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Is the iPhone 4 also magical and revolutionary?

iPhone 4Until today it looked like the iPhone was starting to lag behind Android’s energy. Smartphones like the HTC Evo 4G and Nexus One were leading the pack from a hardware point of view, and key features were clearly being offered by these phones which were lacking on the iPhone.

Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 4 today will have a significant impact upon this dynamic. Here are my thoughts on today’s announcement, and in the interests of full disclosure I am an Apple shareholder.

iPhone 4: The new screen

While some competitors have chosen a bigger is better approach to screen size, Apple has chosen to stay put at around 3.5 inches diagonally. I’m undecided on whether a larger 4+ inch screen, and therefore a larger phone, is a good idea. Time will tell if the public adopts the sizable form factors of the Dell Streak and HTC Evo 4G en masse. Personally I would have liked to see Apple stretch the iPhone’s screen towards the top and bottom edges of the face plate.

The resolution of the screen looks to be a quantum leap forward, and something which I would love to see added to the next iPad. For gaming and web surfing, the extra detail on offer is likely to be a superb addition. Hopefully it will also be bright enough to be easily daylight readable.

iPhone 4: The new camera and HD video recording

This was one area where the iPhone 3GS was lagging badly behind competitors and while Apple has not put the iPhone to the front of the pack in specs, it may still have done so in quality.

Apple went with a five megapixel camera, which lags the leading phones that have eight. However it sounds like Apple has paid careful consideration to the quality side of the hardware by including a backlit sensor, which should deliver excellent results.

HD video recording is also a welcome addition, with the new iPhone offering 720p 30fps and a tie-in to iMovie which will be a $4.99 download. The iPhone is already the most used camera on Flickr, and this improved hardware could hasten the always likely death of the traditional digital compact camera and camcorder. Flip beware.

iPhone 4: Battery life

Perhaps more than any other large scale device manufacturer, Apple has been making battery life a core selling point of recent products. MacBooks and the iPad boast significant battery life, and this had been lacking in the iPhone. To be fair it is lacking in many other smartphones as well, with the HTC Evo 4G being the most recent release to suffer from short battery life.

Apple sought to address this today by claiming that the new iPhone 4 will have up to 40% better battery life than the current 3GS. That sounds like a step in the right direction, I’ll hold judgment until we see how it performs in real life situations.

iPhone 4: Video calling

I’m not wild about this one, purely because it’s restricted to WiFi usage only. It’s a cool addition, but I believe it will only truly change our communication habits when it is available over the carrier network. I also think that while occasional video calling is welcome, many people prefer to conduct conversations without video so they can multi-task. But aside from individual preferences, having the option is great.

iPhone 4: Multitasking

We’ve known about this one since January, and it will be a feature of iOS4 devices that support it, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. I like Apple’s implementation, which similar to Microsoft’s plans for Windows Phone 7, freezes an app and then revives it from the frozen state when the user returns to the app. Other specific apps are able to genuinely operate in the background.

What’s nice about this is that it does not give all apps free reign to constantly spin in the background, which would unpredictably eat up processor cycles and battery life. There are not that many use cases on a phone where this would be useful, so I prefer the idea of preserving battery life. Of course, the current iPhone push notification paradigm is at the other extreme and is very intrusive, so this will be a welcome change.

iPhone 4: Netflix

This in itself may reason enough to convince TV loving fence sitters to make the switch. Having Netflix streaming content accessible anywhere is a major plus and the app looks great. Netflix continues to go from strength to strength.

Is the iPhone 4 worth buying over an HTC Evo 4G?

That’s a tough question, mired in all kinds of considerations such as existing carrier tie-ins and 4G availability, so I’m not even going to attempt to answer it. What’s clearly the case now though is that if you’ve been holding off of owning an iPhone because of hardware limitations, like the below par camera, resolution and lack of HD video recording, then I think that issue just went away.

Now it’s really only about the software, and that is where Android is still playing catch-up.

Neil Berman

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Jun 7, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Mobile | , , , ,

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