of glass. The back of the phone is also covered in the same glass. The way that they have made it also makes the colours look very different and fantastic. The white really looks brilliant.

The boxy shape can come in very handy for propping the phone up when you want to do a video call or for when you want to either take a photo on countdown or record a video. Speaking of the camera, it has been improved significantly with full 720p recording now available. The megapixel count has gone up from 3 to 5 and they’ve made other improvements to allow better image quality, as well as adding an LED flash which is a nice added touch.

Not only have they made significant improvements to the outer camera, they’ve added one to the front as well for a new feature known as FaceTime. This is basically an Apple-Ism for video calling. I have heard arguments about why this isn’t iChat and why it’s not compatible with current applications. I think the fact is that Apple want FaceTime to be very simple. So simple you wouldn’t even think about how it works. They wanted to integrate the function directly into the phone aspect of the device and not in a separate application. This is a smart move because it’s inevitable that Skype, Yahoo, AOL and MSN will all come out with apps to make use of this camera. iChat is likely as well because Apple could just release it onto the app store for people who want that, so that they don’t confuse most users by giving them two ways of doing essentially the same thing.

I found it quite entertaining that Steve and Jonny Ive were talking as if video calling had never been done before. Of course, in the US it really hasn’t as far as I know. In the UK however, we have had such abilities for many years since the three network launched and touted the feature as it’s killer app of sorts. It’s also been done on PSP with collaboration from Skype and BT. It’s fair to say that the technology hasn’t exactly caught on well and the quality was never really good enough to justify the high cost. Now that we have wi-fi, this type of thing will take off without question. How long it takes to integrate this service into the 3G/4G networks while keeping costs down and maintaining video / audio quality is hard to say.

Moving away from the camera, I want to go back to the new stainless steel and glass design. The new steel band around the edge of the phone which houses the buttons is actually serving as the antenna for the phone network, 3g, wi-fi and bluetooth, as well as being the main structure of iPhone 4. This is very Apple-like innovation we don’t really see from any other company.

There are many other new additions in the iOS4 itself, but seeing as we already know about those from Apple’s event a couple of months back, it doesn’t seem worth going over that again. Just to quickly recap, that update includes big new features like multitasking, improved mail, speed improvements and many other things to enhance the experience.

Unfortunately for me and other first gen iPod Touch owners, the new update, while free (finally!) for all 3nd and upward generation iPod Touch owners is not available at all for first gen models. Of course, I understand that the hardware can’t cope with the demands of iOS4 but even so, it’s a bit grating to not only have to pay for the initial 2 or 3 updates to the OS and then be left out in the cold now. I’m running out of space on my 8gb now so I’m really hoping they blow us all away with the 4th gen iPod Touch later this year. I’m hoping for at least 16gb, iPhone 4 performance, a decent camera of at least 3mp. Video recording would be nice too. HD isn’t necessary for me but would be nice to include for people with more hard drive space available than I do, or for future use for me. A front facing camera and facetime is unlikely because it seems like a feature that fits the iPhone better and will be a real device seller for that product.

Overall the iPhone announcement wasn’t exactly what I would call earth shattering. The fact that we all saw the leaked shots took away a lot of the mystique of the device. However, even having seen it before, it is a fantastic looking device now that we’ve seen it unveiled and explained properly. The retina display really looks to be a breakthrough and HD recording / iMovie are very nice additions.

I think it might be hard to sell the retina display to casual users though as it looks similar to how it did before. Similarly to sceptics of HD TV it may b a hard sell for some. That’s why I think Apple are smartly focusing their marketing efforts on FaceTime. They want to connect with you on an emotional level by showing all of the possibilities of the feature and I think that will help them sell a lot of phones, even if it is considerably gimped by being limited to wi-fi at launch.

Whichever way you slice it though, this is a much bigger update from the previous model than the 3GS was from the 3G. People still bought 3GS’s in their droves, and I would be shocked if it wasn’t even more people this time round.