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Apple iPhone 3GS Disappoints at 2009 WWDC

For those of us without Apple tattoos, the reaction to Apple’s new iPhone 3G S, announced on Monday, seems to look pretty unanimous.

“That’s it?”

After building feature wish lists for months, furiously posting rumors in forums, and even mocking up Photoshopped prototypes of the new iPhone, Mac fans were today rewarded with… a slightly better iPhone 3G. If the leap from first-gen iPhone to second could be considered a baby step, consider this one a fetal heart murmur, because Apple clearly had no idea how to shine up the product it launched a year ago.

Sadly, the biggest news came with the new phone’s 3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus and video recording capabilities, which are both features the 3G model should have had at launch, when plenty of other high-quality smartphones did. Heck, Samsung was rocking 3.2 megapixels back in 2006, about the same time most users were discovering more pixels didn’t really equate to better pictures anyway. Better late than never, I suppose, but you know Apple’s crunched for innovation when it’s bragging about features that competitors have quite literally offered for years. And where’s the flash?

iPhone 3G s

The iPhone 3G S has a 3.2 megapixel camera and video editing

Of course, Apple has tried to dress up this ho-hum hardware with in-phone video editing, but the utility of this feature seems pretty questionable. I’m still not sure why I would put myself through the masochistic task of video editing on a tiny 3.5-inch screen rather than a laptop, or furthermore, why I would attempt to push those clips upstream to YouTube over a pipe as tiny as a 3G modem. But I guess if you can’t wait 30 minutes to get a clip of your friend hitting his groin in a skateboarding accident onto the Internet, the 3G S is a must-have.

About the only thing I’m ready to concede might be a real step forward this thing is the faster processor. As an iPhone 3G owner, I’ve definitely run up against the speed limits of the existing phone quite a bit –especially when I seem to be in a hurry. But like a lot of processor upgrades, I’ll believe the speed when I witness it myself. Apple claims the new phone performs “up to two times faster” than the old one, but if you cut behind the marketing speak, that could just as well mean it autocorrects your type in two milliseconds instead of four.

iPhone 3G s

The iPhone 3G S’ processor is supposed to be 2X faster

An additional 16GB of internal memory may look enticing for movie buffs and music collectors still clinging to their high-capacity iPods, but Apple has once again closed the door for easy expansion by including no microSD slot. The logic is baffling, until you consider that the company still manages to charge another $100 for 16GB of memory at the same time a 16GB microSD card runs for $45. Cha-ching.

And that finally brings us to the compass, which is almost too pitiful to even pick on. Congratulations, Apple: You’ve managed to mimic a second-century navigation device in the year 2009. I’m sure it will get a lot of use in a smartphone that can already locate your position with almost pinpoint accuracy and put you on map that uses satellite imagery. (And don’t you urban hipsters even pretend you’re going to use this thing on your next remote hiking trip to bring you back to civilization.)

iPhone 3G s

The iPhone 3G S has a build-in digital compass

To close on a positive note, Apple couldn’t quite muster the audacity to charge any more money for the new version, so those of you who have been holding out for months to buy new phones can at least miserably purchase your new ones at the same price. Just remember: no colors, no keyboards, no bigger screens. But it has a compass.