Apple’s confident slogan for iPhone 4 has been mocked by many who say there isn’t anything special about it compared to the competition (i.e. Android). There is no doubt that in 2007 Apple changed everything for the mobile phone market with the introduction of the original iPhone. But that was a change in what defined a mobile phone. Now every new phone seems to sport a touch screen and apps. How could the iPhone 4 change the game again in such a short time? Allow me to explain through a rundown of the hardware and software.
The iPhone 4’s hardware is a masterpiece. The front and back are made of glass, and the stainless steel band around the edge acts as the iPhone’s antenna system for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G. The volume buttons and the ring/silent switch are also metal. The entire phone feels like a handcrafted Aston Martin. Good riddance to the plastic back of the iPhone 3G/3GS.
More Than Meets the Eye
Apple upgraded the display in the iPhone for the first time — and it is a jaw-dropping improvement. The display has four times as many pixels as previous iPhones, and they are calling it the Retina Display. Why? Because at 326 pixels per inch, it is near impossible to distinguish the individual pixels with the naked eye, unless you happen to have superb vision (and even then, I’d be surprised).
The screen is so sharp that it literally looks as if text and images is printed directly on the glass. View the screen from an oblique angle and the color doesn’t distort in the slightest. It looks like a finely printed glossy page from National Geographic. This makes me wish my iPad had a Retina Display.
More Horsepower Than an Audi A4
Apple’s A4 chip, which made its debut in the iPad a few months back, has made its way to the iPhone as well. The A4 is a screamer. Everything about the new iphone is fast. The camera snaps shots instantly and successively, games are fast and smooth, web pages load much faster, pinch-zooming on a site re-renders the text instantly, etc.
I didn’t used to enjoy my games on the iPhone 3G since they often stuttered and crashed. Now, to be fair, those particular games were made after the iPhone 3GS came out and were likely optimized for that hardware. But now those games load and play so much faster and smoother, I can see myself spending more time with them. RampChamp, prepare to knock over some clowns.
The rear camera on iPhone 4 was also improved, as it now has 5-megapixels, a backside illuminated sensor, and an LED flash. The pictures it takes are phenomenal for a smartphone camera. I imagine that has a fair amount to do with Apple’s superb camera software, as well.
The rear camera can also shoot in 720p HD video. And it looks just as nice as my Kodak Zx1, which I think will need a new owner.
iPhone 4 has another camera on the front, for self portraits and FaceTime video calls, which I’ll discuss shortly.
Last Monday, Apple released iOS 4 for most previous iOS devices. The iPhone 3GS and 3rd Generation iPod touch received the full gamut of features, whereas the iPhone 3G and 2nd Generation iPod touch received most features, and the original iPhone and iPod touch were put out to pasture. Naturally, iPhone 4 is what iOS 4 was made for, and it even gets a few bonus features.
Many folks in the media have railed Apple for bringing limited multitasking, rather than allowing any and all apps to run simultaneously in the background. I actually think Apple is thinking correctly in using fast-app switching, and allowing several special processes to run in the background, such as task finishing, Voice-Over-IP (think Skype), GPS, and background audio, along with a couple other things.
So far, I love the feature. It’s nice to not have to do the “home screen shuffle” to switch between a few apps. For instance, I have been switching a lot between 1Password and Safari for passwords to various accounts. Now, speaking of the home screen shuffle…
The home screen now allows you to drag one app onto another app and create a folder. Each folder can hold 12 apps, but it only show 9 mini icons within the folder icon. I took 5 screens of apps down to two. It’s nice having all of my games in a Games folder, and I moved all my social media apps into a Social folder. You get the picture.
There’s No Time Like FaceTime
Let’s talk about that little front facing camera again. The real reason Apple added that is for their new FaceTime feature. Let’s say I am out of town, and I am talking on the phone with my wife on her iPhone 4. I want to see her and my son, so I tap the FaceTime button in the call window, and suddenly, after she accepts, I am seeing my family. This technology works flawlessly. Granted, right now it only works on WiFi, and only iPhone 4 to iPhone 4, but Steve Jobs said a couple weeks ago they will have tens of millions of FaceTime devices in the channel by the end of the year. Gee, I wonder what the next iPod touch will have?
The nice thing about FaceTime is you don’t have to be in a phone call to use it. Around noon today, I opened up my friend Nik’s contact card, and tapped the FaceTime button there, because I know he received one today. Now, Nik lives in England, but upon tapping FaceTime, it buzzed his iPhone 4, and we were seeing each other face to face. I flipped the view to the rear camera and showed him Nebraska, and he did the same and showed me Brighton.
Apple may call the iPad magical, which it is indeed quite so, but FaceTime is the real magic. Yes, we’ve had this technology for years with webcams and iChat and Skype…but this on your phone, which you can walk around with, and show people things around you and share moments with them.
For instance, when I flipped to the rear camera and pointed it at my growing son, Nik’s mouth gaped and his hand went to his forehead in disbelief at how big my son become (he’ll be two soon). Never before using iChat have I shared a moment like that. FaceTime is going to bring about a more personal form of communication.
Why This Changes Everything Again
Apple is making a move that few companies can pull off — they are going right for our hearts. Seriously, watch their video about FaceTime and I would be surprised if you weren’t moved by it. I can’t properly describe the enchantment of using FaceTime. It is not like the video conferencing we’ve known. It isn’t anything like sitting in front of a computer. FaceTime is all about sharing moments with others. For me, it is seeing two friends I haven’t spoken with in some time, one across the country, another across an ocean (or The Pond, as he would say).
And this technology is just in its infancy. I can’t even imagine where we’ll be when my son leaves home in 16 years. All I know is I’ll still be able to see him, and that strikes me to my core.
Apple isn’t just a consumer electronics maker. If you’ve ever spoken with someone who works there, you can tell that they believe they are changing the world for the better. And I’m not just talking about listening to Apple’s top brass spinning PR, I’m talking about the folks who actually come up with these new ideas. FaceTime is absolutely simple to initiate. You don’t have to register for an account, or worry about which program to use. If the basic qualifications are met, it just works.
So yes, overall, iPhone 4 is an evolutionary step in the new world order of mobile phones that its progenitor started. Being able to see who you are talking to, easily, while showing them important things around you, with half a world between you…that is what is truly magical.