The next generation

Next week will all but certainly see the introduction of the fourth generation of Apple’s iPhone. There has been an uncharecteristic spate of leaks that have pointed us towards the upcoming new features of the new product, the main one being a forward-facing camera.

I’m not sure about elsewhere in the world but video calling was the big thing that carriers hoped would justify the massive investments they paid in license fees for the nascent 3G technology a decade ago1. There was just one problem: hardly anybody wanted to make those video calls.

If there is one company that can (and does) change attitudes by implementing things differently – and usually a whole lot better – than everybody else it’s Apple. Maybe the bigger screen will help, maybe the famous Steve Jobs reality distortion field will come into play or maybe iChat integration will be the game changer.

1 As an aside, don’t old BBC News website items look really strange? Every iteration seems to upset users but they’ve all been invariably for the better.

Mo’ mobile

Unless you spend hardly any time online – in which case I’ll assume you won’t be reading this – then you’ll have heard that Apple will be announcing something at a special event tomorrow. The general excitement is based around the much anticipated “slate” tablet form computer but due to the extended running time I suspect there will be other things on show.

Just like the iPhone, the applications and content for this new device will be distributed through the App Store. I’m also fairly confident in my predictions that the current applications will be able to run on the new device and that the OS will be heavily based on the iPhone. This system has come under fire recently but turnaround times have been much improved ahead of the explosion in content likely to be made available for the tablet. Personally, I’m a fan of the App Store approval process. Anything that comes between me and malicious content on my phone can only be a good thing. Of course, it’s not just a phone any longer: I do my banking, make online purchases and organize my life. Already the Android Marketplace has been a target of at least one application that tried to steal your data.

Apple are by no means perfect but controlling their system is what they feel is necessary to protect their customers. Having famously pushed for the removal of DRM from music it will be interesting to see how they approach the issue of keeping other content producers happy.

It’s all in the detail

I updated my iPhone to the latest software version (v2.2) the other week. Others have been impressed by the Google Street View, directions for walking routes and public transport, location actions (share, add to contact and bookmark) and one button return to your favourite apps but the best thing about this update for me are the podcast related updates.

Yes, that was “updates” – plural. Not only can you download podcasts over wifi but there has also been a subtle change to the listing order: newer ones are at the bottom of the list instead of the list being ordered by date descending. Now this might not make a lot of sense straight away but if you have missed several episodes then you can play them all in order, one after the other.

Unlike others, I am not clamouring for cut and paste. MMS and a fully functional SMS are at the top of my list of missing features.

It’s about the interface

Yesterday saw the launch of the first phone based on Google’s Android platform – the HTC manufactured Dream G1 with T-Mobile as the carrier.

Like the first version of the iPhone there have been some strange decisions: Carrier-locked, non-standard headphone jack, poor Bluetooth implementation, no tethering, voice dialling, video capture (or playback outside YouTube on the G1), VoIP or Exchange support. Unlike the first generation iPhone there is no desktop synching or multi-touch (John Gruber makes an incisive-as-ever comment on this) but on the plus side there is 3G, a slide-out physical keyboard, MMS and cut-and-paste.

Apple will carry on improving the iPhone. In a couple of years I’m expecting perhaps a graphene-based ultracapacitor instead of a battery or fuel cell (try getting one of those on a plane), an OLED screen with tactile keyboard and integrated camera.

Alongside these patents that have yet to come to market, there are around 200 others on the iPhone and a lot of them are related to the all-important interface. A friend was struggling to find the silent mode due to the lack of the traditional:

Menu → Options → Sounds → Ringer → Silent → On

The moment I flicked the switch at the side of the iPhone to turn the ringer off, a look of burgeoning appreciation of the way Apple does things spread across her face. An annoyance I do have with this is not having an dedicated icon on the screen to indicate that the ringer is off but – like the lack of MMS, A2DP, video capture or SMS forwarding – this is easily solved with a software update.

iPhone software 2.0

The new functionality that is included in the version 2.0 software release fixes a couple of the few things that annoyed me with the iPhone. I installed it last night after people with too much time on their hands found the software on Apple’s servers thanks to examining a bunch of XML files. I was in two minds as to whether or not to go ahead or wait for the official release from Apple but I was starting to adjust my body clock and needed something to do. I did have problems and was kicking myself for being impatient but after a few restarts of software and reboots of hardware I managed to restore my iPhone and update the software successfully.

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