Electronic Design

iPhone Sets The Standard Across All Categories

Apple’s iPhone was more than the best cell phone of 2007. It also was the best consumer technology— perhaps the best overall innovation—of the year.

The iPhone is a mediocre GSM/EDGE phone, just like millions of others. But its physical presence and fabulous user interface design make it unique (Fig. 1). With its full-blown iPod, Wi-Fi interface for Internet access, digital camera, and other desirable features, it’s a combination that designers will find hard to beat—and consumers will find hard to resist (Fig. 2).

Apple has sold more than 1.4 million iPhones since its June 29 release—and Apple wasn’t even in the cell-phone business before the iPhone’s debut. The company now has an annual sales target of 10 million units. With new U.S. phones slated for next year and a European release on tap as well, Apple probably has a good shot at that number. Key features include:

• Exclusive service through AT&T
• Four-band GSM phone (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
• EDGE packet data service with rates to 384 kbits/s
• IEEE 802.11b/g Wi-Fi transceiver for links to Internet via hotspots or access points
• Bluetooth 2.0+ EDR for wireless headset and PC modem
• Full iPod with 8-Gbyte flash drive with iTunes
• Audio response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz and support for all major audio compression formats
• 3.5-in. color display with a 480- by 320-pixel resolution—the biggest on a cell phone today
• Full video capability with support for H.264 and MPEG-4 video formats
• Touchscreen with icons and a full QWERTY keyboard
• 2.0-Mpixel digital camera
• Version of the Macintosh OS X operating system
• Mobile version of the Safari Web browser
• Lithium-ion battery life for up to eight hours of talk, six hours Wi-Fi Internet access, seven hours of video, or 24 hours of audio playback
• Accelerometer in the display that senses the iPhone’s position and orients the image (portrait or landscape mode) accordingly

The biggest criticism is probably the iPhone’s lack of 3G data capability. EDGE is still pretty slow for data, but it’s fine for simple texting. High-speed Internet access and e-mail require the Wi-Fi feature. EDGE isn’t too slow for general usage, but consumers who have 3G coverage in their area may want to wait for the next version of the iPhone, which likely will feature 3G WCDMA and maybe even HSPA.

Another missing feature is GPS. In fact, GPS-generated maps have become a major attribute on many new phones. Also, the general public has been grabbing up personal navigation devices (PNDs) like the Garmin Nuvi and Tom Tom. Still, Google Maps is available on the iPhone, and that may suffice.

Also, the iPhone doesn’t have mobile TV. It supports video, but not the forthcoming broadcast TV. Then again, neither do any other handsets—yet. There’s no doubt that this will be a future addition as mobile TV services roll out next year and beyond.

The latest news is the iPhone’s European debut. Cell operator O2 will be the choice for the U.K., Orange will be the carrier for France, and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile will be the carrier for Germany. The first 3G version of the iPhone may show up in Europe before it does in the U.S.

Another development involves the hacking of the iPhone—do-it-yourselfers unlocked it to make it work with carriers other than AT&T. Of course, Apple isn’t happy about the hacking. But now that it has been hacked, the company is taking advantage of the situation.

Apple has always had a closed-product policy, guarding its exclusive ability to offer features, software, and services. In this regard, Apple is just like the carriers who want to control everything as well. Yet an open platform should only make the iPhone more desirable as other companies develop products for it. Recently, Apple said it would open its doors to third-party developers and offer a software developer’s kit early next year to facilitate third-party development. The iPhone is ripe for all sorts of innovative uses for its large, versatile display and touchscreen controls, and dozens of companies are lining up to create products for this emerging market.

While the third-party prospects are encouraging, carriers will have the final say. Hopefully, the iPhone will pressure carriers to open their networks to all kinds of new applications and accessories. The greatest influence of the iPhone could be its ability to change that closed vendor-carrier business model we have all been living with. We shall see.

Finally, Apple is offering a $100 rebate to consumers who bought the original 8-Gbyte iPhone for $599. When Apple discontinued its 4-Gbyte version, it also lowered the price on the 8-Gbyte model to $399. That made lots of early adopters mad, prompting the rebate.

Competitors are rapidly catching up with Apple. Nokia’s N81 and N95 compete with the iPhone, but they aren’t so well known among consumers. Neither are other smart phones like RIM’s Curve and Pearl BlackBerry models, Palm’s new Centro, Motorola’s Q, Samsung’s Blackjack, and LG’s Voyager.

Smart phones like the iPhone haven’t been promoted as consumer phones, but that is changing. Look for some repositioning of existing models as well as some new models to compete more directly. Also, watch out for Google, which is expected to get into the cellphone business.

Apple has shown again how it can innovate new and desirable products, as the iPhone is a great example of a hot new product with no hot new technology. Instead, the iPhone is a unique combination of existing ideas, features, and technologies implemented with off-theshelf chips and other parts. If Apple can do it, so can you.

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