San Francisco (CA) - Apple CEO Steve Jobs is not known for making moderate claims, so even his opening remark at his Macworld Expo keynote - "We are going to make history today" - was not really a surprise. But Apple could very well have a new winner on its hand: Not necessarily the iTV, which is now called the AppleTV, but a rather stunning cellphone, which makes the old Rokr iTunes phone a thing of the past.
Apple pretty much delivered on the rumors that had been floating around the Internet for several weeks - and what may be a bit of a surprise - the company did not announce much more than the core products we expected anyway. However, while we expected the iTV, Apple's approach to the family room media center TV, to take center stage, it turned out be more of a sideshow event that led up to the big news of the day.
The iTV, now called the AppleTV, connects directly to iTunes and can stream content to up to five different Macs or PCs. It comes with what we would consider a smallish 40 GB hard drive and includes 802.11 b/g/draft-n wireless capability. It delivers video content in 720p - which means that storing content on that tiny hard drive may turn out to be a challenge. But then, the AppleTV is reasonably priced at $300.
So, what was the big news? Well, it was the iPhone.
Now, if you are disappointed that it was "just" a phone, remember that "making history" may mean something different to you than it does to Apple. The new iPhone continues an Apple tradition that we have seen rather often in the last decade: Instead of inventing a completely new device, the company takes on already existing devices and enhances their mass market appeal - for example, we have seen this with rewriteable optical discs in 2000 and with the iPod MP3 player in 2001.
The iPhone hits on an already 1+ billion device market, but Apple managed to create a device that, for the first time, combines the functionality of an iPod with a cellphone and an Internet communications device. At least from a first look, and judging from the on-stage demonstration, the iPhone looks special and offer unique features in the highly competitive cellphone market.
The device is slightly larger than your average phone, but comes with a 3.5" touchscreen that covers the majority of the front plate of the device. At 11.6 mm, it is not the thinnest phone out there, but it is thin enough to be able to escape the definition of being bulky. Standard equipment include 4 GB or 8 GB of flash memory storage, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, a web browser, push email (with Yahoo email). Instead of relying on other software companies, Apple decided to use Mac OS X as operating system for the iPhone, which will be available in a quad-band GSM/EDGE version from Cingular Wireless.
Pricing for the phone is set at $500 for the 4 GB version and $600 for the 8 GB model. It will be available in the U.S. beginning in June of this year.
Using the phone is handled completely through the touchscreen, which provides a crisp 160 dpi resolution. On the iPod side, the device plays audio and video, just like the firm's MP3 player, however, it offers a capability to automatically go into landscape mode as soon as a user holds the device horizontally. Internet connectivity is established via Wi-Fi or EDGE and covers web browsing as well as iMap or POP3 e-mail services. A unique feature is push email for users of Yahoo Mail, which is provided free of charge to iPhone users. The web browser also comes with some unique touches such as an option to open multiple windows simultaneously (and minimize non-active windows). According to Steve Jobs, the iPhone "is the Internet in your pocket for the first time ever."
Jobs said that the company hopes for a 1% market share in the cellphone market within twelve months. Considering that we already live in a 1 billion cellphones a year market, that number could be huge and mean the next billion dollars of revenues for Apple. But we have to keep in perspective that Apple enters the market on the very high end - and sales and growth are happening mostly below the $100 mark these days. In that sense, 1% is a very ambitious goal.
A surprising aspect of the iPhone is its name. Last month Linksys launched its Wi-Fi iPhone and we noted at the time that the company had trademarked the term "iPhone" already back in 1999 as "computer hardware and software for providing integrated telephone communication with computerized global information networks."
Is it an historic event we have seen today? Maybe. In any case, Apple apparently believes it which is showcased by the fact that the company stressed that its company name is not "Apple Computer" but rather "Apple".