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    Apple’s new iPhone a better computer than phone

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver July 28- August 3 2009 issue #1031

    High Tech Office column

    Last week’s column looked at HTC’s Dream and Magic, a pair of smartphones powered by Google’s Android, perhaps the best of the current crop of challengers to Apple’s iPhone. Ironically, both are available locally only from Rogers/Fido – also the sole Canadian iPhone providers.

    While rival phone companies and manufacturers search for an iPhone challenger, Apple isn’t standing still. A few days after Rogers’ Android announcement, Apple released new and improved iPhone models and pricing.

    The “S” in the iPhone 3G S moniker stands for speed – speedier main and graphics processors cutting boot time in half and letting applications start and run faster. Improved game performance is especially noticable. Even web access, though limited by network connection speeds, feels faster.

    The new phone also adds several features that users of the earlier models have wanted: an improved camera (jumping from 2.0 to 3.2 megapixels) with focusing improvements, video capabilities, basic on-phone video editing and YouTube uploading. Easy-to-use copy and paste. Voice control – though I found it somewhat hit-and- miss. A model with 32 gigabytes of storage for the price of the previous generation’s 16-gigabyte model ($299 with plan; $199 for the new 16-gigabyte model). Somewhat better battery life. A grease-repellent screen coating.

    Canadian customers get tethering – the ability to plug the iPhone into a computer and access the Rogers’ data network to use the computer online and MMS messaging. Neither of these are available to U.S. customers yet. (However, when comparing Rogers’ Canadian iPhone offering to AT&T’s U.S. offering, note that AT&T signs customers to a two-year plan with unlimited data access for US$30/month while Rogers ties customers to a three-year plan with one gigabyte of data per month for $60 or two gigabytes for $75.)

    Subscribers to Apple’s MobileMe service can now use it to locate a missing phone or wipe its data.

    Some of these new features – the speedier processor and the higher-resolution camera, for instance – are hardware-based; these are only available on the new models. Others – like copy and paste – are software-based. The software features are included in a new version of the phone’s firmware, a free upgrade for owners of earlier iPhone models. Rogers is continuing to offer the eight-gigabyte version of the earlier iPhone GS with the price reduced to $99.

    Also updated to the new firmware: Apple’s iPod Touch, which is in many ways an iPhone minus the phone, camera and GPS features, but also minus the monthly service charge. Owners of older Touch models can get the new software features, but for them it’s a $10 upgrade. Owners of both the iPod Touch and the iPhone can pick from the 50,000 (and growing) applications and games available at Apple’s AppStore.

    Still missing: unlike the Android phones, there’s no multitasking. Yes, you can receive a phone call while playing music, but otherwise it’s pretty much one application at a time. The web browser, while generally best of breed for smartphones, still lacks support for Flash animations and multimedia. And phone performance remains, at best, so-so.

    While the HTC models discussed last week offered removable (and hence expandable) storage and batteries, the iPhone continues to build these in – potentially a limitation. Some may prefer the physical keyboards on most BlackBerry models or last week’s Android-powered HTC Dream to the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard. And though Apple, last time around, improved iPhone compatibility with Microsoft Exchange servers widely used by large organizations, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones play better with corporate networks.

    Owners of last-generation iPhone 3G will find the new version appealing but not a must-have upgrade; owners of previous generations will find it more compelling. PC Magazine calls the new iPhone 3G S the “most flexible handheld computer.” Too bad it’s not equally compelling as a phone.

    Still to come: Palm’s entry into the touch-screen smartphone race: the Pre, expected later in 2009 on Bell Mobility. I’ll keep you posted. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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