The Apple iPhone 4 and iOS4 finally arrived today. After months of leaks, there were no major surprises about the hardware, software or services. There are up to 100 improved features, of which 9 were prioritized by Steve Jobs at launch. They include a pixel-dense 3.5-inch “retina display”, Apple A4 processor, bigger battery, 802.11n WiFi, gyroscope, 5-megapixel rear camera, front-facing camera, HD video-capture and multitasking. All packed into a thin 9mm formfactor.
Services were front-and-center. Apple continues to favorably position its brand as an enabler of fun media for young-at-heart consumers. There is iBooks for reading, iMovie for film-editing and iAds for advertizing. The most ambitious move is FaceTime, a head-to-head videophony service using the front camera. The service has a catchy sub-brand, so it is off to a good start. But videoconferencing has been around for years and never really gotten off the ground outside Japan, so it will be interesting to see whether the iPhone ignites demand among western consumers or businesses. Two-way webcamming, via sites like Skype, is not uncommon among PC users, so it may be possible to transfer some of those usage traits to the mobile. FaceTime will initially be available only over WiFi, because operators’ 3G networks are not fully ready to cope with the potential spike in data traffic.
Many of the iPhone’s weaknesses remain. Despite the hype, Apple is not flawless. There is still no support for popular Flash software. The iPhone’s closed ecosystem and apps-approval process are not ideal for some developers. And the handset’s expensive pricing makes it heavily reliant on operator subsidies.
Overall, the iPhone 4 is another step forward. It raises the smartphone and services bar a little higher. Apple has done just enough to maintain its leadership in design, UX and consumer content. Nokia, RIM, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, LG and other OEMs still have some catching-up to do.