3G iPhone: Whats New And Whats To Come

June 16th, 2008
Bill Lazorik

On Monday, June 9th Steve Jobs announced the second version of the iPhone at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2008 keynote. The announcement comes about a year after the initial launch of the first iPhone and today we see that apple has taken some major strides in upgrading its capabilities. Lets take a look at what is new, what is still missing, and what is to come in the future.

First Whats New?

Faster Data Downloads With 3G

Everyone knocked the first generation iPhone for its slow 2G cell connection, but the new version sports a much faster 3G connection that will take advantage of the billions AT&T spent upgrading their network. There was always the ability to connect to an open wi-fi connection, but now nearly wi-fi speeds will always be available for instant internet access whenever it is needed. Due to its large screen and excellent user interface the iPhone was already, in my opinion, the best mobile web device, but with the addition of 3G current Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices lose the claim of faster access and with it any right to the mobile web crown.

Enterprise Features

The initial iPhone was deemed to be just a consumer device by many analysts, but the potential for more was always there. Now the iPhone has the additional software features to make it a true competitor to the Blackberry. Support for email and calendar sync with Microsoft Exchange, remote wipe, encrypted VPN connections, and application push all make the iPhone very friendly to corporate IT departments. The real advantage over the Blackberry will be Apple’s easy to use software development kit which will allow enterprises to create their own apps to take advantage of the processing power, gps, large touchscreen, and simple user interface. Companies can enable all sorts of internal apps for remote use on the iPhone. Imagine delivery companies building remote monitoring, electronic signature, and real time routing software; or slick, simple, and easy to use sales force automation tools. The possibilities are really endless.

GPS For True Location Tracking

Apple introduced location tracking on the iPhone in January with the launch of a feature that triangulated your position using the known location of wifi access points and cell towers. This feature worked fairly well in urban areas, but the accuracy was greatly diminished outside of cities. With the addition of true GPS Apple can have the best of both worlds. GPS gives pinpoint accuracy when outside and is needed for accurate driving and routing programs. The wi-fi and cell towers provide location information if the user is inside or loses line of sight with the GPS satellites. This three pronged combination is referred to as Assisted GPS, and it will turn the iPhone into a powerful location aware platform. There are a number of location based social network startups that have been waiting for this addition to help spur mass adoption of their programs.

Third Party Applications

The real game changer announced at WWDC 2008 is not hardware based at all, but rather the addition of applications developed by companies and individuals other then apple. This is the feature that everyone wanted to see from the beginning, but were instead left with developing web only apps. Now everyone has the ability to create any program they can imagine and make it available on the Apple download site. This capability is what allows companies to create their own internal enterprise applications and startups to build new business based around the iPhone. A few of the launch apps were demoed at WWDC to give just a taste of what is possible.

Sega has a game called Super Monkey Ball for 9.99
Ebay created a free tool for using their site on the iPhone
Loopt is a free location aware social network
Typepad demonstrated a free blogging tool with mobile photo upload (WordPress says they will have one too)
Associated Press – Lauched an app with breaking photos and video, and the ability to send your own photos to them
Pangea Software demos two games ported from the mac in just three days, Enigmo and Cro-Mag Rally
Moo Cow Music’s Band allows users to play virtual instruments
MLB announced “At Bat” for score updates and even video clips available just minutes after they happen
Modality Medical is a educational tool for doctors and med students
MIMvista allows doctors to view medical imaging scans on the iPhone
Digital Legends Entertainment demoed a new 3D game

A quick review of this list shows the diverse areas and fields that can benefit from the iPhone as a platform. Also, if you check out some of the games on this list you will be very impressed with the capabilities of the iPhone as a gaming platform.

What Is Still Missing?

Video Camera

The camera in the iPhone only takes pictures and most phones today are capable of video. This was a feature lacking on the first generation iPhone and one which many thought would be resolved already. However, other companies are stepping in to fill this need using apple’s newly released SDK. Qik and Flixwagon are two such companies which will offer mobile to web streaming video from the iPhone. Hopefully, someone will release an app that also records video to the iPhone. Really Apple needs to step it up in this department and build this funcitonality into a later release of the iPhone software.

Application Persistence

Apple still won’t allow applications to run in the background due to performance and battery life concerns, but they did announce push notifications which will let developers get around the problem of app persitence by sending notifications and updates to the iPhone. The considerations concerning performance are legitimate and this does help certain apps such as instant messaging. However, many types of applications will still need to run in the background to be implemented successfully. I see Apple releasing a secure virtual environment for certain trusted applications in the future. This will allow the iPhone OS to remain independent and regulate the resources used by background applicaitons.

Proper Keyboard

Depending on your phone usage patterns an easy to use keyboard may be your make or break feature. If you live and breath on mobile email then obviously the Blackberry is still the best phone for you. However, if you drift more towards the mobile web, video, music, or gaming then the iPhone is untouchable. I don’t see Apple rushing to release a version of the iPhone with a keyboard anytime soon. Lets see how the 3G version does over the next six months. Apple may release a few UI tweaks to the virtual keyboard and I would think haptic feedback would be in the next version.

July 11th Launch? Why The Month Wait?

Most analysts predicted that the iPhone 3G would be available immediately or at most a week after its announcement. So why are we waiting for its arrival? More importantly, Why did apple allow current stock to run down with the 3G so far away? They are losing almost an entire month of iPhone sales. There were a few people who caught wind of the production delay early. Import Genius was not one of them and they probably need to go back and review their data, because there is no way Apple is sitting on over 3 million 3G iPhones. Their service is definitely interesting, but may still be in need of some fine tuning.

Final Thoughts And Future Features

The 3G iPhone is a welcome revision to Apple’s flagship product and one which adds a host of much desired features. Fast 3G data access, larger 16gb version, cheaper prices (8gb for $199 and 16gb for $299), true GPS, enterprise features, longer battery life, and third party applications. It is still missing a few features which would make life easier for consumers and developers. A better camera, true app persitenence, and a few keyboard tweaks could help the iPhone, but really can’t detract from all the things that Apple has done right. Apple will have its supply line busy trying to provide enough 3G iPhone’s for the world so I don’t predict any immediate hardware revisions. We may see a few tweaks such as more memory as Apple gains production scale due to the synergies of the iPhone/iPod Touch lines. I would also love to see the front facing camera and video conferencing capabilities in a future version. However, the third party applications are the real killer feature. It is this ability which unleashes the iPhone’s true potential as a mobile computing platform by harnessing the combined intellectual and development power of the world. By opening up the iPhone with a very intuitive SDK Apple has brought us the mobile computing platform of the future today. I know Google Android, Microsoft Mobile, and RIM’s Blackberry will provide tough competition in the future. However, it is Apple who has a solution today and will be remembered as the first to bring a mobile platform to the masses.

Photos Courtesy of Apple

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