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With some of the details of the new iPhone 4 leaked a few months ago by tech blog Gizmodo, the hype around last night’s launch of Apple’s latest version of the iPhone was always going to be more about the finer detail Apple CEO Steve Jobs would provide.
With a vastly-improved camera-operating system, a richer display, video calls, and some real advancements in the hardware department, the new iPhone 4 demonstrates once again that Apple is the undisputed leader of the smartphone world. Here are the key new features.
All New Design
The iPhone 4 has a new design we’ve already seen thanks to Gizmodo. It does away with the rounded back of the 3G and 3Gs, and goes the flat candy bar route. It is 24% thinner than the 3GS, making it only 9.3mm thick. Its materials include glass and stainless steel, and in my opinion, it is one of the best-looking phones to be released.
Apple says the screen is made from the same materials used in helicopters and high-speed trains, and is “chemically strengthened” to be harder, more scratch resistant, and more durable.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs calls the new display the “Retina Display”. It has four times the density of pixels of the previous iPhone’s display, making it 326ppi (pixels per inch). Jobs explains that 300ppi is the limit that a human eye stops seeing the pixels and starts seeing images as continuous curves: “Like text in a fine printed book.”
With the increased resolution, existing applications will look better as the text will be more refined. However, some work would be required to update any graphics in applications to support this higher resolution.
The new iPhone 4 is powered by the A4 chip, the same processor found in the iPad. This is Apple’s own processor, which is designed to be as power efficient as possible. The battery is the biggest component size-wise of the iPhone, and combined with the efficient A4 processor, gets you 7 hours of 3G talk time, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours of WiFi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music and 300 hours of standby time.
Minor hardware upgrades include 802.11n WiFi support and dual mic noise suppression. A micro-sim tray has also replaced the standard sim tray. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on South African sims, given that no operators in SA offer micro sims.
A new piece of hardware that has been added is the 3 axis gyroscope. Combined with the accelerometer and compass, this provides 6-axis motion-sensing to developers. This is the same technology used in Nintendo’s Wii Motion Plus, and should provide far more accurate motion-sensing.
The camera system has been dramatically improved in the iPhone 4. Apple did not simply increase their camera resolution, they improved their whole camera technology to enable better quality photographs. Bad photographs are mostly taken in low-light conditions. iPhone 4’s camera system tries to improve this by increasing the size of the camera sensor, increasing the lens size, adding an LED flash as well as adding a backside illuminated sensor which has only been seen in consumer cameras so far. All these additions allow more light to reach the camera sensor, and thus result in better, clearer photographs.
Video-wise, the iPhone 4 offers high-definition recording at 720p video at 30 frames per second. Tap-to-focus has also been added to the video mode.
Apple has also introduced video calls. They’ve named it FaceTime, and currently it will only work from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 devices over a WiFi connection. No setup is required. I can only guess that it uses their push-service technology in the background to connect two iPhones together.
FaceTime will be an open industry standard, and is based on a number of media encoding and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) standards such as H.264, AAC, SIP, STUN and RTP. This could be Apple’s way of slowly introducing a VoIP standard as networks get better.
iPhone 4 runs iPhone OS 4 (now named iOS4) which was introduced in April. This offers a range of extra functionality such as multi-tasking, folders, iBooks, a PDF reader, enhanced mail and enterprise support. We have yet to see how well their multi-tasking implementation works with third-party apps. The improved motion-sensing and front camera should lead to some interesting apps from game developers as well as an improvement in Augmented Reality (AR).
Apple’s philosophy is to make the best products in the world. They are one of the few manufacturers out there that make both hardware and software and they do it extremely well. With the iPhone 4 hardware and iOS4, Apple looks like it will continue to set the standard in the smartphone world.