EDITORIAL: Is iPhone 4 really revolutionary?

Justin Cauchon June 9, 2010 1

Earlier this week Steve Jobs announced iPhone 4, the 4th generation of the popular iPhone device.  This announcement was no surprise to consumers as most users have seen numerous photos of the phone before the announcement thanks to Gizmodo‘s lucky find. What we didn’t know before the announcement was the changes and improvements that would be incorporated into the device. I am going to quickly review the eight major design changes for those who are living in a hole.

  1. New external look (thinner, new frame, glass front and back)
  2. Retina Display (improved pixel density, 640×960)
  3. New A4 processor that will provide faster load times and improved battery life
  4. Gyroscope (much more precise movement)
  5. New 5-megapixel camera with HD video, a LED flash, and iMovie for the iPhone
  6. iOS 4, previous branded iPhone OS 4 (multitasking, folders, improved mail, background image)
  7. iBooks for iPhone
  8. iAd
  9. FaceTime (Video chat using front facing camera)

When looking over those features you see that three of the items will be available on most of the older generation iPhones: iOS 4, iBooks, and iAd. This leaves FaceTime as the only major software change that is exclusive to iPhone 4. That being said, the updated software will run better on iPhone with the addition of the gyroscope and theA A4 processor. However, the majority of the features in the new software can be used with the older iPhone 3GS. Not to mention it took Apple a lifetime longer than any other company to incorporate multitasking into its phones, but that is a topic for another editorial.

Next up is the new Retina display that will change how displays on mobile phones in the future. Apple explains on its company website that the new display is “the sharpest, most vibrant, highest-resolution phone screen ever.” While I have not played with the phone yet myself, I have heard from numerous friends at WWDC that the display is a “see it to believe it” type thing. Retina display has a pixel density so high that the eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels making text and photos extremely crisp and sharp to the naked eye. Apple has provided a video on its site that showcases the improvements with the Retina display that can be seen here.

The camera on the previous generation iPhones were in desperate need of an upgrade. To be frank, the pictures taken on the iPhone 3GS and 3G are not up to par with other camera phones on the market. Jobs announced major improvements to the camera on iPhone 4 that will change how people take and edit videos on the iPhone. First off, iPhone 4 will have a five-megapixel camera with a built-in LED flash on the back of the phone. The camera is said to take great pictures even in low-light areas with the assistance of the advanced backside illumination sensor. Apple has also added a front facing camera for self-shots and video chatting, which I will be getting to later. Looking at the pictures I’ve taken on my iPhone 3G, I am ecstatic at the possibilities with the improvements to the iPhone 4 camera. However, let’s compare iPhone 4’s camera to the Sprint HTC EVO 4G that came out about a month before the iPhone 4 is set to be released. The HTC EVO 4G has a 8-megapixel camera, white balance, and other photo effects. We have yet to compare the quality of photos taken on both phones, but we are betting on the HTC EVO 4G to take the trophy with this one.

Going along with the camera improvements, Apple has added HD video recording that records high definition video and saves it right to the iPhone. Say goodbye to the days of carrying around your iPhone and your Flip camera, we think that iPhone 4 HD video recording could potentially replace the Flip camera. Why? Because of the impressive camera and iMovie for iPhone. iMovie for iPhone is going to cost $4.99 and adds all the features you would need to make your amateur video into a presentable video that can be shared with friends and family. Using iMovie for iPhone, you can add a theme, music and photos, and share export it in high definition in an email or MMS message, on the web, in a MobileMe gallery, or on YouTube.

With the addition of the front facing camera, Apple has introduced a new feature called FaceTime. FaceTime will essentially allow iPhone 4 users to video chat other iPhone 4 users. The catch here is that this feature is only enabled through Wi-Fi. Therefore, once you leave a Wi-Fi enabled area, your video call will be ended or turned back into a voice call (we are unsure which yet). Jobs noted that they would be working with the carriers to try to get FaceTime working over 3G, but it will likely be sometime after 2010. With AT&T’s network already bogged down and with the provider eliminating unlimited data plans, we are left wondering what type of plans will be introduced to accommodate FaceTime. During the WWDC keynote where Jobs introduced FaceTime, he said “I grew up here in the U.S. with the Jetsons, and Star Trek communicators, and just dreaming about video calling, and it’s real now.” With this quote Jobs left many consumers thinking that this is the first time video chatting has ever been integrated into a mobile device. This is not the case. Video calling has been available on handsets in Europe for years and is currently available on Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G in the United States. What Jobs should probably have said is that this will be the first opportunity most consumers in the United States have to experience video chat.

So that brings up the question, is iPhone 4 really a revolutionary device? As much as I hate to be indecisive, the answer is yes and no. This device is revolutionary when it comes to the new Retina display that will essentially change displays on mobile devices in the future. When the first iPhone was introduced, the operating system was revolutionary in how it changed how every smartphone in the future was going to developed and how consumers were going to use their phones. However, iOS 4, the upcoming update to iPhone OS, is certainly not revolutionary. Multitasking has been available on nearly every other smartphone for the past few years and has been available on jailbroken iPhones for a long, long time. The other main features of iOS 4, like folders and a background image, have also been available for jailbroken iPhones for a while and are not really revolutionary in a way that is going to change the way mobile phones are developed in the future. The camera improvements on iPhone 4 are also not revolutionary in itself, but iMovie for iPhone might be. There have cell phones with 8-megapixel cameras on them for well over two years and many phones on the market come with a flash. The way that consumers are going to be able to edit their amateur shot videos from the iPhone with iMovie is a game change though. Without the use of a computer, users are going to be able to create professional looking videos out of what would normally be a amateur, boring video shot with a mobile device. I am excited to see what Apple will pull out of the bag in the next few years and what can potentially be added to future iPhone devices in the future.

[Photo courtesy of Huffington Post]

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