Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave one of his better sales pitches during the Worldwide Developer Conference keynote earlier today. He had to. Gizmodo’s iPhone 4 prototype series revealed the major details. Other than the gyroscope, iBooks and iMovie for iPhone, Jobs shared little that wasn’t already known or reasonably guessed from Gizmodo’s reporting about iPhone 4.
That’s not to say the knowing spoiled the presentation. Jobs is simply too good a marketer. He has an amazing skill at emphasizing benefits while overlooking or diminishing shortcomings. Today he exerted a remarkably strong Reality Distortion Field, and it caught some tech users. Robert Scoble posted yesterday: “Back to Steve Jobs. If I were him I’d worry that I’ve lived without my iPhone for seven days so far and I haven’t missed having the crappy cell phone service from AT&T, not to mention I like having the extra features of the Android OS that aren’t yet available on the iPhone.” Three days earlier, Scoble posted about his “experiences without an iPhone for six days so far.” Bottom line: “Living without the iPhone has been a lot easier than I expect.” But Jobs’ WWDC keynote’s RDF washed over Scoble, who today tweeted: “Is this enough to get me to give up Android? It has me itching.”
Scoble will go back to iPhone, I don’t doubt. He won’t be the only person caught by Jobs’ RDF, which made the iPhone seem like a god among cell phones. Apple’s iPhone 4 marketing tagline epitomizes Jobs’ sentiments: “This changes everything. Again.” No, it doesn’t. But iPhone does foreshadow a future without PCs, and that would change everything. But hold further explanation on that topic for a few paragraphs. First: Nuts-and-bolts examination of iPhone 4.
The majority of new iPhone 4 features play catchup to capabilities already available on other handsets. I’ll go through some of the major features one by one:
Dimensions: The phone weighs 137 grams and measures 115.2 mm height by 58.6 mm width by 9.3 mm depth. Jobs described the iPhone 4 as the thinnest smartphone. For comparison, my Google Nexus One weighs 130 grams and measures 119 mm by 59.8 mm by 11.5 mm. Jobs is probably right about the size, although I had limited time to look. Next thinnest I could find: The Nokia E71, at 10 mm.
Screen: Apple calls the iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch screen a “Retina Display,” which is marketing speak for “We’ve got a high pixel-per-inch panel, but it’s not OLED and we don’t want to say.” Resolution is 960-by-640 pixels, with 326 ppi and 800:1 contrast ratio. Jobs claims the human eye tops out at 300 ppi. Well, yes and no. It’s true for print, but not necessarily for digital displays. Jobs did a little marketing magic, making the iPhone’s 326 ppi seem more important than it really is.
For comparison, my Nexus One’s 3.7-inch display is 800-by-480 pixels, with 252 ppi and 100,000:1 contrast ratio, presumably because of the OLED display. Contrast ratio is often difficult to measure across devices, but other than outdoor viewing I expect my Nexus One display to be as good as or better than iPhone 4. Higher contrast ratio is one reason. For example, black is truly black on Nexus One.
Camera: Steve Jobs really pulled some magician’s distractions when talking about iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel camera. He asserted that megapixels don’t matter, which is just hilarious; pixels don’t matter when Apple is playing catchup (the phone’s camera) but they do matter when trying to get ahead — or appearing so (screen ppi). Nokia has shipped 5-megapixel cameraphones with better optics (Carl Zeiss) and better flashes, for years. The forthcoming Nokia N8 will be 12 megapixels, and early samples are amazing. Apple is playing big catchup here.
Megapixels matter, but the sensor matters more. There, Jobs referred to the camera’s sensor as using “backside illumination,” like he coined the term right on the spot. Attendees could have cooed : “Oooooh. Ahhhh. Backside illumination.” I checked the Wikipedia entry a couple minutes later and someone had already updated with: “The iPhone 4 uses this type of sensor in its camera.” Geez Louise, does Apple pay people do this stuff? Because all the pertinent information about other backside illumination manufacturers and deployers isn’t there, but Apple gets a mention. Son of a bitch!
Backside illumination is a nice feature, but it’s not Apple innovation. OmniVision and Toshiba are among the manufacturers producing backside illumination sensors. Backside illumination is self-describing, by the way. The light is in the back rather than the front of the CMOS sensor. Frontside means the light must pass through transistors and other obstacles.
HD video: The iPhone 4 will shoot 720p HD video at 30-frames per second. That would have been innovation a year ago. It’s more catch-up today. That said, iMovie for iPhone is trendsetting for the features (It’s not the first on-phone video-editing application). The new iMovie software could eliminate the need for desktop software — meaning no PC required. I’ve been beating the “smartphone will replace the PC” drum for sometime now. Apple’s iMovie for iPhone foreshadows the future, as do several hundred thousand mobile applications, when the smartphone will be good enough for most functions the PC does today.
Something else: In 2000, Jobs pitched Macintosh as a “digital hub.” I see Apple pushing in the same direction with iPhone. Perhaps as soon as the next generation device, camera, video, battery life and supporting services will be good enough for Apple to position iPhone and iPad as digital lifestyle hubs. No Mac or Windows PC required.
Front-facing camera: Jobs ended his keynote by touting the iPhone’s new front-facing camera, like the future had come at last. Nokia has shipped handsets with secondary front cameras for years. But US carriers don’t support video calls, although AT&T has a video-messaging service. There’s nothing new about video calling, except that a bazillion bloggers and reporters will make it seem so by day’s end. Last week, Qik jumped ahead of Apple, announcing video chat for the just-launched Sprint HTC EVO 4G. Over at ReadWriteWeb, Sarah Perez declared: “Future, we are here.”
For today, the future is what Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field makes it out to be. Are you susceptible to the effects? Were you sucked in? By the way, if not for AT&T’s new metered data plans, I would recommend iPhone 4 to anyone considering an iPad.