WHILE STEVE JOBS mesmerised the audience with spurious information about the Iphone 4 earlier this month, it seemed we were in for another round of wallet gouging by the fruit themed toymaker. How wrong we were.
Punters left breathless after Apple's all-guns-blazing launch of the Ipad were given another hit of Jobs' "magical" abilities with the Iphone 4. The Iphone was the device that not only carried the firm as Ipod sales started to plateau but introduced a whole new industry. Now the Iphone has, quite simply, got better. However the shocker is that whichever way you cut it, the Iphone doesn't represent the usual Apple rip-off.
As the device went on sale in the UK, the expected queues materialised. The faithful rallied to the call and those in the queue had no qualms about laying down serious amounts of cash on a mobile phone. After all, with the alternatives doing a good job of looking distinctly average, why should they?
When it's down to the nitty-gritty, a contract-free Iphone 4 16GB costs £500 from the Apple Store. Currently the only viable alternative to the Iphone OS is Google's Android operating system, with the HTC Desire being the current poster child. That device in similar contract free form sells for around £400. The problem for HTC is that while it might be priced £100 less, against the Iphone 4 it most definitely shows it.
On the hardware side both phones have similar specifications. Processors, albeit different architectures, running at 1GHz, both having over 500MB of RAM, 5 megapixel cameras and even roughly the same battery life. So where exactly does Jobs earn his extra £100? For once it's not from slapping a shiny fruit logo on the back.
Unlike the Desire, the Iphone has considerable flash memory built in. While the Desire tops out at just 512MB, the Iphone has 16GB and unlike the Android operating system, the Iphone OS can use all of that for installing applications, without modification. The Desire might come with a 4GB microSD card, but a 16GB card from a reputable brand such as Sandisk or Kingston will require forking over £40.
So, merely getting the storage on an even keel wipes out 40 per cent of the Iphone's price deficit, a move so deft that it would make even George Osborne proud. The remaining 60 per cent is a little harder to quantify but that doesn't mean the Iphone isn't worth the difference to a great degree.
The Iphone 4, above all, should be lauded for its screen. If there is one area where any success enjoyed by Jobs will truly be shared by consumers it is his goal to make displays perform as they should. It might be hard to swallow some of Jobs' stances on issues such as Adobe's Flash software, Google or advertising, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Apple's leader is trying to do with displays.
The past decade has seen display technology pander to the whims of marketeers and ignore technological advances. Users have been subjected to third-rate displays adhering to 'standards' that are merely there to help manufacturers get away with peddling cheap and low spec products with little or no consideration for true quality.
Meaningless performance metrics such as response time and screen sizes have been supplemented with a useless aspect ratio. Even the fundamentals were ignored, and as screen sizes increased resolutions stagnated resulting in shameful pixel densities. Colour rendition was something that only hair colour adverts referred to because computer users simply weren't worth it.
So it was more than a breath of fresh air when Jobs first released the Ipad with an in-plane switching (IPS) panel and a pixel density of 140 pixels per inch (PPI). IPS panels have been shunned by display manufacturers simply because they cost a little bit more to manufacture. Better colour gamut and viewing angles? Hah, lets just overdrive cheap twisted numatic (TN) panels and advertise an utterly pointless figure.
It is sad then, that Jobs had to resort to his typical marketing fluff when describing the Iphone 4 screen as a "retina display". The 3.5 inch screen has a resolution of 960x640 pixels, which equates to an impressive, nay, awesome density of 326 PPI. To realise how large of a step change that is, consider a 24 inch monitor, which typically features a resolution of 1920x1080. Such a display has a pitiful pixel density of 92 PPI, a figure that was far surpassed by displays on sale almost a decade ago.
The Iphone 4's display is the type of feature that actually matters. It isn't marketing jive such as the backlit imaging sensor on the Iphone 4 or the dodgy antenna that can't pick up a signal. The high density display is the second most important feature Apple has brought in any Iphone, after the App Store.
All this isn't to say that phones such as HTC's Desire have bad screens, because they don't. However the exquisite display on the Iphone 4 goes some way to make up for the remaining 60 quid price difference. It also goes further to push the industry to incorporate equally high quality displays in other products and for that alone, it's a price worth paying.
It is important not to forget that the Android operating system is far superior to Apple's walled garden Iphone OS. The latest version, Android 2.2, continues to offer a delightful mix of choice, usability and high end features. However that might not be enough when pitted against a device that has well specified hardware, adequate software and above all, looks the part.
The problem for Google is that the high-end devices shipping with its Linux-based operating system simply are not cheap enough to sway users who have invested in Apple's App Store. By pricing the Iphone 4 competitively with similar high-end Android handsets and including features that justify the price premium, Jobs has done a credible job at delaying the inevitable day when the Iphone will have to bow to the army of Androids. µ
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