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 Travel Tech 101

APPLE iPHONE'S
SMASH DEBUT


BY PHIL BAKER

January 25, 2007 -- After years of rumors, Apple finally introduced its much-anticipated mobile phone. Rarely does a new product create as much excitement as the iPhone.

It's a terrific product. But is it for everyone? No.

The iPhone is a mobile phone, an iPod and a Web browser with e-mail. While other smartphones have similar capabilities, none are as well-integrated nor as simple and intuitive to use.

The product is gorgeous, making other cell phones look archaic by comparison. It's similar in size and shape to an iPod, but about half an inch longer. The 480-by-320 pixel touch-screen display takes up most of the front. The back is matte aluminum with a tiny 2 MB camera lens at the top left corner.

The iPhone's breakthrough is its MultiTouch interface. Its screen displays colorful icons and buttons, and reacts to finger movements such as touching or making gestures on the screen. A gesture is a finger movement such as a slide across the screen or pinching two fingers together.

The iPhone syncs with your computer's contacts, calendar, photos, music and videos through iTunes software on a PC or Mac.

Phone numbers are accessed from a contact list using a virtual Qwerty keyboard or by scrolling and touching the number to dial. Once connected, you can conference in another caller, as well as access the Internet or send e-mail, all simultaneously. Voicemail is displayed in a list form that can be played back in any order (a nifty feature).

The iPhone's beautiful 3.5-inch screen makes it ideal for watching videos and displaying your photos; in fact, it makes a great pocket digital photo album. Photos can be cropped, attached to e-mails, added to your contacts and used as a background. The storage capacity is the same as the iPod Nano, 4GB or 8GB, much smaller than today's $249 30GB Video iPod. There's no slot to add additional memory.

The Web browser is superior to what's on other phones, aided by the big screen. Pages look just as they do on a computer, and you can easily zoom in and out and move around using finger gestures.

The iPhone works only on Cingular's network and Cingular has a two-year exclusive. The phone uses the company's slower EDGE data network, about one-fifth the speed of EVDO and HSPDA. That's a major disadvantage. Why did Apple choose EDGE? Perhaps to ensure all media would be purchased from its own store and not from others over the cellular network. The iPhone does have built-in Wi-Fi.

E-mail functionality works much like other smartphones, using the on-screen virtual Qwerty keyboard to type your messages.

The lack of a thumb keyboard with individual keys, a given on today's smartphones, will likely make typing more difficult; there's no tactile feedback and it's easier to hit the wrong key. Software tries to guess the key you meant to hit by looking at the string of letters before and after.

Battery life is rated at five hours for a combination of phone calls and video viewing. Audio is 16 hours and Wi-Fi will likely be less than five. The battery is non-removable, meaning you can't extend the running time by using a second one. And batteries do wear out after 400-500 recharge cycles. You'll have to send the phone back to get a replacement. That's likely a result of Apple wanting the device to be as slim as possible.

The iPhone comes with a number of widgets that provide weather and other information. Google Maps is built-in and works beautifully with the high-resolution screen. You can retrieve maps, zoom in, get directions, locate nearby businesses and call right from its screen. They seem made for each other. But the iPhone is not an open platform, so third-party apps will be limited to Apple's choosing. No mention was made regarding whether the iPhone would include software to read and write Word and Excel documents.

The iPhone will cost $500 or $600 for 4GB or 8GB models, respectively, and will be available in June. Monthly service is expected to be about $80 per month. That's about $150 more than buying a separate iPod and smartphone, but you're getting all the features and the large screen, so it's not unreasonable.

Is this phone for you? If you now use a Treo or Blackberry primarily for its e-mail capabilities, you may be disappointed because of its keyboard. Its limited applications, slower data speeds and non-removable battery are also distinct disadvantages. And if Cingular is not your choice of carrier, you're out of luck.

But for those who want to carry a single device that does most things very well, the iPhone sets a new standard. It provides a fresh approach to an all-in-one device with a stunning design and user interface, and a genuine iPod built in.

As for me, I won't come to a final conclusion until the release of the product, when it can be fully tested and the missing details filled in. But my prediction is it will be a smash hit because it's so cool and innovative, even with its limitations.

And most everyone knows about it. When the FedEx man brought me a package this morning from Cingular, he wanted to know if it was the new iPhone. Don't I wish!

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com

Copyright 2007 by San Diego Transcript. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.