Everything You Need to Know about Apple's iPhone 4

By Will Smith

Today Apple introduced the fourth-generation iPhone, and there weren't many surprises. Let's get into it.

Today, Steve Jobs took the stage at Moscone Center to unveil the next-generation iPhone--iPhone 4. Naturally, we've got the full scoop, including info on the new phone's aluminosilicate glass bezels, the surprise gyroscope, the new backside-illuminated camera, how the videocall app actually works, plus a whole lot more--including info on the iBooks update and the latest details on the next update of iPhone OS 4.... I mean, iOS 4, including when you'll be able to update your current iPhone. 

iPhone 4

Today Apple introduced the fourth-generation iPhone, and there weren't many surprises. Let's get into it. The first thing you'll notice is that the new iPhone features a complete hardware redesign--the only thing that's staying the same is the 4-inch glass screen and basic button placement. Instead of a gentle curved back, the new iPhone features a flatter design, with straight vertical edges, and a flat back.
It's 9.3mm thick--24% thinner than the iPhone 3Gs. The sides are stainless steel, but the front and back are made of aluminosilicate glass. Settle down Trekkies, that's not transparent aluminum, just normal glass doped with aluminum oxides to make it stronger and more scratch-resistant than normal glass--like what Apple used on previous iPhones. The new phone ditches the old rocker-style button for volume, in favor of two discrete buttons--just like the lost iPhone prototypes. 

backside illuminated sensor, with pixels the same size as the 3MPixel camera in the iPhone 3Gs. Typically, this should mean that the image quality will go way up, especially in low-light situations, without the increase in noise that usually happens when you increase resolution. The new camera isn't quite a FlipHD killer, but it's awesome for a phone. Apple is continuing to use MicroSIM card to save space inside the device--the iPhone 4 has a slot for the new card on its side, just like the iPad 3G.


The biggest upgrades aren't immediately apparent though, at least not when the phone's turned off. The iPhone 4 gets a major screen upgrade to a 960x640 IPS LCD display. Promising better image quality than a comparable OLED, the new screen contains four times the pixels in previous iPhone screens. Apple claims that the new screen, which they're calling the Retina Display, crosses the threshold of pixel density that the human eye can discern at 10-12 inches. Jobs marked that at around 300 pixels per inch. The nearest phone competitor is the Nexus One, with a 252PPI screen, albeit with reduced subpixels. We've talked about pixel density before, but if what Apple is claiming ends up being accurate, then the screen on the iPhone 4 should be indistinguishable from high-resolution analog materials--like printed paper. We haven't had any hands on time with the phone yet, but the early reports out of Moscone are that it really does look significantly better than existing phones.
iPhone OS 4) automatically upscales traditional iPhone OS apps to full resolution. While in-app graphics are rendered at the 320x480 resolution of the older iPhones, the text is actually rendered at the new, higher resolution. The upshot is that legacy apps will look better than they do on iPad, and apps that have had their low-resolution art assets replaced with scaled up art should look fabulous.
Apple promises 7 hours of talk time on 3G, 14 hours of talk on 2G, 300 hours of standby, and 6-10 hours of Internet use, depending whether you're on 3G or Wi-Fi. And, as with the iPad, the A4 includes OpenGL acceleration for games and H.264 decode hardware for high-definition movie playback.
The only big surprise is the addition of a gyroscope to the iPhone. When paired with the accelerometer, this should allow motion control for games and app on the iPhone to be much more precise. The gyroscope ads pitch, roll, and yaw to the accelerometer controls. We just posted a full story about the possible impact of gyroscopes, but the short version is that apps probably will track movement along axes using the accelerometer as well as measure the precise orientation of the phone using the gyroscope. It's analogous to the Wii Remote with the Wii Motion Plus accessory, but without the WiiMote's light sensor, which allows it to determine its orientation using the light bar (the thing you glued to the top of your TV). The gyroscope supplements the iPhone's existing sensors--accelerometer, GPS, compass, proximity sensor, and ambient light sensor. I see big potential with the gyroscope for both gaming and augmented reality apps. The gyroscope should eliminate the weird, out of sync feeling you get when moving the phone in current augmented reality apps.

The iPhone 4 will be available for pre-order online and in Apple stores on June 15. The units will actually go on-sale or be delivered on June 24 in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan. The phone will be available in black and white with capacities of 16GB and 32GB for $199 and $299 respectively, if you're eligible for subsidized pricing from AT&T. The unsubsidized pricing wasn't announced. Other countries will ship in July, August, and September. Apple will have its own case for iPhone 4. They're calling it the bumper, basically it just hugs the outside edge of the phone, leaving the front and back unprotected. 


iOS 4

full iOS 4 story if you want more info.
  • iOS 4 will feature API-assisted multitasking, so apps can run key processes in the background and apps save their state when "closed" so you can switch between them quickly. There are multiple APIs available for developers to facilitate this, including ones for instant messaging and music playback.
  • You'll be able to put apps in folders on your desktop, which should allow for a nearly infinite number of apps on each iPhone.
  • There are tons of new APIs, allowing everything from the cutesy page-turn animations that Apple uses in iBooks to performance analysis and power usage.
  • Email updates: Unified inbox, Gmail-style threaded conversations, and support for multiple Exchange server connections
  • Yahoo and Bing are available for Google haters, though we're not sure how many users are actually going to switch. Google is still the default search engine, so this seems like a bit of posturing on Apple's part to move away from the appearance of being completely reliant on google services. 
  • iAds - Apple's new ad network for free/cheap apps. We're not terribly excited about iAds at all, though we can understand why developers would be excited for new revenue streams. It's unclear whether iAds will result in cheaper apps, or whether downloading iAds content contributes to your monthly bandwidth allocation.
All of this will be available to iPhone 3G, iPhone 3Gs, and iPod Touch (second-gen and newer only) owners, although not all devices will support all features. Notably, the iPhone 3Gs and current-gen iPod Touch are the only devices that will support multitasking. The RC for iOS 4 will be available to developers today, with the full version out on June 21. It will be free for all supported devices

iPad Update

There wasn't really any new info for iPad owners. Jobs updated the number of units sold (2 million), the number of iPad-specific apps in the App Store (8,500), the number of apps sold (35 million), the number of apps sold per iPad (17, on average). Then he talked about iBooks stats for a while. So far, iPad users have downloaded 5M books, although it's unclear how many of those are free books. The iPad will also be getting the iBooks update, which will add PDF support and the ability to sync your reading position between devices.

It's going to be really hard for Apple to trot out an iPad update in six or eight months with a screen that's clearly inferior to the iPhone 4's. The fact that FaceTime seems to be tied to your phone number explains why the first-gen iPad lacked a front-facing camera. It doesn't mean that a front-facer is a lock for the second-gen device either--although I'd guess that sometime between now and next winter, Apple will integrate FaceTime with iChat.
It will also be interesting to see if the iOS 4 update for iPad will fix text rendering on the iPad for scaled up iPhone apps as well. Unfortunately, we won't know until the iPad version of iOS 4 launches later this year.
There's going to be an interesting period between the launch of iOS 4 for iPhone and iPod Touch on June 21 and the launch of the iPad's version of iOS 4 this fall. There will be three separate platforms running on two separate versions of iOS. After June 21, you'll be able to buy iPhone OS4-specific versions of apps that will run on your iPhone but not your iPad. At the same time, developers who want to make their apps available on all iPlatforms will need to design them for three different resolutions: 320x480, 640x960, and 1024x768. 

The Boring Stuff

iPhone versions of the Netflix app (free), Farmville for iPhone (presumably free), and Guitar Hero for iPhone ($3), Jobs announced updates to iBooks that should bring it more in line with the Kindle as a platform. The next version of iBooks, which will be available on iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad "later this month", will allow you to sync your settings between multiple devices, just like the Kindle does. Additionally, iBooks will sync your bookmarks and notes between devices too. Finally, iBooks will add support for PDFs, although they'll be segregated in a different part of the app away from the ePub books you've downloaded. As with apps, you'll be able to buy books from iBooks once and then download them to all your devices.
To go with the new video capabilities of the iPhone 4, there will be a $5 version of iMovie available for iPhone in the app store. iMovie for iPhone will enable on-phone editing, including transitions, slides, music, and even the Ken Burns effect. I'm not entirely certain that video editing on a phone is a great idea, but the demos looked interesting. It remains to be seen how powerful a tool this will actually be. 
Jobs also touched on the controversies surrounding the App Store approval process, pointing out that Apple supports two platforms on iOS: HTML5 and the App Store. He listed the three main reasons that apps are denied entry to the App Store are the app doesn't do what the developer says it does, the app uses private APIs (strictly verboten by the developer terms of service), or the app crashes. He went on to say that 95% of apps are approved within seven days. This doesn't address the lack of transparency on the constantly changing rules of the App Store, nor does it address apps like Google Voice, which has yet to be approved by Apple.