Apple’s new iPhone 4

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 4 this week in San Francisco at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple’s week-long convention for Apple software and hardware developers. I’ve been an iPhone user since 2008 and still think it’s one of the finest pieces of technology I own. The iPhone 4 adds some exciting new features as well as some overdue ones.

Apple iPhone 4

Apple’s biggest marketing push for the iPhone 4 is FaceTime, the built-in technology that allows real-time video calling. We’ve been waiting for video phone calling since 1968 when we saw the space travelers in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey use video phones to call home from outer space. Video conferencing via satellite has been around for quite a while and Skype users have been able to have face-to-face chats over the Internet for several years. But building video calling directly into a mobile phone device is something new.

Now, to be clear, the FaceTime technology Apple has developed is not really making use of any phone systems, per se, mobile or land line. It only works from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 over a wireless network. Esentially, it’s a form of Skype over iPhones. So, if I’m at home with my iPhone 4 and I call my business partner at home on his iPhone 4, we can look at one another while we talk. We may as well just use Skype, right? Well, it does get better. Let’s say one or both of us are at a Starbucks without our laptop. Using the Starbucks wireless network, we can still make video calls on our iPhone 4. This applies to anywhere a wireless network is available. At the airport and want to make a video call back home? You’re good-to-go. Doing some shopping at a mall that has an AT&T wireless network available? You can talk to your friend at the book store via video call.

And there are other enhancements included with FaceTime, as well. First of all, the technology is ready from the moment the phone is powered on without having to set up a user name or account; it automatically works with anyone who has an iPhone 4 in range of a wireless network. Also, with the iPhone 4’s dual cameras – one front-facing and one rear-facing – you can show the person on the other end of the line a video image of you or video of your environment, switching between the two from a touch of the screen. Apple has stated that they’ll be submitting the FaceTime technology to standards organizations in hopes that other manufacturers will adopt the technology. This would open up video calling between other brands of phones, assuming they all don’t come out with their own proprietary version of video calling, which may very well happen. Apple has stated that the wireless phone networks simply aren’t ready for making video calls; I assume that this means that FaceTime calling will work over mobile technology once the bandwidth is available. I’ve not read any specifications on what data rates the FaceTime video calls require but I’m sure that information will be available as soon as the iPhone 4s begin to hit the streets.

Another new feature of the iPhone 4 is 720p high definition video recording. While file formats and recording specifications aren’t available yet, this is a big step up for video. Depending on the quality of the recordings, which we’ll discover soon enough, you  may be able to leave your pocket HD camera in the suitcase at times and just stick with your iPhone 4. The still camera has been improved, as well. At 5 megapixels, it’s not the highest resolution phone camera available by any means. But Apple says that using larger sensors on their camera will actually create better images than packing additional, smaller pixels into the same space. The sample images we’ve seen so far do look good. The built-in LED flash and better low light performance should also provide improvements.

An easily-overlooked aspect of the new iPhone 4 is the super-high-resolution screen. Up until recently, virtually every video display in the world – TV sets, computer monitors, mobile phone screens – have had a resolution of 72 ppi, or pixels per inch. This has long been the standard for video displays. The iPhone 4 features a 960×640 pixel screen with a resolution of 326 ppi! That is incredible resolution for a video screen. Most professionally printed documents are at a resolution of 300 ppi so this new display could actually be sharper than the full page photo you’re looking at in your favorite travel magazine. Apple calls their new display a Retina display because, at a distance of 12 inches or so, the resolution is higher than what the human retina can perceive. Those who have had a hands-on look at the new screen say that it’s stunning.

Of course, there are other new features and design enhancements included on the iPhone 4 beyond what’s mentioned here. You can read all about them here:

The new iPhone will be available June 24 and I’ll likely be on my way to get one for myself shortly there after.


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