In San Francisco, Apple's chief executive officer Steve Jobs took the wraps off the new edition of the on Monday, June 9, 2008. Aesthetically, the difference between the two generations is barely perceptible. The news makers, however, were the new additions to the much-anticipated gadget. The new iPhone sports a 3rd-generation (3G) wireless support, affording faster Internet connections than the previous, slower, EDGE support.
Another is the addition of business-friendly capabilities, such as synchronized e-mail and calendar through Microsoft's Mail Exchange, and access to corporate data. And of course, full support to third-party applications was touted and some were showcased. In addition, the new iPhone also supports global positioning system (GPS), which is good for locating colleagues with supported devices and for navigation.
And probably the biggest news was the price: USD199 for the 8-gigabyte model and USD299 for the one with 16 gigabytes. And the device will be simultaneously available in 21 countries on July 11, 2008, to be expanded to later in the year to 70 countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Jordan, Mali, Niger, Qatar, Senegal, and Turkey. The new price is a big departure from the USD599 price tag of the first iPhones rolled out on June 29, 2007.
Except for the announcement on broadening the iPhone map into several dozen new countries, every piece of information in Steve Jobs' keynote was widely rumored ahead of the event, though not confirmed. Exciting as Apple has made these feature to look, however, many users may not notice them. After all, Wi-Fi, which the iPhone has supported from the start, remains the faster, and most of the time cheaper, alternative to carrier-offered 3G. And what is the percentage of new young users who cannot live without Microsoft Exchange support?
What Is New in a New iPhone?
Still, the new iPhone is new in a curious way. It is the fullest realization of the bundling phase that mobile phones have been undergoing for the past eight years. Ever since Sharp, the Japanese manufacturer, offered a -mounted mobile phone in 2000, a near-consensus emerged among commentators (and it turned out, manufacturers) that bundling more services and features was the trend of the future for mobile phones.
And an arms race of sorts followed among manufacturers to add the most useful and intuitive (and not-so-useful-or-intuitive) features: a video-capture capability; a full QWERTY keypad; a gaming capability; MP3 player; support for business applications like corporate e-mail, Wi-Fi, WiMax, expandable memory, capable Web browser, Bluetooth (wireless short-range technology), infra-red, TV streaming, and bar-code reading; there were even experiments on adding landmine-detection capabilities to certain models of mobile phones. A 2005 New Scientist article rightly described the mobile phone as the new Swiss Army Knife.
But as is always the case with information technologies, the "how much is too much" question gradually arose. And it was not probably feasible to pack all the features in a single reasonably priced gadget. With a fierce competition and little time to ponder this long-standing question, most manufacturers seem to have opted for an easier solution: to segment the market. The ultimate exemplary of this thinking is Nokia, so far the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, with its tens of models geared toward different audiences. For instance, there is the "business" line, which is heavier on business applications, and the "media" line, with better support for music and video.
With a few exceptions (such as the unexpected success of Motorola's extra-slim Razr, whose external design was its biggest selling feature), the segmentation paradigm seemed to hold. And other smart phones manufacturers, like Palm and , in fact toed the line, offering different models aimed explicitly at different purposes.
Until the iPhone emerged. That was in December 2006, when Steve Jobs gave the first glimpses of the new keypad-less, multi-touch gadget, with a user interface carrying visual resemblances to the Mac operating system, which runs Apple's computers. On the new gadget, icons glowed, menus flowed, and the wide (3.5 inch) display seemed the first realistic option to browse the Internet and actually read stuff online.
If the ensuing media fixation on the iPhone, particularly after it was released about seven months later, was any indicator, that was Apple's finest hour. A Harvard business professor estimated that the free media publicity Apple received in coverage for the iPhone was in the vicinity of USD400 millions, Wired magazine reported last March.
As far as features were concerned, the iPhone appears to have struck a successful formula for the "how much is good enough" question. Most importantly, the sophisticated features were hidden under the hood of a breakthrough user interface. Internal complexity was cloaked in outer simplicity, similar to the Google homepage. Indeed Apple, which offered the first graphical user interface in 1983 in its Apple Lisa systems, made a point in its iPhone: Features were important (the Wi-Fi, the camera, media player, etc.), but the user interface was even more so. The interface was the fabric that held these features together and determined how they were, or were not, going to be used.
In its iPhone second act, Apple is focusing on making the best of its advanced interface. Thanks to a powerful processor, the new games, map applications, GPS, media player, all look exactly at home on the iPhone. Most of what the iPhone offers, strictly speaking, has been offered by others for years. But Apple's focus on striking the right bundle (instead of multiple lines and consumer segments) and superior user interface puts its iPhone far ahead of the competition. At least for now.
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