The Next iPhone: Another Disposable Gadget?

March 24th, 2009

It’s hard to believe that the iPhone will be two years old in just a couple of months, and that, my friends, is the duration of a standard contract with a wireless carrier.

Now I assume those of you who didn’t trade up last year still have your first-generation model in regular use, and that it is still working quite nicely. That in itself may be quite an achievement in our disposable society, where most handsets can barely last half that long. I know my original iPhone is now in another owner’s hands, and my 3G model is working pretty much the same as new. Since it is also ensconced in a translucent case, it is, so far as I can tell, free of serious blemishes. Even though dropped a few times, the glass face remains unblemished.

In the scheme of things, that probably means that this phone could survive several years of regular use before I have to send it on to the recycle bin. I also assume that, since it’s a subsidized model, AT&T isn’t going to want to allow me to upgrade to the third-generation model this summer without paying some sort of penalty. Or perhaps they’ll just allow me to transfer it to another user on my account and let me re-up for another couple of years.

Indeed, that’s the thing about most of what Apple builds. While I realize some of you may have gone through several iPods due to older models breaking down as the result wear and tear, a lot of that damage is probably largely the result of a hard drive failure, and that’s the component most often replaced. I exclude such obvious happenstances as breakage.

So with little to wear out, how will Apple and the carriers it works with around the world entice you to buy a new iPhone far earlier than you might otherwise have contemplated such a move?

Well, going from EDGE to 3G was a no-brainer. Getting decent Internet performance on a wireless carrier’s network can make a huge difference. Even then, 3G is, at best, still slower than many home-based broadband connections. So where does Apple go next?

Well, assuming the carrier is rolling out something better, such as AT&T’s expected upgrade to HSDPA on their 3G networks, it would mean a theoretical speed of up to seven megabits and perhaps a bit more. Assuming Safari can be enhanced to keep up — and it’s rather on the slow side now — that would surely make the surfing experience considerably more productive. Although today’s iPhone 3G seems snappy enough when the network is running at a good clip, start to compare it with the experience of running Safari on your Mac or PC, and you’ll see what I mean.

That, however, is merely one advantage that the new model might provide, and it would probably not involve anything more than upgrading the chipsets. What else would a new iPhone offer?

Well, I suppose somewhat slicker looks and perhaps more color choices. Apple might even consider a larger version, a so-called “netbook” variation that comes closer in concept to the eMate 300, a Newton-based wireless appliance that Apple sold for a while, mostly to the educational market, in the last decade.

I’m not sure about a smaller version. You see, the screen is tiny enough as it is, and a little case shrinkage might be possible, but don’t expect Apple to succumb to the multiple model disease that other consumer electronics companies seem to have suffered from for many years. That’s not Apple’s scene.

But there are practical changes you might see in a new iPhone. One would simply be a better camera, with perhaps five megapixel resolution instead of just two. There may even be an automatic flash capability of some sort for low-light situations. Some have even suggested that video or movie-making capability would be added as well, turning the next iPhone into a miniature camcorder, perhaps in the spirit of Pure Digital’s popular flip video. I rather think that even today’s iPhone 3G has much of the hardware installed to accomplish that worthy task.

With the forthcoming iPhone 3.0 software, there are lots of other capabilities in the works. Apple has only disclosed a small number of the 100 new features they touted during their recent introduction of the new iPhone SDK.

Yes, we all know about the arrival of cut, copy and paste, multimedia messaging (MMS), Push Notification and the ability to check and compose email in landscape mode. The ability to record voice notes may impact some of the third-party apps that exist to perform that function, but what about dialing a call via voice? Isn’t that a feature particularly critical in states, such as California, where hands-free use of a cell phone while driving is required? Forget about third-party alternatives. This is really Apple’s job.

So, yes, I’m extremely optimistic about the promise of the next iPhone. If I am tempted to acquire one, I suppose my son wouldn’t object to having my 3G model transferred to his account. He doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about the possibility, but perhaps when he returns from his job in Spain this summer, he’ll have a change of heart.

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