Apple Announces Internet-Ready iPhone

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At his keynote address at the Macworld trade show in San Francisco, Apple Inc.—note the new name—CEO Steve Jobs ended months of speculation by introducing the iPhone—and it’s not just a phone combined with an iPod. Instead, the device combines a widescreen personal media player handling music and video with full-blown Internet communications capabilities and a quad-band, EDGE-capable mobile phone. Think of the iPhone as a smartphone combined with a widescreen iPod with the addition of desktop-class Internet capabilities.

Physically, the iPhone is a slim 11.6 millimeters and sports a 3.5-inch, 160dpi touch screen, along with a 2 megapixel camera, a headset jack, built-in speaker and microphone, and an iPod dock connector on the bottom. The phone sports built-in volume controls, a sleep/wake button on top. A proximity sensor turns off the screen when users hold the phone to their heads; automatic orientation adjustment switches on the fly between portrait and landscape modes. But other than that, the iPhone boasts virtually no dedicated controls: instead, everything is driven using a new (patented) multitouch touch-screen, which Jobs claimed to be far more accurate than previous touch-sensitive displays and which puts the iPhone "at least five years ahead" of competitors. Users control phone functions via a Dashboard-like interface; all phone and application interfaces take place on the touchscreen. And the iPhone uses Mac OS X, tapping into Apple’s mainstream operating system for power management, networking, security, and applications—as well as the Macintosh’s renowned development community, all of whom will potentially be able to develop desktop-class applications for the iPhone.

As a phone, the iPhone is a quad-band GSM/EDGE handset—Apple’s exclusive partner for the iPhone in the U.S. is Cingular Wireless—and also offers integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless networking. According to Jobs, the iPhone’s "killer application" will actually be making calls: a "Visual Voicemail" application provides random access voicemail, and the iPhone features more-or-less standard SMS, calendar, and contact-tracking capabilities—all of which presumably sync with Apple’s Mac OS X applications. The phone’s interface simplifies setting up conference calls, making calls private, adding numbers and contact information to favorites, and offers a visual keypad for dialing numbers.

As a personal media player, the iPhone offers all the capabilities of an iPod, with music and video playback, plus the benefits of a high-resolution widescreen display for showing movies and video.

The iPhone also aims to be an Internet communications device, offering full email capabilities and leveraging Apple’s Safari Web browser to put "the Internet in your pocket for the first time ever." The iPhone’s built-in Web browser displays entire Web pages as though it were a desktop-based browser, while built-in zoom features let users magnify portions of a page and gestures enable page navigation. The iPhone integrates support for both Google and Yahoo search, as well as support for Google Maps; Yahoo will also be offering free push IMAP email to iPhone users.

The iPhone will come with standard headphones with a built-in control to answer calls; Apple also plans to offer a Bluetooth headset with a single button which automatically sleeps to preserve battery life.

Apple expects iPhones to begin shipping in June, 2007, with a 4 GB model priced at $499 and an 8 GB model for $599, each with a two year service contract. iPhones will land in Europe in the fourth quarter of 2007, and in Asia during 2008.

It’s unusual for Apple to announce products so far in advance: in the past, the company has preferred to debut products and have them available immediately or with only a few weeks delay. By giving the competition—like Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, RIM, and let’s not forget Palm and Microsoft—six months to counter the iPhone, Apple is taking a chance that the device will be greeted with a shrug rather than rapturous enthusiasm. But, then again, many Apple loyalists have shown they will wait as long as it takes—and pay whatever is asked. Apple says it hopes to capture a one percent share of the mobile phone market in 2008; that would amount to 10 million iPhones. We’ll see.

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