The Fedex delivery man pulled up at 10:30 this morning with an iPhone 4 in his hand — there were 15 more on his truck. The packaging is elegant and simple to open. After syncing the iPhone 3GS and Stainless Shuffle to be sure iTunes was up to date, I connected the iPhone 4. The first screen to appear showed my mobile phone number and asked me to enter my zip code and last four of the social for authentication. After agreeing to the Apple and AT&T terms and conditions the phone was activated and the copying of apps plus thousands of songs and music began. I went out for an errand and when I got back the iPhone 4 was loaded with my data. The next step was to set up the Google accounts for over-the-air syncing of my 1,500 contacts plus all the calendar entries and gmail. Minutes later I was good to go. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
One should not judge a book by it’s cover but when it comes to gadgets, first impressions matter. When it came to the iPhone 4 that impression was very positive. The industrial design is elegant. The weight is about the same as the iPhone 3GS but the 4 is thinner and flatter and hence feels more dense and substantial. It has a more contemporary look to it and it is a delight to hold onto. The only physical thing to critique is that when the phone is in your pocket you can’t reach in for it and tell which side is up like you could with the 3GS. No doubt getting familiar with where the buttons are and correlating that to how to grab for the phone face-up will be easy to learn.
Under the covers there are a number of enhancements in the iPhone 4. One reviewer claimed the new battery lasted 31 hours for him. The processor has been upgraded to Apple’s new super-fast A4 processor. A half-gigabyte of memory will also enhance the performance. The iPhone 4 specifications would be mistaken for a supercomputer not that long ago. The addition of a 3-axis gyroscope will enable developers to create some amazing games and along with the GPS there will no doubt be some undreamed of navigation apps coming. The new Retina display is truly brilliant. Icons have no rough edges and photos look like glossy prints. The two cameras and video capability are being raved about. I am not much of a photographer nor do I know much about video editing but it sounds like you can now create candidates for the Cannes film festival on your phone. If photography and video are of interest I would highly recommend reading the review done by Joshua Topolsky over at Engagdet. There are some really good YouTube videos included. As they say a picture (or YouTube clip) is worth a thousand words.
Of most significance to me is the software aspect of the iPhone 4. The upgrade to iOS 4 is available for the iPhone 3GS but the added power of iPhone 4 is able to take much more advantage of the software advancements. The breakthrough is multi-tasking which enables the iPhone to do more than one thing at a time. Not technically exactly really but we won’t know the difference. The best example is that you can start Pandora and select your music and then press the home button again and begin reading your email while you listen to the music. You could do this with the iPod app but not with Pandora. You can stop working on something in an app and switch to a different app and return to find that the prior app is running. For example you can be downloading a large file, go work on something else, and return to find the download completed, all while listening to Pandora. A double press of the home button brings up a new task manager which shows all the apps that are running. You no longer have to push the home button in between apps. I can’t wait for multi-tasking on the iPad — expected in the Fall.
Another breakthrough is FaceTime video chat. To put it in perspective, take a look at the AT&T PicturePhone product of 1969. The FaceTime uses the front camera to capture your face — or that of a grandchild. This could be the feature that gets reluctant grandparents to sign up for an iPhone. At this stage it only works between two iPhones although Apple is releasing specs to make it possible for others to interoperate. I have no doubt that a creative Android developer will implement the feature post haste. The other immediate limitation is that FaceTime video calls are only possible using WiFi. I don’t see that as a problem given the wide availability of WiFi. I think the potential for FaceTime to change the way we communicate is significant. Once multiple participants can be part of a video conference it will change how we think of a “meeting”. For now, I wish I knew someone who had an iPhone 4 so I could try FaceTime instead of just envisioning it!
Another feature that I have envisioned since I got the first iPhone is folders. It took Apple a long time to implement what I consider an essential capability. I have roughly 100 apps. It is amazing how the human brain can remember the content, color, and location of an icon but a way to organize the apps is a superior idea. If you drag a CNN icon onto the top of a BBC icon, the iPhone combines the two into one folder and names the folder “News”. You can drag up to 12 into a folder. Be nice to have more but a dozen is a good start and can allow organizing things into news, weather, sports, utilities, finance, games, etc. This is another feature I can’t wait to get for the iPad.
The iPhone enables you to use whatever email system you want but personally I don’t know why everybody doesn’t use gmail. I am actually glad everyone does not use it because then there would not be enough competition and the governement would step in and shut down Gmail! Whatever mail you use, it is now easier on the iPhone 4 as it has added threaded mail and an integrated inbox. This is yet another feature badly needed on the iPad but for which we have to wait for iOS 4.
The iPhone now has iBooks and syncing of bookmarks between the iPad and iPhone. This is a good thing but I still believe Amazon is ahead in this area. With the new pricing aggressiveness for e-readers I believe the “single purpose” devices will have a place and I look forward to getting the next Kindle this summer. Sunny day reading this summer at the Lake with the iPad or iPhone is not going to happen. The Kindle loves sunny days!
All things considered I am more than pleased with the new iPhone 4. I am sure there will be some things that may disappoint but so far it looks like the winner I expected. The Android phones are going to give Apple a big run for the money and that is exactly what we all want. In the short term the Android will attract techies, those that have poor AT&T coverage and want Verizon, and those that have an aversion to Apple and their high prices and proprietary ways. Over time Android will get better and better as their base of developers grows but for now Apple has a big head start. The only rock they have to drag is AT&T. Their network is not available to many and to many who have it they don’t like it. AT&T is making big investments to improve things and the new iPhone 4 has an improved antenna which some reviewers are saying make dropped calls much more rare. I have not been out of the house with the new iPhone yet but so far it is at least as good as the 3GS. Bottom line for me is that the first impression is a very happy one.