Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/09/iphone_4/
Superslim iPhone 4 enough to fend off Android?
Impressive new display, but no game changers
Opinion Apple CEO Steve Jobs duly stood up at the company's World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco this week to introduce the long-awaited iPhone 4.
This has become almost as much of a June tradition as Wimbledon tennis, but there was a clear difference this time around. To a far greater extent than on the previous three occasions, Apple faces some real challenges in the smartphone world, and it was not clear that the neat hardware and multimedia enhancements in iPhone 4 would be enough to meet them.
As Microsoft well knows, a product is most vulnerable when it becomes a sacred cow, so dominant that nobody dares rethink it. Although Jobs boasted of the "biggest leap" since the original iPhone, and of about 100 new features, the new gadget delivered nothing really game changing. No CDMA version or LTE roadmap, no real tinkering with the famous user experience. With HTC's top end phones breaking records in several markets and Android making steady progress, Apple may need to do more to hold onto its crown.
To be fair, for most handset makers the changes Apple did make would have been eye catching, and it may have been right to focus the enhancements on hardware design, where the iPhone often lags behind rivals as it does not in user experience. In particular, the unimpressive camera system has been overhauled and the new model is ultraslim, at just 9.3mm thick.
The most impressive new feature is a very high resolution display, at 326 pixels per inch. Apple has set itself up against the main trend in advanced smartphones, AMOLED screens. It claims its new Retina Display is "superior" to OLED, with Jobs employing his usual hyperbole. "There has never been a display like this on a phone," he said. iPhone 4 will pack four times more pixels into its 3.5-inch touchscreen than the 3GS, with a 800:1 contrast ratio.
Jobs said there were over 100 new features, many of them already well known to the blogs, and he focused on eight of the most significant. The first was the slimness - the latest iPhone is 24 per cent thinner than its predecessor, and Jobs claimed it would be the "thinnest smartphone on the planet".
Some of the enhancements were catch-ups, notably on the camera front, where the iPhone family always under-delivers. Now, at least, the handset has a front-facing camera - present on most smartphones for video calls - and LED flash. In fact, it has a whole new camera system, though this still only achieves the five megapixels that is average for smartphones - better than the 3GS model's three, but nowhere close to the 12 achieved by Sony Ericsson, Samsung and soon Nokia, or the eight of Motorola's latest Android device, Droid Shadow/Milestone XT720.
More innovative was a stainless steel band around the new handset, which forms part of the antenna system. "Stainless steel for strength. Glass on the front and back. Integrated antennas, and extraordinary build quality," was Jobs' boast.
Other claims include better battery life, at around seven hours of 3G talk or 300 hours of standby; and a three-axis gyroscope that ties together the gyro, accelerometer and GPS for six-axis motion sensing. This is geared to gaming.
Poignantly enough, Jobs' planned demonstration of the iPhone 4's clear display of web pages was thwarted by network congestion - not, to AT&T's undoubted relief, on the much criticized 3G system, but instead on the conference hall Wi-Fi. The hitch, though understandable given the number of Wi-Fi devices in the venue, was a rarity at one of Apple's famously well executed events, and may be taken as symbolic - of a company in its prime in the mobile market, but susceptible to previously unimaginable errors and attacks.
These, of course, come mainly from Android, though the emergence of Symbian^3 and Windows Phone 7 later in the year may also provide new challenges. For now, the Google community is starting to produce handsets that do not just mimic the iPhone experience, but sometimes exceed it, often at a lower price point and with greater freedom for users and developers.
This week, HTC succeeded in generating almost Apple-like levels of positive publicity for its EVO WiMAX/CDMA/Android superphone, which went on sale to become Sprint's best ever launch. Admittedly, this was not quite comparable to AT&T's iPhone - the previous record holders included Palm Pre - but added to HTC Desire's bestseller status in many European markets, Apple must know it has to keep a wary eye on Android. Devices like HTC's high ends, and new Android phones from Motorola (Droid Shadow/Milestone XT720) and Samsung (Galaxy S) will beat iPhone 4 on most hardware metrics such as processor speed and camera, and are starting to deliver similarly friendly user experiences like HTC Sense.
According to new research from Nielsen, between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of this year, Android and iPhone each grew their market share by two per cent in the US, while BlackBerry - which has yet to refresh its platform - lost a similar percentage. RIM remained ahead of the US smartphone game, with 35 per cent total market share, after iPhone on 28 per cent and Android on nine per cent - still way behind, but in international markets, it is closing on the two big proprietary systems even more quickly than in its home territory. The main concern for Apple in the Nielsen data will be that Android users tend to be younger than its own, with 55 per cent under the age of 34 - and the 18-30 age range is acknowledged to be the most important growth demographic in the advanced economies this year, as the smartphone spreads out into the mass market. How far iPhone 4 can help Apple make that transition remains to be seen, but continuing to exclude Verizon (and even Sprint) from its US addressable market is unlikely to help in the battle to fend off Android.
Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch
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