Wednesday 9 June 2010

iPhone 4. What's it all about then?

For those who are not aware - and I think that many of us in London-centric digital-land (myself included) sometimes forget that not everyone is on the pulse of the latest breaking trends; some people aren't minutely aware of the raging smartphone war; some think that an iPad is a sanitary product; and, dare I say it, there are even people who haven't a clue what Twitter and Foursquare are - on Monday (the 7th June) at Apple’s annual World Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPhone 4.

What's the iPhone 4 got then?

Not wanting to miss the boat as per usual, this blog post is my take on the new device (after all it is far more than a phone), its release and my initial thoughts about what it means for the industry and consumers.  However, to start with, here's a typically schmaltzy video espousing the virtues of the new device (if you can't be bothered with sticking about for over 6 mins, you can skip it as I'll give a brief synopsis below):

I'll talk about what I see as a couple of the main features (of both the device and the new iOS 4, announced previously and which also runs on the iPad and will be available for compatible 3G, 3GS and iPod Touch models) a bit later on but a quick run of the salient points is:

  • Small but perfectly formed - 24% thinner that the last iPhone and flat backed so a more 'comfortable' device to pocket and leave on a desk - the device looks really nice and, by all accounts, the build quality is superior to anything else (Vertu excepted maybe) on the market; 
  • Top notch display - the "Retina Display" delivers 300px per sq. inch and looks really (seriously, really!) sharp;
  • 2 noise cancellation mics - should help with voice recognition and call quality;
  • 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash - nothing particularly ground-breaking here but something that they really needed to improve based on competitor offerings;
  • FaceTime - Apple's attempt at re-inventing video calling.  More on this later...;
  • Front-facing camera - in order to support video calling;
  • HD video capture and iMovie - video editing capabilities (it'll be interesting to see how much this is actually used although it does look good);
  • Multi-tasking - (one of) my biggest criticisms of previous versions has been the lack of multi-tasking so it was great (albeit expected) when this was announced with iOS4 previously;
  • Improved file management - allowing the arrangement of your apps into folders;
  • Improved email inbox management - another of my criticisms was the painful process for switching between email accounts, this has been addressed with a shared inbox and threading of messages; 
  • Improved battery life - apparently giving 7hrs talk time and 6hrs 3G browsing (10hrs on WiFi).  Battery life is a bugbear of mine so this is a nice improvement although it remains to be seen how this stands up in the real world and what effect apps and multi-tasking will have on this; 
  • Gyroscope - not just tracking the pitch (front-to-back) and roll (side-to-side tilting) of the device, but also the yaw (side-to-side rotation).  Integrating this into games and applications as well as advertising has the possibility of greatly enriching the users gesture feedback as the Wii did for gaming; and 
  • iAds - Apple's rich mobile advertising format has the potential to help force the pace of mobile advertising growth, again, more in this a bit later... 

Basically, nothing significant that we didn't already know on the basis of previous releases, leaks and losses but it's still exciting to see the typical Apple razzmatazz and the way that they package these features - and not forgetting the usual media response and comment...

Surprisingly (not least for me) Apple have departed from the norm of an initial US-only launch and will be releasing the iPhone 4 both in the UK and US, later this month on the 24th June.  There is no news on UK pricing but in the US they are shipping at $199 for the 16Gb version and $299 for 32Gb.  Given previous experience I would expect them being a touch more pricey over here but maybe, given that there is no carrier-exclusivity here anymore, the competition may keep the prices low.  The expected four will be carrying the iPhone 4 and my studious monitoring of their Twitter feeds caught their announcements:   

O2 were unsurprisingly first out of the blocks at 20:03 on Monday evening, with a link to their pre-registration page and also mentioned a limited-time special upgrade offer for in-contract customers;

Orange were next up at 21:29 that evening also, the ever friendly Conor directed followers to the Orange pre-registration page where you can sign of for further updates;

Vodafone didn't manage to beat my arbitrarily imposed (and pretty irrelevant) midnight deadline by tweeting their announcement at 00:07 on the 8th.  Again, followers were directed to a pre-registration page

And so T-Mobile were the last risers, not getting their Twitter announcement out until 15:16 on the 8th (indeed Conor from their new bed-fellows Orange actually beat them to the punch by a few minutes).  T-Mobile seem to not be taking pre-registrations and instead directed followers to their media centre for updates - not the best user experience it has to be said...

So what are the important bits?

There's plenty that can be talked about from the list above but, in my opinion at least, there are a couple that are worth some real attention based on their potential for further changing the market - FaceTime and iAds...

Wasn't video calling a damp squib last time round?

You could say that (he says, entering into a cyber-space conversation with himself - that's got to be a bad sign.  Almost as bad as psycho-analysing yourself in cyber-space, he replied....)!

I'm sure that I'm not the only person who remembers the launch of the new carrier 3 back in 2003 and the adverts heralding the advent of a new era of mobile video calls.  Well, it never happened.  Whether due to call quality, high cost, poor user experience or the lack of someone to call who also had a capable phone (which reminds me of the question - who did Alexander Graham Bell call when he invented the first telephone?), consumers refused to take it up and so video calling has remained restricted to enterprise (and more relevantly non-mobile) application since.

Could FaceTime change that?  

We've seen before that Apple leads the way in delivering top quality user experience and products and services that people simply want to use.  As a mate (and fellow mobilist) Murat recently tweeted: 

"Yeah video calling has been around for ages but so had phones, experiences rules - if it's slick it'll give video calling the kiss of life"

On the basis of the Apple video above and the review from CNet below, both the user experience and the quality (aided by FaceTime initially only being available over a WiFi connection) look pretty damn good:

So that leaves the cost and having someone to call.  

The cost front is covered initially because of FaceTime only running over WiFi from launch.  But even once this restriction is relaxed and you are able to make video calls over a 3G (or in time LTE/4G connection) with the near-ubiquity of data bundles, particularly with iPhone and other smartphone calling plans, this shouldn't be an issue at all.  The only caveat that I will add to this (and it applies to the call quality also) is that the carriers bear a significant responsibility here - both in terms of the network quality and also in relation to the application of the usual "fair usage policy" applied to all-you-can-eat data plans.  If they mess this up, there is little that Apple can do...

And finally there is the "who to call" question.  Well, there are an awful lot of iPhone users out there and you can be sure that a good proportion of them will upgrade to the iPhone 4 over the coming months.  However, from launch, FaceTime will only be possible from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4.  It will not be available on the 3G/3GS or other devices, which does significantly restrict the possible number of calls that can be made.  But it looks like it IS the intention to widen the distribution of FaceTime as an open industry standard.  This is the kicker as I see it - if Apple allows other manufacturers to implement FaceTime functionality into their devices there will be no barrier to uptake - I can call my iPhone 4 owning friend from my HTC running Android.  It is a massive "if" (particularly given all the recent patent disputes between rival manufacturers) but IF this happens, there should be no real reason for video calling not to become more popular.  It will never replace voice calling, we shouldn't expect that, but it could become a viable, accepted and consumer adopted calling option.

What does iAds do for mobile advertising and marketing?

To address this, I'll start with the killer stat - Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley (who knows a thing or two about the digital landscape having previously been dubbed the “Queen of the Net”predicts that mobile web users will be overtaking desktop within 5 years:

However, although mobile advertising spend continues to increase (as shown in a recent IAB and PwC study) there is still a disparity between the number of users of the mobile internet and the relative mobile advertising spend, in comparison to online.  The possible reasons for this are legion, ranging from brands acceptance of mobile as a channel to the creative restrictions of the current MMA guidelines.

Whatever the actual reason(s) may be, Apple and the other traditional big players, such as Google and Microsoft, are certainly turning their attention to the channel as recent acquisitions and comments have made clear.  So with Apple also announcing that they already have $60 million in advertiser commitments in 2010 for iAds (the advertising, served by Apple into apps running on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), from brands such as Unilever, AT&T, Chanel and Walt Disney, including one (or more) that has had to stump up $10M to be the first advertiser, there is certainly no lack of brand focus.  This may be centred on iAds, but the wider mobile advertising eco-system can only benefit from this.

Additionally, the richer creative and improved user experience that iAds offer should serve as a benchmark across the industry.  To reference Murat again, he has blogged about the need for industry guidelines to evolve in-line with device capabilities.  This have never been more the case than now, as the iPhone dragged smartphone capabilities on its coat tails, so should iAds do the same for mobile advertising - and with the increasing penetration of HTML5 support into mobile browsers, the kind of functionality that was only possible within an app can be exploited within a browser context, meaning the richer experience advertising can be available across devices and it is up to us in the industry to ensure that this is the case!

Which all means...?

The iPhone 4 isn't a revolutionary or game changing device in the way that its predecessors were.  The smartphone market has caught up enough in the last year or so that the competitors are at least on the same lap of the race.  However, the iPhone 4 has certainly given Apple a burst of speed down the back-straight and pushed them further ahead.  You can be sure that the competition will kick on and respond, and in some areas they remain ahead (device customisation and "cloud" integration for example), but by pushing into "new" ground and forcing the market onwards, Apple continues to be the major catalyst for the progression of the industry.

Will I be getting an iPhone 4?  Probably not, no.  Do I think that it'll be the best device on the market?  Yes, I probably do...


  1. Why aren't you getting one then?

  2. Well, putting that I am in an existing contract aside, I am severely tempted to. In fact, I may well change my mind when the time comes round to upgrade and go for one.

    That said, at the moment the Android UI (esp. with the HTC Sense overlay) allows more personalisation/customisation of the device's interface than is possible on an iPhone. The widget functionality is also an advantage.

    Small things, but ones that make the use of the device preferable for me at least.

  3. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people they need bit of plastic with flashing lights on...

  4. Trojan Horse 4. I might just be tempted. All the "device" features are old and have been around for donkeys years. The screen res looks good but not something that really needed improving in my opinion. Trojan Horse 4 is about iAds and FaceTime. Not sure the latter will gain huge traction but the former is where the money will be depending on how Apple vs. Adobe pans out.

  5. @Guy - Like computers...? Damn these technologies that keep us in employment!

    @Kirendip - So I think that we are in agreement Mr. Chheena. iPhone 4 has a number of iterative improvements on existing technology and features - you can't deny the result is a very nice device though can you? FaceTime is a real gamble as it's success is reliant on it being picked up by other manufacturers in order achieve a critical mass of users. It does threaten the likes of Skype though. As for iAds, they are what Apple had to do - with Google acquiring the incumbent dominant player on their turf (apps), they had to make a move and usurp AdMob.