The Great iPhone Kerfuffle of 2010

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week and a half-ish, you’ve no doubt heard about Gizmodo getting their hands on a prototype iPhone. Not just any prototype iPhone, but almost certainly the next iPhone. I’ve held off on writing about it for a couple reasons:

  1. My tongue was hanging out for a long time on the floor.
  2. I wanted to see how this played out for a little while.

I’m not going to waste too many pixels of typography discussing the circumstances of how Gizmodo acquired the iPhone or what the legal ramifications of all that may be, other than to say that I was genuinely disappointed for how Gizmodo outed the name of the Apple engineer who misplaced the iPhone. That was a tasteless act that had no relevancy to the overall story. All we needed to know was that an Apple engineer misplaced, not the name and face of the actual person. It disturbs me how Gizmodo can take such sociopathic glee in attaching that man’s name to this story for the rest of his career via search engine.

There, I am finished ranting and chastising.

Now, onto the meat of the story — the prototype iPhone. This was by far the biggest tech/gadget scoop I’ve ever seen. It may be the biggest tech/gadget scoop ever. It is so strange that we’ve actually seen the next iPhone before Steve Jobs has shown it to us.

Much to the dismay of iPhone case manufacturers, who last year were given a reprieve of redesigning their products due to the 3GS having the same body as the 3G, the next iPhone has a brand new design. I think it is safe to say the design of the prototype is close to what will be in customer’s hands. To quote John Gruber:

According to Gizmodo, one of the barcodes attached to the unit read “N90_DVT_GE4X_0493”. According to several sources (of mine) familiar with the project, “N90” is Apple’s codename for the fourth-generation GSM iPhone, slated for release this June or July. “DVT” stands for “design verification test”, an Apple production milestone. The DVT milestone is very late in the game; based on this, I now believe that this unit very closely, if not exactly, resembles what Apple plans to release.

So, given what Gizmodo showed us, I want to weigh in on the hardware.

I love my iPhone 3G overall, but one thing that is an overall flaw is the plastic shell. It feels cheap. My iPhone 3G doesn’t feel like it is constructed nearly as well as my wife’s iPod touch or my iPad. But more than anything, the plastic back isn’t very durable. A few days ago I had my iPhone replaced under warranty. I took it in to have the screen replaced, as I had dust built up between the glass and LCD. But the Genius pointed out that I had many stress fractures around the headphone jack and dock connector. She replaced the whole unit on that basis. Let’s face it, the iPhone should suffer from stress fractures on the only two ports, which are meant to be used often.

So that brings me to the point of the next iPhone’s case. It appears to be two pieces of glass with a band of aluminum sandwiched in between. The band of aluminum surrounds and supports the headphone and dock connectors — that’s a good thing. The really interesting part is the back of the iPhone. Gizmodo said it felt like glass, like the front. But Apple holds a patent for making a case out of ceramic. Polished ceramic would definitely have the feel of glass. It’s also very durable and completely RF transparent, which is very important for a mobile phone. To put durability into perspective, the M1 Abrams tank used by the United States military uses ceramic in its armor. Tough stuff.

Next is cameras. Yes, plural. Let’s start with the rear camera we know and love. It was noted that the lens itself is larger than what is found on the 3GS, alluding to the possibility of a 5 megapixel camera. This would be a wise move as many competing phones sport 5 megapixel cameras. There is also a little LED flash. This will probably be the only kind of “flash” to be on an iPhone. Yes, that was a dig at Adobe.

New to the next iteration of the iPhone is a front camera, presumably for video chat. I’m not exactly sure how much I would use this. The idea seems awkward to me as it requires holding the iPhone out in front of your face. We’ll see.

Lastly, Gizmodo thought the screen looked as if it had a higher pixel density. 960x640 would be a good assumption. It’s exactly double the current pixel count. If Apple couples that with the IPS technology they’ve put in the latest iMacs and the iPad, that will be a great looking screen. (IPS allows the image to remain fairly free of color distortion at extreme angles.)

And that’s about all we know or could reasonably assume from Gizmodo’s observations, as the iPhone’s software had been remotely wiped.

What else would I like to see? Well, I’d like to see the iPhone gain storage up to at least 64 GB. I’d also like to see Apple use a custom chip like their A4 chip that resides in the iPad. And if they can swing it, 512 MB of RAM would be great, especially with all the multitasking apps in the background in iPhone OS 4. (I was surprised that the iPad only has 256 MB RAM. I thought 512 MB was a shoe-in.)

Since that camera is thought to contain more resolution, I’d love it if the iPhone shoots 720p HD video instead of the current 640x480. Then I could get rid of my Kodak Zx1, which doesn’t see a great deal of use since I rarely carry it with me. I carry my iPhone with me at all times.

Overall, the physical design of the new iPhone is very appealing to me. It looks more in line with the machined aluminum bodies of the MacBook Pro, iMac, and iPad. The iPhone 3G/3GS really stick out as odd compared to many of Apple’s other products. 

I really can’t wait to get the next iPhone. After all, I bought the iPhone 3G on day one. I’m due for a new one.