WWDC 2010: iPhone 4

Wow. That could pretty much sum up Steve Jobs’ WWDC keynote address for me. This was probably the best keynote from Apple, in my opinion, since the January 2007 unveiling of the original iPhone at Macworld. Steve wasn’t kidding when he said at one point, “For 2010, we’re going to take the biggest leap since the original iPhone.”

Before I delve into iPhone 4, though, it is worth mentioning that Apple gave a recap of iPad’s success, and showed off a forthcoming update to iBooks. 2 million iPads have been sold in three months. When that is averaged out, that is 1 iPad every 3 seconds. To me, that is absolutely crazy. I blows my mind. iBooks is getting an update in a couple weeks that will enable highlighting, notes, and bookmarks, as well as native PDF reading support.

Next, Apple talked about a few highlights of the App Store, detailing some upcoming additions such as Netflix for iPhone (yay!) and Farmville (barf…).

Okay, now that the small stuff is out of the way, let’s get to what you really came here to read about.

iPhone 4

Look at that beauty. And I’ll tell you what, there is a lot going on with this phone to make it that gorgeous. Let’s break it down bit by bit.

All New Design

iPhone 4 is a mere 9.3 mm thick, making it 24% thinner than the iPhone 3G/3GS. This is thanks to the main structure of the phone being harnessed in a stainless steel band, sandwiched between an aluminosilicate glass front and back casing. You’ll notice a couple seams in the stainless steel band. Well, this sectioned band acts as the phone’s antennas, one supporting 802,11n WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS, and the other supporting the 3G/EDGE GSM radio. Apparently, engineers were touting after the keynote to attendees that they found a way to transform the electromagnetic radiation given off by the radios into electric current, giving iPhone 4 the ability to boost its own reception. There is also a second microphone at the top of iPhone 4, right by the headphone jack, to provide noise suppression during phone calls. Amazing stuff. 

The back is no longer plastic. It is glass, just like the front. With my iPhone 3G, I have never worried about the glass front. It’s super durable. But, prior to my iPhone being switched out under AppleCare, the plastic back had suffered many small scratches and even developed hairline cracks around the headphone jack and dock connector, and even lost a small chunk of the plastic around the dock connector. The glass used in the iPhone 4 is different from the glass used in previous models. It is aluminosilicate glass, which makes it comparable in strength to sapphire crystal, 30 times harder than plastic. And since the glass used in previous models was virtually impossible to scratch, this new glass should make the back even more durable.

There’s a neat thing about the glass on the front of the device as well. Previous models of the iPhone suffered from a knack of getting dust between the glass and the display (my iPhone 3G went through this quagmire twice). Apple is using a new process of laminating the display to the glass, which should take care of this problem. John Gruber elaborates:

Apple had a demo area for the media after the keynote, so I got to spend some time hands-on with the iPhone 4. The resolution of the “retina display” is as impressive as Apple boasts. Text renders like high quality print. One thing that Apple didn’t mention in the keynote, though, is that the LCD pixels are much closer to the surface of the touchscreen. On existing iPhones (and iPods, and iPads), there is not a lot of distance between the glass surface and the LCD, but there is some. There’s also a very narrow amount of air between the touchscreen glass and the underlying LCD. If you’ve ever got a bit dust under your display, that dust is in the air between the glass and LCD.

It’s mentioned briefly in Apple’s promotional video about the design of the iPhone 4, but they’re using a new production process that effectively fuses the LCD and touchscreen — there is no longer any air between the two. One result of this is that the iPhone 4 should be impervious to this dust-under-the-glass issue. More importantly, though, is that it looks better. The effect is that the pixels appear to be painted on the surface of the phone; instead of looking at pixelsunder glass, it’s like looking at pixels on glass. Combined with the incredibly high pixel density, the overall effect is like “live print”.

It also improved the field of view for the display — you can view the display from an oblique angle and it looks great. Again, like print. It’s like a glossy magazine come to life.

To me, iPhone 4 looks to be solving the design problems of previous models. Check out Apple’s great video of the design.

Retina Display

Apple is moving from a 480x320 pixel display to a 960x640 pixel display. This will provide 4 pixels in the same physical space that one pixel occupied on previous models. Whereas previous iPhone models had an already impressive 163 pixels per inch, iPhone 4 has 326 pixels per inch, which provides the same quality as a page printed on a laser printer. Around 300 ppi, the human eye can no longer distinguish the individual pixels, some this display renders like print to our eyes, hence the “Retina” moniker. The display also has an 800:1 contrast ratio, which is 4 times better than before, and like the iMac and iPad, is employing In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology for greater color accuracy and an extremely wide viewing angle.


I remember back in January of this year when Apple announced they were using a custom designed system on a chip, I sat back and hoped it would find its way to the next iPhone. Well, it did. iPhone 4 is powered by the same chip that runs the iPad, the Apple A4. Since the A4 uses very little energy, it is boosting the iPhone’s battery life up to 7 hours of 3G talk, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours of WiFi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music, and 300 hours of standby. That, my friends, is great for a smartphone, and amazing for one of the iPhone’s caliber.


Apple pioneered, to my knowledge, the use of an accelerometer in a mobile phone. This allowed the original and subsequent iPhones to sense when you held the phone sideways, and would adjust the orientation of photos, as one example, appropriately. The accelerometer also found its way into gaming apps, being used for apps such as driving games. Now, Apple is adding a gyroscope in addition to the accelerometer, giving iPhone 4 6-axis motion sensing, pitch, roll, & yaw, and rotation about gravity. I can’t wait to see what developers do with this handy piece of hardware.

Camera, Now with Lights & Action!

The iPhone has always had a fairly small camera sensor compared to competing devices, but has always produced fairly decent shots due to its superior software. Believe me, I have a shot of my son, taken with my iPhone 3G, that looks as if I took it with my Canon EOS 40D (I admit that it was taken under a perfect storm of natural light). Apple had upgraded the camera system in the iPhone 3GS with a 3 megapixel camera, tap to focus, and even included support for standard definition video.

iPhone 4 introduces a larger lens, and bumps the camera sensor to 5 megapixels. Most competitors are including 8 or even 12 megapixel cameras in their phones. Megapixels are not the end all be all of digital photography. In fact, what really matters with any digital camera, is light sensitivity. To accomplish that, the light-capturing pixels need to be able to soak up as much light as possible. Other phones are shipping cameras with sensors the same physical size as iPhone 4’s. However, by including 8- or 12-megapixels, those light-capturing pixels are smaller, meaning they soak up less light. 

iPhone 4’s light-capturing pixels are the same physical size as those in the 3GS’s camera, but the overall sensor is larger and the lens is larger than the 3GS’s. Also, Apple is using a backside illuminated sensor in iPhone 4 to bring even more light into the camera. Overall, iPhone 4’s camera should be fairly light-sensitive even in low-light situations. But, in those low-light situations, you can employ the use of iPhone 4’s LED flash.

The camera’s software continues to have Apple’s innovative tap to focus system, and introduces a 5x digital zoom.

The camera now also records 720p HD video at 30 fps. It also introduces tap to focus video. Apple also announced that they will be shipping iMovie for iPhone for $5 on the App Store. You can record HD video, edit it with themes, music, & transitions, and export it all from your iPhone.

iOS 4

Apple announced a name change to iPhone OS 4 because it runs on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. It is honestly a welcome name change. This section of the keynote was basically a recap of the developer preview back in March, which you can read my coverage of. One new thing worth mentioning is the addition of Bing as a search engine to Google and Yahoo!. Google will remain the default.

iOS 4 will be shipping to customers via iTunes on June 21st. 1st generation iPhones and iPod touches will not be receiving it. iPhone 3G and second generation (2008) iPod touches get everything except Multitasking, Custom Homescreen Wallpaper, and Bluetooth Keyboard support, and iPhone 3GS and 3rd Generation (2009) iPod touches get everything.


In addition to the PDF, notes, and highlights enhancements to iBooks on the iPad, Apple announced the addition of iBooks for iPhone. iBooks on iPhone will have the same abilities as the iPad (in fact, it will be a universal app). Apple also said it will be providing free redownloading of book purchases to all of your iOS devices,a nd will sync wirelessly sync your place, bookmarks, highlights, and notes across your devices for free.


Apple recapped and demoed iAds, its in-app advertising platform, which will be debuting in apps on July 1 in apps that developers code them into. Honestly, I don’t mind ads in free apps. I am always about supporting the developer for their work. And if ads are the way to support a developer, iAds looks to provide a nice experience, especially since you can dismiss an ad at will.


Finally, Apple introduced FaceTime, which utilizes a front-faced camera on iPhone 4 to do video chats (this camera can also be used for self-portraits in the camera app). FaceTime is currently restricted to being WiFi only in 2010, as Apple works with carriers to bring support for it over 3G. Another restriction, one which I am sad to see, is that FaceTime only works from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4. I hope a future software update brings video chat from iPhone 4 to iChat on the Mac.

One thing that may help in that is Apple’s pledge to make FaceTime an open standard, so apps like Skype may possibly use it. 

Apple put together a touching video to demonstrate FaceTime as it will apply to people’s lives. I know I’d love it right now as my wife is traveling for a week. 

Pricing & Availabilty

iPhone 4 will be available for preorder on June 15th, and released on June 24th. It will come in black or white (the white model is white on both the front and back, and looks reminiscent of the first iPod). Capacity is 16GB or 32GB and price is $199 and $299, respectively, with a 2 year contract, subject to eligibility. The iPhone 3GS will have an 8GB capacity and sell for $99 with the same carrier commitments. The iPhone 3G has been discontinued.


I am absolutely enamored with the new iPhone. As I am at the end of my current iPhone 3G contract, I will be upgrading to iPhone 4. I would have preferred to see the capacities at 32GB and 64GB, but seeing as I have 16GB right now, 32GB will be a nice step up. I’ll just have to make sure to leave a few gigabytes free for that HD video recording.

Otherwise, I am looking forward with great anticipation to the new design, the Retina display, and the improved rear camera. Also, as I’ll be receiving it on June 24th, I may use it as my camera for a wedding I am attending on June 25th, seeing as how my DSLR would be inappropriate and awkward to handle. Casually snapping some shots at a wedding and reception should be a good gauntlet to put the camera through the paces.

Look for my hands on review around that time.