iPhone 4: Is it a Gamer Changer?

Today Steve Jobs announced the latest and greatest, iPhone 4.  He mentioned that they’ve been working on this for 18 months, and it shows.  The new iPhone is 24% slimmer than the 3g/3gs model and it’s faster, better battery life, better camera, better screen… basically better everything.  He also announced FaceTime, which allows video calls on the iPhone 4.  The demo seems very simple, in fact the video Apple put together is quite emotional (<a href=”Watch theFaceTime video“>See video</a>).

I was especially struck by how much time and energy went into hardware innovation and improvements.  (See hardware design improvements).   The iPhone 4 gets a gyroscope which basically lets the phone track movement in more detail than an accelerometer.  The screen is a retina display which claims to be amazing.  And the phone gets a complete overhaul with a custom steel alloy acting as a frame and antenna.  The iPhone 4 is the biggest hardware upgrade to the iPhone to date.

The genius of the iPhone 4 is that it’s the most sophesticated phone hardware on the market, yet it’s the simplest.  This goes with the new camera, new FaceTime video calls, new OS, etc.  This is why so many people love Apple products… they’re beautifully designed, they’ve got great hardware features, and they’re super simple to use.

The big spoiler of the day was AT&T.  FaceTime is only with wifi video calls, because Apple needs to “work things out” with the carriers.  This is too bad… FaceTime really needs to be via cellular connection to have a mass adoption. Also, there was no Verizon (or Sprint or Tmobile) announcement today.  This means people like me still can’t make calls on their phone.  I wish Apple and Google would have partnered to buy out a cell company a few years back and use it for cellular data.  Let people have a “data only” plan at a reasonable cost with no commitment.  Soon people will only need cellular data as voice can go through the internet with Skype and eventually Google Voice and others.

So back to Apple’s headline, “This Changes Everything.  Again.”  Does it really?  I think it really is a big improvement to the iPhone and iOS 4 has some major improvements as well.  If Apple didn’t have to work with cellular companies, I think they could blow the competition out of the water.  But the cellular companies make things more complicated – distribution is more tricky, releasing features is more complicated, and it’s overall more costly to the consumer all the fees cell companies are charging to consumers.  Why has it taken AT&T over a year to release iPhone tethering?  (actually it’s still not out yet.)  And now FaceTime has to be wifi-only.  This is in addition to the terrible voice coverage of AT&T.  This really puts a damper on the iPhone.  Apple puts all this time/money/effort in innovation and going to market with features like videos calls, only to be hampered by cell providers.  The real game changer will be reformation of the cellular provider industry.  But in the meantime what will it take for the iPhone 4 to be a game changer right now?

The iPhone 4 needs to be offered on more than just AT&T in the U.S.  Apple needs to work with Verizon, Sprint and Tmobile to all carry it. This will give it more potential to be a real game changer.  Second, FaceTime has got to work with a cell connection and not just wifi.  Hopefully, we’ll get this in early 2011.  Third, FaceTime needs to take off as an open standard and get integrated into 3rd party apps like chat clients, Facebook, and others, then it can really be a gamechanger.

What is Apple referring to when it says iPhone 4 changes everything, again?  I think it refers to FaceTime.  Look for 2011 to be the breakout year for video calls and video conferencing on the iPhone and other phones.  Maybe the iPhone 4 introducing FaceTime will go down as a industry changing innovation like the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, AppStore, and iPad.

Apple doesn’t say that it’s introducing a game-changer that often.  Today was one of those special days.
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