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Apple adds 'S' to iPhone 3G

AT&T shafts American fanbois

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WWDC Apple unveiled its updated iPhone today, and the only real surprise was its name: the iPhone 3G S.

Well, that and a new Voice Control application, plus the fact that the rest of the world will get the new iPhone 3.0's internet tethering and MMS capabilities before US iPhone users. AT&T won't offer MMS until "later this summer," and there was no mention at all of AT&T support for tethering.

AT&T lags behind the rest of the world in both these respects, considering how dozens of service providers in dozens of countries will support both features at launch. We can only assume that there is perhaps some hardball being played between AT&T and Cupertino's negotiating team.

Apple has decided to ride the iPhone 3G momentum for the foreseeable future, keeping the name of the new iPhone essentially the same and its look identical.

This focus was apparent in an ad for the iPhone 3G S shown during today's keynote at Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, hosted by the company's SVP for Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller. The ad's central joke hinged upon the similarity of the new 3G S with the popular 3G.

Status-conscious current iPhone users won't be shamed by trotting out their iPhone 3Gs in polite company, since they appear identical. They will, however, miss out on a set of new features:

Speed: Schiller presented the lead improvement of the 3G S as its speed - in fact, he explained, that's what the "S" stands for. Although he declined to name specific processor, GPU, and I/O hardware in support of his claims, he said that the overall speed improvements would be in the 2X range.

He did, however, note that the 3G S takes advantage of OpenGL|ES, and that it will be ready for 7.2 megabit-per-second HSDPA whenever carriers upgrade their services to that emerging standard.

He also noted that Apple's testing showed the 3G S to perform the SunSpider benchmark in 15 seconds, compared with an iPhone 3G running iPhone Software 2.2.1's 126 seconds and a 3G running Software 3.0's 43 seconds. Note, though, that SunSpider tests only the performance of the JavaScript engine.

Camera: As expected, the 3G S will have an improved camera. It's rated at 3 megapixels, though it's unclear as yet whether that figure is simply Apple's marketing department dumbing down the 3.2 megapixel spec often mentioned during the new iPhone's rumor phase.

The camera's "hardware and software improvements," according to Schiller, will provide auto focus, auto white balance, auto exposure, and improved low-light performance. Macro focus to 10 centimeters is also supported.

The iPhone 3G S's camera app will include a nifty "tap to focus" feature that will adjust the camera's focus and exposure to the portion of the image you tap on - focus on an object in the foreground by tapping on it, for example, or on an object in the background or anywhere in between.

Video: Video is also - finally - supported, at 30 frames per second for VGA resolution, while retaining the auto focus, white balance, and exposure of the camera. Rudimentary video-trimming is provided in the camera app, as well as one-click uploading to email, MMS, MobileMe, and YouTube.

Voice Control: The 3G S includes a Voice Control app that looks - in a demo, at least - to be rather comprehensive. Holding down the main button for a second or two launches Voice Control, which displays a waveform of the sounds the 3G S hears, with a translucent, horizontally scrolling listing of the commands it's ready to receive in the background.

Those commands include playing calls by speaking a name in the 3G S's Address Book or by dialing by number, playing tunes on the 3G S by artist name or playlist, and asking the phone what song is currently playing. For users who have found the iTunes Genius playlist to be of any value, the 3G S can also be asked to create a Genius list based on the currently playing song.

Compass: Also as expected, the 3G S will include a digital compass that can either simply tell you which direction you're facing or work with Google Maps to orient a map in that direction. The APIs for the compass functionality will be open to iPhone 3.0 software developers, as will the APIs for the new camera's capabilities.

Battery life: Schiller claimed that the 3G S - despite its souped-up hardware - will have better battery life than the 3G. Video playback, for example, will increase from seven to ten hours, and audio from 24 to 30. Wireless broadband using 3G, however, will remain at 5 hours max for both the 3G and the 3G S.

Pricing and availability: The 3G S - in both black and white - will be available in the US for $199 at 16GB and $299 at 32GB beginning on June 19th, along with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK. Other countries will roll out quickly, reaching 80 countries by August 9th. The iPhone 3G's price drops to $99 for the 8GB configuration immediately. ®

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