WWDC Review: Key iPhone 4, iOS 4 Features

The big surprise at the WWDC keynote by Steve Jobs was... well that there wasn't a huge surprise. Ever the showman, Jobs managed to get everyone excited about the new iPhone 4, the next generation of the iPhone OS (now known as iOS 4), and sold Apple's position as a leader in the mobile industry with statistics of the iPhone, iPad, iOS and App Store.

However, much of the news actually reiterated information from Apple's April preview of iOS 4 and confirmed information that has been passed around the Web in the form of rumors, leaks and details published by Gizmodo in April after the discovery of the lost or stolen (depending on whom you talk to) prototype iPhone.

While simple updates and confirmations may not make for the most exciting Apple event, there were still a lot of details that illustrate exactly how Apple will be bringing these anticipated technologies to market and that offer clues to where the company is likely to be headed in the long term.

Before I get into any detailed analysis or opinions about what Apple did announce, let's recap the major points of the keynote:

iPhone 4

Apple confirmed and expanded on the details of the new iPhone. It will be called iPhone 4, runs on the same A4 processor as the iPad, features a 5-megapixel rear facing camera with LED flash as well as a forward facing camera, introduces noise canceling mics (for audio/video recording as well as calls) and relies on the same microSIM format as the iPad -- in a side-loading tray, breaking with the design of previous iPhones. It is made of stainless steel and glass with integrated antennas in a steel frame. It will be the first iPhone to sport 802.11n support as well as a larger lithium ion battery. All of this is packed into a thinner frame than any previous iPhone, weighing in at 9.3 mm, which is 24 percent thinner than the iPhone 3GS.

The new iPhone will also include the highest resolution display of any mobile device to date at 326 pixels per-square-inch. Apple calls this "retina display" and pitches the visual quality as equal to or greater than printed documents. The name "retina display" is derived from the fact that the human retina isn't capable of perceiving the difference between images at resolutions higher than 300 pixels per inch. The 3.5-inch display also includes IPS technology for superior color and an 800:1 viewing angle. The glass of the screen has also been designed to flex to avoid breaking.

iPhone 4 also includes a gyroscope for six axis motion sensing as well as APIs built into iOS 4. This should open a lot of interesting doors for game developers.

The camera features include the tap-to-focus autofocus capabilities of the iPhone 3GS (which can, like the flash, be used in video as well as still captures). The rear camera supports 5X digital zoom. Video recording ability has been augmented with the addition of an iPhone version of Apple's iMovie, allowing for a pretty impressive range of video editing to be done on the phone itself.

Shipping details include both all black and all white models with storage of either 16GB or 32GB (mirroring the iPhone 3GS, which is now available for $99 with two-year contract in an 8GB capacity). Models will ship on June 24 with pricing at $199 or $299 with a two-year contract with AT&T (no word on additional carriers). AT&T will allow these prices for existing customers whose contracts expire anytime in 2010. Additional countries will follow in July, August and September with a total 88 countries by the end of September.

Apple will also be shipping an iPad-like dock for $29 and a protective case or bumper in various colors, also for $29.

iOS 4

Jobs previewed several features of iOS 4 (no word on whether Cisco will object to the name as the company refers to the embedded OS of its enterprise networking hardware as IOS). Many of these recapped or expanded on demos and details included in the preview event in early April.

Specifically highlighted were iBooks for iPhone and iPod touch, multitasking, a revamped mail client, the additional option of Bing search and the ability to organize home screen contents into folders.

A demo of Apple's iAd framework showed off an ad for Nissan's forthcoming Leaf electric car (noting that only through iAd could users request to be contacted with additional information or enter a contest to win a Leaf when it is released) and details about existing ad sales and clients.

Glossed over without additional details were additional enterprise features, the series of 1,500 additional developer API and 100 new user features beyond those highlighted. No doubt, additional details will surface through this week as WWDC continues and over the next few weeks.

iOS 4 will be released with the iPhone 4 on June 24. It will be a free update for existing iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G users, though some features, notably multitasking video-related capabilities, won't be available on the iPhone 3G. The update is also for iPod touch users, marking the first time Apple has offered a major OS update to iPod touch owners for free. Like the iPhone 3G, owners of the second generation of iPod touch will miss some features due to slower hardware, and like the original iPhone, the update will not be available for first generation iPod touch models.

Video Calling

For the classic Jobs "one more thing" the CEO showed off the video calling features built into the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 by placing a video call to Apple's head of industrial deigns, Jonathan Ives.

WWDC Analysis: Breaking Down the News

Now that I've given you a recap of the highlights of the keynote, let's take a look at the details that seem most significant for Apple, iPhone/iPad owners, the mobile industry as a whole, and for the use of iOS devices in business settings.

Retina display: It might be easy to discount the extremely high resolution display of the iPhone 4, but this is actually a big deal. One of the long-running complaints about reading material in any electronic format is crispness and eye-strain. Amazon succeeded with the Kindle largely because the Kindle's use of e-ink technology allows for crisp text and images (albeit in black and white).

While Apple has done great things with displays in pretty much its entire lineup, 300 or more pixels per inch resolution is significant. It was a major development many years ago when printers and then digital cameras reached this resolution. As in those cases, it will take really using an iPhone 4 in person to see the value of this technology. Combined with IPS for color accuracy and wider viewing angles for LCDs, this has great potential not just for iPhone 4, but for future generations of iPads and even MacBooks, iMacs and Apple Cinema displays.

This really illustrates that Apple is serious about taking on a range of its competitors when it comes to display quality. On the iPad, this is critical because it allows Apple to offer an experience on par with (and potentially better than) the Kindle and other digital readers. It definitely shows Apple's commitment to reading as well as video and gaming on both the iPhone and iPad.

802.11n and Quad-band HSDPA/HSUPA: Like retina display, the enhancements to the iPhone's network capabilities illustrate a desire to give users as extensive and fast a connection as possible whether that be through Wi-Fi or a carrier's data connection. For homes and businesses the inclusion of 802.11n is a vast improvement -- and this is the first iPhone to sport it. HSDPA at 7.2mbps was available in the iPhone 3GS, but offering quad rather than tri-band coverage allows Apple to offer wider support.

MicroSIM: Using a MicroSIM card like the iPad instead of the more standard SIM card sizes isn't a huge deal. Most carriers can offer a microSIM if they choose (and any SIM card can be cut to fit). What's interesting here is that Apple is actually pushing the microSIM as a standard size. Prior to the iPad, virtually no phones or devices in the US used microSIM. As with other technologies over the years (USB and 802.11b come to mind), Apple is choosing a standard before anyone else and may end up pushing the industry in that direction.

iBooks: Apple had a few key points when it came to iBooks. First, there is the integration of the iBooks app with the iPhone and iPod touch, which expands the scope of sales. Second, offering automatic sync of iBooks purchased across all devices owned by an individual (including the books themselves as well as notes, bookmarks, and current place), bringing the iBookstore on par with what Amazon offers to Kindle users (though no desktop version of iBook like there is for Kindle). All of this should help Apple grown beyond its current -- and surprising after only two months -- 22 percent share of the US ebook market.

Third is support for PDFs. This is significant because it offers the ability to access ebooks sold or distributed as PDFs over the Web. It also allows users to include non-book content such as manuals, employee handbooks and the like. For businesses and schools, this presents an easy way to distribute content to iPhones and iPads without worrying about ePub formatting. The same is true for anyone wanting to easily produce and distribute content as many free tools offer the ability to export or print documents as PDFs.

One nice thing here is that Apple is giving a separate bookshelf for PDFs, but still allowing all the iBooks features to integrate with them (including bookmarks, notes, and syncing between devices). It also offers an easy way to load PDFs onto devices via iTunes sync as opposed to file sharing through the iTunes Apps tab or third party solutions.

HTML 5: Even though Jobs barely focused on the HTML 5 in his keynote, by describing it as a platform for application development of iOS devices, he made it very clear that Apple is standing firm on its support of the standard. It also means that Apple considers Web-apps a viable approach for mobile applications (particularly important for developers that don't want to deal with Apple's approval or content policies).

App Store: Most of the news about the App Store focused on statistics. Jobs recapped the number of apps for iOS (225,000) and specifically for iPad (8,500 of which there have been 35 million downloads). He also tried to address criticism of the App Store by saying that 95 percent of apps are approved within one week and that the primary reasons app are denied is that they don't work as advertised, use private APIs (which may break when Apple issues an iOS update) or crash.

What's more significant is what he didn't address -- namely complaints that Apple sometimes arbitrarily changes App Store policies with little or no notice and that it occasionally removes apps without warning, as was the recent case when apps that approximated a desktop OS or widget-based features were summarily removed. Also absent was a response to complaints of censorship and Apple projecting its own code of morality onto developers and users.

Unified Mailbox: This wasn't really new information as Apple had discussed the revamped Mail client in April. That said, the unified mailbox is a major development and it has been one of the most common complaints since the original iPhone launched three years ago. The option of threading messages is also big because users are becoming used to that view format since it was pioneered by GMail and incorporated into various email applications.

Updated cameras: The updated camera on the iPhone 4 is noteworthy in several ways. That Apple has caught up to many other handsets with LED flash, 5-megapixel resolution and HD video capability is significant in and of itself (albeit only because it places the iPhone where other handsets have been for a few years). Obviously, the front-facing camera is also a major addition (particularly since very few devices offer one) and one that I can give Apple props for as opposed to the other improvements that should've been in the iPhone 3GS last summer.

Video calling: And here's where that front-facing cameras becomes important. Apple is among the first companies to offer an easy to use voice call feature worldwide. Some Asian handsets have featured similar front-facing or rotating cameras, but haven't had much worldwide success. Likewise, the EVO just introduced by Sprint includes a front-facing camera but doesn't ship with many applications for it.

The demo video illustrates a lot of the potential for FaceTime (Apple's moniker for video calling). It has potential to offer video conversations between friends and family, the ability for hearing-impaired users to sign to each other and it functions using either iPhone 4 camera in any orientation.

It also has a lot of potential in business and education as a "quick and anywhere" solution for video conferencing, displaying hardware and worksites to remote colleagues, and has great potential as a distance learning solution where someone can not only view a class in real-time but can also participate.

Of course, similar laptop and desktop solutions can already meet many of these needs better (for the time being) as video chat is integrated with the iPhone's Phone app, making it a technology that can be activated during a traditional iPhone-to-iPhone call. Although the actual video chat is based on Internet standards and protocols, it is currently tied to an actual voice call using traditional cell phone calling as the initial connection point. This is good in one sense (it is incredibly easy to initiate a video call) but also limiting (no option for group video conferencing or connecting to users of desktop applications that support video chat including Apple's own iChat).

Another limitation is that (at least through 2010) FaceTime will only function over Wi-Fi. This is most likely due to the network demands that a nation of video calls would put on existing carrier networks (particularly in the US with AT&T). It seems likely that Apple will push FaceTime onto 3G calls eventually.

So, while it's impossible not to look at the demo video without "Cool! We've even further entered the world of science fiction," it's clear that it will take time for video calling and FaceTime to fulfill its potential. It will need to offer calling between devices other than just two iPhones, it will need to integrate with other Internet-based video chat systems, and it will need to support multiple participants on a call.

That said, I have no doubt a year or two from now, all those will be in place. That Apple is using existing standards and pushing to make FaceTime an open standard means that third-party developers can be part of the solution for integrating more devices and existing applications and services with it. I'd even bet some serious money that Apple is already pushing the way to broadening FaceTime on its own.

iMovie: It seemed a foregone conclusion to me that Apple would release something like iMovie once it became clear the new iPhone would use the A4 processor. But I'll admit that I was surprised and impressed at the level of capability they've built into iMovie for iPhone. The ability to use all the core features of iMovie for Mac OS X (titles, transitions, the Ken Burns panning effect for photos, themes and so on) plus the built-in geolocation capabilities and their use in themes is, quite frankly, much more than I expected.

It's immediately obvious how these features apply to personal and family use. Not only can you shoot the video, but within minutes you can put together a high quality and HD resolution video and upload or email or multimedia message it. Personally, I tend to shoot video with a camera or iPhone 3GS and then sync it to my computer and forget about it since the moment of capturing has passed. Being able to edit it with a range of design options on the spot (while I'm still passionate about what I just shot) will probably result in me actually doing something with those recordings.

This also has significant educational and business potential. Teachers or students can shoot and play with video on the spot -- engaging with a subject and the editing process as well as sharing. For business, it offers an easy way for a person attending a lecture or conference to immediately share information with coworkers. It also allows for easy recording of meetings and better sharing than simply publishing minutes.

For anyone in a sales or marketing field (real estate and travel come immediately come to mind), it allows for almost instant capture of a product or solution complete with almost immediate high quality delivery of that product or solution.

Multitasking and Folders: We've already seen information and demos regarding these two new iOS features. You can get a sense of how both iPhone multitasking and Apple's Folder feature will work. Both are long-standing requests by iPhone/iPad users and both offer a lot of potential for transforming how users interact with their devices. Folder in particular has a tremendous amount of organizational value.

iAd: Again, iAd is one of those features we knew about and didn't really learn much more about at WWDC, at least from a user perspective. What we did learn was just how much Apple has already been selling this feature and that iAd will go live on July 1. The brief list of top companies advertising is significant in itself (AT&T, Best Buy, Campbell Soup Company, Chanel, Citi, DirecTV, GEICO, GE, JCPenney, Liberty Mutual Group, Nissan, Sears, State Farm, Target, Turner Broadcasting System, Unilever and The Walt Disney Studios).

More impressive is that Apple has sold iAd commitments of $60 million for the rest of 2010, which according to JP Morgan amounts to about half the forecast spending of all companies on mobile ads for the rest of the year. With Apple offering developers 60 percent of revenue generated by ads in their apps, this certainly makes developing iPhone apps a serious money-making prospect.

What We Didn't See Yet at WWDC

While the crux of this article is to take a look at the announcements Apple made, there were some omissions that deserve to be mentioned.

Enterprise and mobilesecurity details: The enterprise features that were touted as part of iOS 4 in April were mentioned briefly but without any new details or elaboration. Given that these features are of serious interest to IT departments across the globe, it was a little surprising (some might say alarming) that Jobs barely referred to them. The same goes for the additional security features such as encrypting email on the iPhone and offering developers the option of writing that encryption into apps that store data on the device.

On the one hand, this isn't completely shocking considering Apple removed the traditional IT track at WWDC. The focus of this year's conference is squarely on developers, who will find out about integrating additional security into their apps at sessions throughout the week.

As far as enterprise features go, Apple will no doubt release all those details on June 24 along with the iPhone 4 and iOS 4. Apple has traditionally released new versions of the iPhone Enterprise Deployment Guide with the release of the iPhone and OS. While, it would be nice to get all the information before then, most IT staff won't really begin rolling out the new OS until it's been tested. Also, any IT departments with an iPhone Developer Program membership will have access to those details (as well as the golden master release of iOS 4) today, whether they are at WWDC or not.

Details on future iPads and iPod touches, the timeline for iOS 4 on iPad and cloud-based services: While the first day was all about the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 as it will run on the iPhone, it is pretty obvious that Apple will be bringing a lot of this technology to future iPads and iPod touches. Apple typically refreshes the entire iPod lineup each fall (typically in September). This update is typically accompanied by a new release of iTunes.

This means that we can likely expect to see both an updated iPod touch (no doubt with many iPhone 4 features, such as a gyroscope and retina display) as well as a version of iTunes that revamps the way documents and files are shared through iTunes and any cloud-based features (like online iTunes library storage or streaming) at that time.

With no clear timeline on iOS 4 for iPad, I'm willing to bet that we'll see the details as part of that announcement. I wouldn't be surprised to see the announcement of new iPads at that point either (though this is pure speculation on my part). It seems logical that Apple would want to get some of the new iPhone 4 hardware into the iPad (gyroscope, camera for FaceTime, and retina display) as fast as possible while not jeopardizing current sales.

Since iOS 4 is slated to hit the iPad in fall when Apple will be refreshing iPod hardware and iTunes, it doesn't seem like large leap that the company would introduce new iPads at the same time. It would give Apple the chance to launch new iPads and reduce price on current models just in time for the holiday shopping season. If that does happen, I'd expect Apple to tie iPad updates to the same schedule of iPod releases.

Update on Game Center: Also absent was mention of the Game Center feature of iOS 4. I'm not entirely surprised by this since Apple did say it would ship as a beta version with the initial iOS 4 release and since any new information would be developer-centric (and thus delivered in other WWDC sessions).

CDMA iPhone and Discussion of AT&T relationship: With Verizon's CEO claiming last week that his company has no immediate iPhone or iPad plans, it isn't surprising we didn't hear anything on either AT&T's exclusivity with the iPhone and iPad or anything about a CDMA iPhone. This also tracks with the fact that most rumors put the release of a CDMA iPhone somewhere between August and early 2011.

iPad printing: Despite a cryptic email from Jobs confirming an eventual iPad printing solution, nothing materialized today. Maybe we'll see something on this when iOS 4 ships for the iPad.

So that's it for my commentary on the WWDC keynote. Stay tuned to EnterpriseMobileToday for more news as we approach the June 24 release of the iPhone 4 and iOS 4.

As a final note one the WWDC keynote, the one downside was the Wi-Fi issues that occurred during the demo. The fact that Apple was apparently forced to ask anyone in the hall to turn off Wi-Fi and MiFi devices so that Jobs could have better Wi-Fi performance is a bit disconcerting. Obviously, the reported 500 or so access points being generated would have some impact and not be typical of a real world environment. That said, in many urban areas commercial, corporate, and personal W-iFi access points (as well as MiFi usage) can be pretty significant. Hopefully this is not indicative of how the iPhone 4 might perform in such cases.

Ryan Faas is a technology author and consultant specializing in Apple technologies in both the home, enterprise and mobile space. His most recent book is "The iPhone for Work." You can find additional information about his work and consulting services as well as follow him on Twitter by visiting the Ryan Faas Web site.


mobile, Apple, iPhone 4, WWDC, IOS