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  • The WWDC Report: An iPhone or a Tricorder?

    June 7th, 2010

    In the days of the original Star Trek TV show in the 1960s, the crew of the starship Enterprise would explore a new world equipped with a handheld computer known as a Tricorder. According to the Wikipedia entry and the innate knowledge of any “Treker” on our planet, this gadget was “a multifunction handheld device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and communication.”

    In other words, an iPhone, since, though thicker, it was smaller than an iPad.

    Now I don’t pretend to know if the designers if the iPhone 4 spent much of any of their free time watching old Star Trek episodes for inspiration. More than likely, they simply looked at the problems previous smartphones had failed to solve, and went ahead to make the latest and greatest model reflect solutions to those problems.

    The end result is that the newest iPhone, version number four, sporting that squared off case revealed when a preproduction sample found its way into the hands of an online publication, ends up offering  a lot more than you might have expected from those Gizmodo reports. In a sense, Apple has answered every presumed advantage of the latest generation of Android OS handsets and then some.

    But the one problem Apple couldn’t solve can be traced to the limits of Wi-Fi networking. With hundreds of separate functioning networks operated by the press contingent in attendance during the WWDC keynote, Apple’s onscreen displays kept bogging down. Steve Jobs even asked the press corps if they could shut down their networks, which, of course, was one request they, for the most part, politely ignored.

    The other notable change is strictly in nomenclature. iPhone 4.0 is henceforth iOS 4. Is nobody sick and tired of those dreadful “i” prefixes yet? Or has Apple simply lost it?

    So there you have it. The thinner iPhone 4, sporting a better than retinal display, a five megapixel camera with flash, front facing camera for video chats and HD camcorder capability, not to mention a gyroscope and a longer life battery. Jobs also spent a fair amount of time telling us that five billion apps had been downloaded from the App Store, with revenue for developers totaling over a billion dollars, which goes to show that most of those downloads involve free apps.

    When it comes to video chats, I remember my childhood visit to the New York Worlds Fair, where you could make video calls from specially equipped phone booths. With Apple’s FaceTime, you can accomplish the same task, with a far better image, using the iPhone 4’s front or rear cameras, although a Wi-Fi network is required. Apple is working with the wireless carriers to try to get support for video conferences on regular cellular connections. As a side note, the FaceTime format is being submitted as a proposed industry standard.

    It sounds even better than a Tricorder.

    The price is the same as the iPhone 3GS, $199 for the 16GB version and $299 for the 32GB version, with the usual two-year contract. At the same time, AT&T is granting immediate eligibility for those whose contracts expire in 2010. It’ll go on sale June 24th in the U.S., France, Germany, the UK and Japan, with preorders accepted 9 days earlier. All the better to enhance Apple’s sales for this quarter, assuming the usual amount of pent-up demand.

    The international rollout will expand in July.

    The iOS 4 upgrade, with some 100 fancy new features, including multitasking, appears June 21st for the iPhone and iPod touch. iPad users will get theirs this fall. However, the first generation iPhone is evidently not compatible, and the 3G version from 2008 won’t get such features as multitasking, because it doesn’t have the available resources to handle that often requested capability. Then again, if you have a two-year-old iPhone, you are no doubt ready to upgrade anyway.

    In keeping with all the speculation, there’s a third search option on iOS 4, and that’s Microsoft’s Bing, which joins Google and Yahoo! A similar option is now available in the newly-unleashed Safari 5 for Mac OS X and Windows, released Monday afternoon. But since Bing will soon power Yahoo! searches, that may be a distinction without a difference. But it does explain why Microsoft seems more kindly disposed towards Apple these days, even though they’re smarting from being supplanted in market cap.

    As much as the iPhone and the iOS 4 demonstrations no doubt delighted Apple customers around the world, some might be disappointed at what was missing. The rumored Apple TV replacement sporting an iPhone-style case and the same OS never appeared, nor was there any inkling of updates for the Mac Pro, Mac mini or even an early preview of Mac OS 10.7. It was all iPhone and iOS 4 all the time. Nothing more, but nothing less either. But after nearly two hours on stage with those prolonged demos, the audience might have been thoroughly worn out.

    And don’t forget that, in 2008, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard was quietly introduced to developers without a moment’s mention during the WWDC keynote. So the full story about the 2010 event possibly has yet to be written.



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