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Macworld 2007: Impressions from this part of the world

It’s been three days since Steve Jobs’ keynote in Macworld San Francisco at the Moscone Center. I still haven’t seen the keynote since the internet here is still pretty much down. My impressions will be based on reports and news from different Apple-centric and non Apple-centric websites as well as the dozen or so podcasts I’ve listened to so far. So here goes.

Steve Jobs in the first thirty minutes of his keynote talked about the latest figures from the iTunes Store and how Apple is generally doing. He allyed the FUD spread by one company about how ‘badly’ the iTunes Store was doing. After the figures he went on to showing the device formerly known as the “iTV”.

Impressions on the “iTV”

Ok, ok. It’s now called as Apple TV but from what I’ve heard, Jobs did slip every now and then during the keynote, calling the Apple TV as the iTV.

My reaction to the Apple TV: who cares. Honestly, for people living in this corner of the world, the Apple TV really wasn’t an attention grabber. How many people here in the Davao owns a HDTV? I haven’t even seen a HDTV being sold here. So nuts to the Apple TV.

‘Nuff said.

Now for the juicier part.

THE iPhone.

The very much anticipated Apple iPhone (there is the Cisco iPhone, you know. As well as several other products with the “iPhone” moniker) has been released! Yay! Months of speculation and thirst for Apple’s version of the cellular phone was quenched last Tuesday (Wednesday, 1:30 AM here) and it was not what everybody was expecting. Essentially, according to Jobs, the iPhone is three devices in one: an iPod, a mobile phone, and an intenet communication device.

Let’s skip the part where I go ‘oh’ and ‘ah’, and remark how gorgeous the phone looks like. What are the specs for this phone?

(From Apple’s website)

  • Screen size and resolution: 3.5 inches; 320 x480 at 160 ppi
  • Input method: multi-touch
  • Operating system: OS X
  • Storage: 4GB or 8GB
  • GSM: Quad-band
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) + EDGE + Bluetooth 2.0
  • Camera: 2.0 megapixels
  • Battery: Up to 5 hours talk/video/browsing; 16 hours audio playback
  • Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.46 inches / 115 x 61 x 11.6mm
  • Weight: 135 grams

From what we see here, the iPhone falls in the smartphone size and weight category but thinner. Camera is pretty standard for Americans, that is. So the iPhone is pretty much like a smartphone in its physical aspects but there are things that makes it stand out.

Here I will point out what makes the iPhone stand out from smartphones.

Mac OS X: The iPhone has the ‘core functionalities’ of Mac OS X. Notice that Jobs didn’t say it IS Mac OS X. The Mac OS would be too big and complicated for phone. So Mac OS for the iPhone is like Windows Mobile OS. From what I’ve heard, the interface is somewhat Mac-like and is ‘very cool’. What differs it from other phones that might be compared to it is that the iPhone is said not to support third-party applications. So unlike the Palm OS or Windows Mobile based phones, you cannot upload software from third-party developers. I think Apple made this decision so that people won’t be putting in badly made iPhone applications that would most likely screw up the iPhone. But this does present an opportunity to license a “Made for iPhone” license to developers of which Apple will pre-approve sets of software to be used in the iPhone and then sell them in the iTunes Store.

High-resolution 3.5-inch screen: This is the wide-screen iPod waith the touch-screen display that everyone has been clamoring for. Bigger and high-res. What more can you ask for? But wait, there’s more. The iPhone can be viewed in the landscape mode so that you can view movies, TV shows, and video podcasts in a bigger screen. It has a built-in accelerometer that will sense when the iPhone is oriented in the portrait or landscape mode.

Multi-touch input: If you are an Apple news junkie like myself, you should know by now that Apple was given the patent for the the multi-touch input for an electronic device back in early 2006. Jobs calls this the next step in the revolution of input devices following the mouse and the click-wheel. I haven’t seen the demo but from what I’ve heard it’s pretty impressive. “It’s simply intuitive,” someone said. Using the iPhoto app in the iPhone you can zoom in an image by spreading your fingers apart while on the screen or shrink the photo by doing a pinching gesture you can make a picture bigger or smaller by making a pinching gesture on the screen. Coverflow from iTunes 7 is also brought into the iPhone, this time instead of using your mouse or scrollwheel to navigate through the album art, you just slide your finger across the screen.

The multi-touch input screen can also be used to enter text. Jobs noted that almost all of the smartphones in the market rely on either a keyboard or a stylus to input data into the device. The keyboard, he says is stuck there and the stylus? Who wants to use a stylus? Yuck! With the multi-touch input screen Apple has designed a phone that gives users a much bigger screen real estate and a new way of interacting with a device.

But in a SMS-centric society like the Philippines, the virtual keyboard is not so great. How many of the people here rely on the fact that they can compose and send an SMS with just using one hand and not even looking at the screen? The tactile feel of the keyboard is enough so that people can exercise their rudeness by typing an SMS under the table while acting as if he or she is listening to you or play russian roulette on the road by “texting” while driving. Can you do this with the iPhone? Probably not.

The screen as an input device also brings in the problem of smudges, oil, dirt and other icky stuff on the screen. You need to have another accessory with you if you have an iPhone: wipes.

Wireless: With this device, it goes head to head with the Nokia 880, the internet tablet, and other Wi-Fi enabled phones out there. From what Jobs showed in his keynote the iPhone lets you view webpages just like on a PC. Wait! There’s EDGE, too! Nuts to EDGE! The built-in Wi-Fi will let anyone check their mail, surf the web, or chat on the go. Who needs EDGE or 3G? Here in Davao, all you need to do is find a hotspot, stand outside and Wi-Fi to your heart’s content. Ha!

A Nokia exec was ‘surprised’ that the iPhone doesn’t come with 3G. This is a kneejerk reaction from a company that has become really flustered. Steve Jobs clearly said that 3G will be included in later iterations of the iPhone. There’s a report that says the iPhone can be upgraded to 3G with a firmware update. But as far as I know, 3G sucks battery.

Speaking of batteries. As I have expected, the iPhone’s battery is internal and cannot be replaced. Again howls of protests and derision were heard from various fronts. The only times people would ever need to remove the battery are: remove the sim and to reset the phone because it hanged. I’m sure Apple or some other third-party will make an add-on or external battery for the iPhone.

My concern with the battery is that I listen heavily to music and podcasts everyday. It’s what I do everyday. I use my iPod nano at least 3 hours per day. Is the 5/16 hours battery life enough?

More wireless: Bluetooth 2.0 is also found in the iPhone and together with the $499 or $599 iPhone is a bluetooth headset that could be worth $79. Concerns: how well it works, how long it works, and how comfortable is it?

To sum up:

  • Screen: big and gorgeous; smudge magnet?
  • Multi-touch: cool, innovative, and ‘revolutionary’; no more blind ‘text-ing’
  • Mac OS X: seamless sync with your Mac; third-party developers: don’t bother
  • Storage: is 4GB enough? Hopefully, by June the $499 will be bumped to 8GB and the $599 to 16GB
  • EDGE: a nice feature but with all the free hotspots here, EDGE might not be that useful to me. For mobile professionals, perhaps.
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi: standard features, surf anywhere; but will it sync with your Mac using this or are will still stuck with cables?
  • Camera: at 2.0 megapixels, Apple can perhaps do at 3 megapixels.
  • Battery: ultimately the deal breaker; will five hours be enough when you phone, surf and watch videos heavily? What’s the battery life when listening to audio, SMS-ing and perhaps a call or two?
  • Size and weight: the iPhone almost has the same dimensions and weight as compared to the 30GB 5G iPod but is longer by just 0.4 inches or 1.2 centimeters and slightly thicker. I’ve carried the iPod ‘video’ for several months and I can say that even though it has a bit of a heft, I could get used to the iPhone.
  • Extras: the earphone with the mic should come in standard as well as a wall charger and cables. The bluetooth headset is a nice add-on to the package.

This has been a long rant and I’d like to end it right here. I need to get some work done. But I will be adding more thoughts about the iPhone either inserted in this blog entry or as a separate one.

Would I get an iPhone? You betcha! I’ll the lucky (or unlucky) Americans play with it first and let them work out the bugs. 2008 is not that far away but at the same time I’m just itching to get my hands on the iPhone and into my pocket.

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