Apple's new iPhone looks like a beautiful device and it could indeed be a revolutionary cellular phone (see left), but it certainly
doesn't appear to be is not so hot from a wireless imaging standpoint. Indeed, the iPhone could be is a wireless imaging disappointment in some respects.
One reason for the disappointment is that for such a high-end gee-whiz handset, the iPhone's camera isn't such a big deal. It's two megapixels (see below right). That's nice, and most camera phones in the United States are still VGA or 1.3 megapixels.
Two megapixel camera phones are rare in the U.S., but it's certainly not revolutionary. Verizon Wireless for months has been offering a 3.2 megapixel camera phone. For many users, the iPhone's two megapixel camera might be just fine.
This depends, however, on the quality of the image. Resolution is just one criteria. The quality of the components and software makes a huge difference. I've seen some VGA camera phones that do as good a job as 1.3 megapixel handsets.
No flash or cover
In addition, from what I've seen of the phone and viewed of the specifications, there doesn't appear to be a flash. Granted, most camera phone flashes are rather poor, but they can make a difference in low lighting conditions.
Also, it's possible to use a more powerful flash in a camera phone, such as a Xenon flash, that does improve the brightness of the lighting.
Another problem -- although this isn't such a big deal -- is there doesn't appear to be any lens cover. I'm sure there will be many, many cases for the iPhone that will cover the lens, but how easy will it be to take a photo in such a case?
Camera phone lenses can get dirty and scratched when they aren't protected.
The iPhone doesn't have any zoom capability. To be fair, the digital zoom is almost always useless. Except in rare situations when you can't get closer to the subject and the digital zoom software is good, you're much better off using an image editing program to do the equivalent of zooming.
The iPhone could have included an optical zoom. The Nokia N93 (that I have on my desk, courtesy of being in Nokia's blogger program) has a 3x optical zoom.
Optical zooms make camera phones a bit bulkier and more expensive, and Apple is very concerned about style. An optical zoom would make the iPhone larger/thicker.
But optical zooms are the future of camera phones.
In addition, I haven't seen any specifications that indicate the iPhone can record videos. During his presentation yesterday at the Macworld Conference and Expo, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs spent no time discussing the camera's capabilities and said nothing about video recording.
It's possible the phone can record video and it's just not listed in the specs. I sent an e-mail to two Apple public relations people asking for clarification, but I'm sure they're so busy that I'm unlikely to get an answer quickly.
If the iPhone doesn't have video recording capability, that's pretty pathetic. With all the excitement about camera phone videos and, more importantly, the genuine value of being able to record videos, for the iPhone not to have that ability is ridiculous.
But since I don't know for certain, I'll just to wait for some official word yea or nay.
Update: The iPhone cannot shoot video recordings. This was confirmed to me via e-mail by an Apple analyst relations executive.
I am flabbergasted. That's absolutely ridiculous. I can't imagine why Apple would eliminate that feature -- a feature that is not only fun and useful to have now but one that is becoming increasingly important as the world realizes the value of the "citizen videographer."
Does Apple think it is too difficult for users to shoot video? Does it think it's an unnecessary frill?
Impressive as the iPhone appears, its lack of video recording makes it a wireless imaging dud.
EDGE versus HSDPA
There has been a lot of discussion about the fact that the iPhone -- at least the first version for the U.S. is based on Cingular's GSM EDGE data protocol, not its much faster HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access).
During Jobs' demonstration at Macworld, he used WiFi -- not EDGE -- to demonstrate some of the features, such as Web browsing. It would have been quite interesting to see the crowd's reaction when Web pages loaded v-e-r-y s-l-ow-l-y via EDGE.
EDGE is fine for sending and receiving text e-mail and it's often not bad for downloading Web pages. But for Web pages that are graphic-intensive, it can takes minutes for a single download.
Sometimes I've canceled the download because it was unbearably slow or the browser couldn't "digest" the page -- something iPhone's bundled Safari browser is likely to be much better at doing.
If you're at a WiFi hotspot, it's the fastest way to go. It's also possibly the the cheapest way if you're at a free hotspot or pay a modest monthly fee for unlimited service, such as from Boingo or T-Mobile.
We'll have to see what Cingular (see below) charges for data access on the iPhone. Currently, it has an amazingly large number of confusing data plans.Asymmetric rates
EDGE, like other cellular data protocols, is asymmetric so the download speed is faster than the upload. Uploading a large photo, for example, could take a while.
This will depend on a variety of factors, such as the amount of compression of the file in the handset before it's uploaded. Also, files may be uploaded in the background while you're doing other things with the iPhone so you wouldn't notice uploading a single large photo.
The specifications of the camera notwithstanding, the iPhone's software seems really nice, that is, duh, only to be expected given Apple's excellence in software. The main photo album menu is clear (see left), you can view 20 thumbnails of photos on the large screen (see right) and it's easy to scroll through the images.
Photos look great on the 3.5-inch screen that has a resolution of 320 x 480 at 160 pixels per inch.
In addition, the images automatically reorient to a landscape or portrait mode depending on whether the handset is held horizontally or vertically. You can also zoom in on images by using your fingers with sort of a "pincer" motion -- opening or closing your fingers to zoom out or in.
The finger taps are indicated on the photos by the white circles you can see on the screen.
Any image editing software?
It's also very easy to select a photo to use as a wallpaper, including positioning the image left/right, up/down and to zoom it in and out (see left). You can see exactly how the photo will look before you set it to be your wallpaper image.
I don't remember seeing anything in Jobs' presentation or on the Apple Web site about any image editing software bundled with the phone. With Apple's existing excellent, easy-to-use image editing software, I'd hate to find out that some software isn't bundled with the handset for such tasks as removing red eye, cropping, exposure, contrast, etc.
iPhone = iWon't
While much of the rest of the world is slobbering over the iPhone -- a handset that I, too, really like from what I've seen -- I cannot recommend it (at least based on Jobs' webcast and reading the specifications) for those of you who care about wireless imaging.
A cellular phone that can't record video is a crippled device.
If you care about wireless imaging, the iPhone isn't for you (unless you want it as a second phone). The Nokia Nseries and the high end Sony Ericsson handsets with 3.2 megapixel cameras, video recording capabilities and basic image editing software are far superior as total wireless imaging devices.
Also, wireless imaging (for me at least) also includes mobile television. That's another subject.
I'll write more about the iPhone in the very near future.