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WWDC 2010 – Thoughts on Apple’s iPhone 4

Earlier today Steve Jobs officially debuted the latest version of the iPhone during a kickoff keynote for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.  If you had followed any of the coverage related to Gizmodo’s early leak of the iPhone 4’s hardware this announcement wasn’t exactly a shocker, but there were some cool new hardware and software features that make Apple’s redesigned mobile device pretty enticing.

The iPhone 4’s enclosure is now significantly thinner at just 9.3mm thick, but despite that Apple have packed in new and improved components.  The phone now utilizes the A4 processor found in the iPad, has a longer-lasting battery, a new high-resolution display and 2 cameras (one of which has an LED flash and can record 720p HD video).  For the gamers in the audience the iPhone 4 even has a gyroscope that works similarly to the Nintendo Wii’s controller.  This means that developers can integrate precise motion gestures into their apps and expand the iPhone as a gaming platform.  Aesthetically the redesign is sleek and attractive, making it one of the coolest-looking phones on the market.

So the iPhone 4 has two cameras, but why?  Video chat of course!  Apple have developed a new application that takes advantage of the phone’s front-facing camera by letting users communicate over video.  Think Skype or Google video chat in the palm of your hand.  The only downside is that you can only use FaceTime when you’re connected via wifi, a presumable result of AT&T’s bandwidth restrictions, and you can only chat with other iPhone 4 owners.  Both of these restraints make me question FaceTime’s usefulness.  If the user is already connected to wifi they could just as easily use one of the alternative services above.  Although the concept is cool, video chat with FaceTime doesn’t seem like a must-have feature.

Retina Display 
On the other hand, a super high-resolution screen is an idea I can get behind.  The iPhone 4’s Retina display has four times the pixel density found on previous iPhones, meaning it’s much more clear and crisp.  Android-based phones like the Nexus One use AMOLED screens that provide an improved viewing experience when compared to traditional LCD displays, so Apple upgrading to the sharpest screen on the market is a much-needed feature.  Expect the Retina display to be rolled out into other products as well, such as future versions of the iPod Touch and iPad.

720p Video Recording
One way you’ll be able to put the Retina display to use is by recording and editing HD videos using iPhone 4’s improved camera and new iMovie app.  Now you can leave your camcorder (and computer?) behind but always have the ability to capture and share high-fidelity video in a snap.  The iMovie app is reminiscent of editing video with an iPhone 3GS, but now you can add transitions/media to your movie and even give it a theme.  It’s also nice that iMovie is a standalone app that you can get from Apple’s App Store, which should mean that older iPhone models can take advantage of it as well.

iOS 4.0
Finally, iPhone 4 will be the first Apple device to come with iOS 4.0 pre-installed.  Now your snappy A4 processor can take advantage of features like multitasking, application organization and custom playlists right out of the box.  The good news is that if you don’t plan on getting an iPhone 4 you can still use iOS 4.0 - the iPhone 3G and 3GS will get the update as well.  iOS 4.0 will come to an Apple phone near you on June 21st.

Is it time to upgrade?
With all of that said, is it time to upgrade?  For me, no, but not because I don’t think the iPhone 4 is a great smartphone.  One announcement a lot of folks (including myself) were really hoping for was a break in AT&T exclusivity when it comes to Apple’s devices in the US.  My personal experience with AT&T’s service hasn’t been great and it seems as though it has only gotten worse as of late.  In many areas I’m lucky if I have 1 bar of service, and if I take a few steps outside of town it drops off completely.  Verizon, on the other hand, provides a warm blanket of service in our area and I’m beginning to miss it.  I have my fingers crossed that Apple will find a way to get the iPhone to other carriers or AT&T will put up a few more towers near the Protocol 80 headquarters, but until then I’ll make due with my one lonely bar.