Behind iPhone excitement, WWDC is a bittersweet affair

11Jun08

When Steve Jobs mentioned the fact that Australia would be among 22 countries to receive the brand new 3G iPhone ‘early’ on July 11, earlier this week at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, it was only natural that hysteria, in some form, would ensue. It did – the reliable Australian news sources have raved about it and the snippet of news has left bloggers, Apple fans and even everyday consumers salivating.

The upgrade of Apple’s relatively popular ‘dot Mac’ service to the renamed ‘Mobile Me’ product is also a major advancement in consumer push technology, and Apple’s analogy of a push server being ‘like a cloud’ will help the masses understand how the instantaneous multi-device updates of their calendars, contacts, mail, and other files works. This is a great product, and perhaps the most innovative and new seen in the keynote.

And whilst the iPhone-centric discussion put forward by Steve and his colleagues was all well and very good, we missed out on many key products that could have added to the excitement and driven yet more sales to Apple’s first retail store in the southern hemisphere later this month.

First, though, I must talk about the iPhone.

iPhone 3G

iPhone You've Been Waiting For.png

“We’re coming up to the iPhone’s first birthday. And now, it’s time to take it to the next level”. – Steve Jobs

It did have to happen sometime. After seizing nearly 30% of the US smartphone market in its first year, the iPhone couldn’t have continued to creep up on the BlackBerry’s territory without radical changes to the way Apple worked with the cellular networking for the iPhone. 3G is a natural evolution, and really it should have been integrated a lot sooner.

What is remarkable, however, is that Apple has pretty much slashed the price of the iPhone. An 8GB model will be able to be bought (on AT&T, in the US) for US$199, or around A$210. Of course, you will pay for your data and calls every month – but so does every other smartphone user. Why is it, then, that even the base model Treo – a proper Treo, not a Centro – the 500, is nearly A$560? The base iPhone is a work of art and so much more can be done out of the box. The iPhone is now more affordable and it’s difficult to debate the value.

Form

However, Apple took its time with 3G and, as usual, it has paid off. The iPhone 3G is gorgeous – gone is the square look of the previous model and in is a far more elegant, more organic form. The face of the 3G model is arguably indistinguishable from the first-generation model but in profile, it’s clear to see that the hand-holding ergonomics have been worked on substantially.

The back of the iPhone is still prettier than the front of its competitors. The aluminium finish with its distinctive matte black strip is gone, to be replaced by a glossy finish that should ensure that both sides of your iPhone should get equally marked with finger prints. However, the features are in the right place, the camera is pretty much identical both in form and in resolution, and the branding has stayed largely the same.

The new option of a white model has been somewhat expected of Apple in the past few months, but the online community has been unsure of how Apple could implement a new colour. Now that it is available, it seems natural; the normal glossy black plastic plating on the back of the device is substituted for a white one in the 16gb model. Of course, a black model is still available in both 8gb and 16gb capacities.

Function

The upgraded software that will ship with iPhone 3G, “iPhone 2.0”, was discussed at length at the keynote by several of Steve Jobs’ subordinates. Whilst power users will notice and wonder at the new features, such as the App Store, the new scientific calculator, and the fabulous addition of Microsoft Exchange and Cisco VPN, consumers looking to pick up their first Apple smartphone will take these in their stride.

The addition of assisted GPS will make Google Maps even better on the iPhone, though, and this is something everybody should notice.

The iPhone 2.0 system looks the same – perhaps a bit glossier, with more sophisticated additions and much more fluid networking capabilities. This phone will function like no other, just as its predecessor did. It is an excellent phone which really will bring ‘happiness’ through exploration and use.

Mobile Me.png
The excellent integration of the new Mobile Me service will prove invaluable to me, and certainly others. The ability to immediately have changes made on any of your devices – the iPhone, Mac, PC – is truly amazing. To know that you can change a contact’s telephone number from your iPhone, on the road, and know that your computer at home will have just updated too is fantastic. At the current price of A$139 a year, it’s excellent value.

You can store 20gb of your things – pictures, files, mail, calendars, and contacts and access them all in a beautiful Web 2.0 application from anywhere you can find internet or a public computer. This is just brilliant, and it’s possibly my favourite new feature from WWDC.

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So, what’s wrong?

Don’t get me wrong – the mass of iPhone announcements at WWDC has made me very pleased and I know that I will pick up a white model in July. However, I did expect to see a broader range of previews. Instead of flying into a full-on discussion for every product, you can find a quick summary for each.

Cinema Displays

Come on, Apple – where are the updated models? The current Cinemas are pushing five years without a proper refresh. While they are still beautiful, responsive models which will satisfy consumers and professionals alike it is time for something new. With displays like the Dell Crystal pushing the boundaries of good display design, Apple needs to pick up the pace to keep their spot in this prevalent market.

Refreshed notebooks

While Apple slams in an updated processor, a bigger hard drive and some more memory into (most) of its laptops every so often, the time for a major refresh of the MacBook and the MacBook Pro is drawing close. Many people expected this to happen at WWDC but clearly Apple has been a little bit preoccupied with squeezing a 3G transponder into that tiny shell.

The MacBook Pro is getting a bit desperate. It is still an impossibly beautiful product, but its appearance is essentially the same as the PowerBook G4 that came before it, making the design, again, more than four years old.

The MacBook could also use a change – maybe a more environmentally-friendly aluminium-and-glass casing to match the rest of the range. However, recent news has made it clear that Apple isn’t dropping the white glossy plastic look any time soon.

Regional iTunes pay video services

The UK iTunes store has just opened its TV show / movie section, allowing Mac, Apple TV, PC, iPhone and iPod touch users in the UK to rent or buy movies and watch movies and TV shows on their devices. For what it is worth, the expanded iTunes product lineup is cheap and I can only hope to be able to do this in Australia soon.

Think about this: in Australia, we have no Netflix-type service to rent movies over the television – if Apple could get in first and allow consumers to extremely easily rent and watch movies in high-definition over their Apple TV box, you could be sure that many, many people would jump on the Apple, and Mac bandwagon. We need this here in Australia. Bring it, Apple.

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I expected a bit more from WWDC, but what it did bring – the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 2.0 software, and of course, Mobile Me – was first-class Apple product. If only, if only, there had been a bit more diversity, and I would have been even more satisfied.

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