Long before it finally touches down in the market, the Apple iPhone has become something of an icon. It's not unusual to hear industry executives...
Long before it finally touches down in the market, the Apple iPhone has become something of an icon.
It’s not unusual to hear industry executives, analysts and consumers talk about it as if it’s been a tried-and-true product — even though only a few select testers have even used it.
The iPhone is a product with the ability to rock the landscape. Its “halo effect” has extended across the breadth of consumer technology, from manufacturers and software developers to technologies and customers.
Here’s a selected look at the impact it’s already having. We’ll see after Friday, when the iPhone goes on sale, how lasting the effect will be.
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Handset makers: LG
The claim: Apple says the iPhone has software “never before seen in a mobile device” that will redefine “what users can do on their mobile phones.”
The response: Competition among handset makers has long been brutal, with or without the iPhone. At the center of that rivalry are cool features and new uses, and many mobile phones have similar features to the iPhone.
Stylish name: One rival is the LG Prada, branded by the ultraexpensive and chic fashion house.
Touch in common: Like the iPhone, the Prada is keyless. Both rely on touch screens. The sensitivity of the screen on the slim, black Darth Vader-like phone also supposedly takes accuracy to a new level.
The specs: Technically, it’s called a “capacitive” screen, meaning that it uses static electricity rather than contact to register when a user has depressed a specific point. Untechnically, that means the thumb works well and you don’t need a stylus. LG has been reluctant to talk much about the phone, which is available in Europe and Asia now.
Others in the fray: Other handset makers have devices that feature touch screens or keyboards. Samsung launched one earlier this year with Sprint Nextel, the UpStage, which has functions on both sides. One side has a portable music player with a touch pad and a large display; the other has a traditional phone with a full numeric keypad.
Another distinctive phone is the Touch from HTC. With a sweep of the thumb, the screen displays an animated, three-dimensional interface for contacts, media and applications.
— Tricia Duryee
Smartphones: BlackBerry Curve
Challenge: The iPhone might not prove to be the smartest phone around, but in many ways it elevates the playing field for other makers of smartphones, such as Research in Motion.
RIM response: It’s no coincidence RIM’s BlackBerry 8300 Curve came out just before the iPhone launch. With the all the talk about iPhone’s features, the idea of a phone that comes close to the power of a laptop is reaching the masses. Competitors want to give them plenty of alternatives.
Expanding market: By introducing the Curve, Research in Motion is expanding outside its loyal business-user base to a broader market to compete with the likes of Apple, combining a phone, e-mail, Web browsing, camera, music and video players, and a standard, iPod-sized headset jack.
How far can phones go? Like digital cameras, newer smartphones come with side slots for small removable memory cards. Expect increasing storage — from 2 gigabytes now to 4 gigabytes soon (the iPhone has 4 or 8 built-in gigabytes, but no card slot). In the future, the memory cards might be shipped with content such as movies, turning phones into mini-DVD players.
Consumer response: The iPhone is likely to raise the expectations of consumers, too. Says IDC senior analyst Chris Hazelton: “I think this Apple phone could really open peoples’ eyes to what a phone can do.”
— Kristi Heim
Mobile carriers: T-Mobile USA
Jockeying for position: Bearing a five-year exclusive partnership with Apple on the iPhone, AT&T has strengthened its portfolio to win over customers. But competitors have their own plans.
Tech play: For T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest U.S. carrier, the strategy involves rolling out a nationwide service to allow customers to make calls on a Wi-Fi network. The service, called T-Mobile HotSpot@Home, is being positioned to encourage subscribers to drop their landlines. To use it, the subscriber would install a Wi-Fi antenna at home to receive better coverage indoors.
Can you hear me now? For the most part, the carriers have reached a plateau in building out their networks. The largest four carriers have similar coverage in the most high-traffic areas in the U.S., so they use the smaller things to differentiate themselves.
Defining attributes: Verizon Wireless, the second-largest carrier behind AT&T, has started to roll out mobile broadcast TV, a technology called MediaFLO. MediaFLO broadcasts the TV signal to the phone, rather than streaming it over the Internet. Sprint Nextel has dropped the cost of downloading a song over-the-air to 99 cents. Today, Verizon Wireless charges $1.99 a song; the iPhone won’t allow over-the-air downloads.
— Tricia Duryee
Technology: Touch screen
Touchable: The most distinctive feature of the iPhone is its touch-screen control system. You use your finger to manipulate buttons and controls on the screen.
Getting touchy: This is a breakout year for touch interfaces. Windows Vista supports touch controls, and it’s the basis of a touch-controlled tabletop computer Microsoft is releasing and a desktop PC that Hewlett-Packard is selling. New versions of touch-controlled Ultra-Mobile PCs are coming to market, and the iPhone is one of several touch-screen phones going on sale this year.
History: Researchers have explored ways to control computers and devices with touch-sensitive controls for decades. Basic versions are now common on portable devices, ATM machines and kiosks such as the debit-card entry systems at grocery stores.
The pitch: At the D: All Things Digital conference last month, Steve Jobs said, “Once you use this magical display, there’s no going back. It’s unbelievable.” He also said with the touch-screen keyboard, “it takes a few days to get used to it” but “I’ll bet you that after using it for a week, you will think it’s really great.”
— Brier Dudley
Operating systems: Windows Mobile
The landscape: Apple’s isn’t the first high-end operating system developed for mobile phones. Microsoft is on its sixth version of Windows Mobile and Symbian, used by Nokia and other handset manufacturers, is on Version 9.5. Linux is in the early stages of development for mobile use.
A rising tide: Or in this case, a flood of attention, lifts all boats. “This is good for everyone,” said John Starkweather, Windows Mobile group product manager. Most of the billion cellphones sold each year are so-called dumb phones with limited features.
“I think that lots of people will come into stores of the different carriers and say, ‘Hey, I want a phone that does music, and I want a phone that has access to Internet.’ And all of the different carriers will have quite a few different options for them,” Starkweather said.
Comparing touch: A touch interface has been part of many Windows Mobile smartphones. Apple touts its version of touch as an “entirely new interface based on a large multitouch display.” “Until a real person actually gets a chance to use the technology that Apple’s using, it’s tough to make any comparisons,” Starkweather said.
Version 1 pitfalls: Smartphones today are more powerful than PCs of just a few years ago, Starkweather said, and getting software and different compnets to work well and get good battery life is a challenge. “It’ll be interesting to see how they [Apple] do,” he said.
— Benjamin J. Romano
Applications: Navigation interface
It’s the software: Much of the iPhone’s success may depend on what it can do beyond making calls and playing music. That’s where applications come in. Apple basically controls all application development for the iPhone. But the attention the device has received is spurring some software developers to think big for the whole category of devices.
Fertile area: One rich arena for development is finding a new way to navigate mobile devices as they get more powerful but harder to use.
Merge, then build: Last week’s announcement that speech-recognition company Nuance Communications is buying Seattle-based Tegic could develop into one navigation solution. Together, the two want to build a mobile-phone interface that would combine to-called predictive text, and speech and handwriting recognition.
The technology: Tegic developed the commonly used T9 software that predicts what people type into the mobile phone with the nine-number keypad. Nuance builds speech and handwriting-recognition software.
Next generation: The merger isn’t a direct reaction to the iPhone, said Peter Mahoney, Nuance vice president of worldwide marketing, but the companies are dealing with a “phenomenon” of the mobile world. “Because the device continues to have more functionality and capability and bigger screens and more content available,” he said, “it’s becoming important to provide different ways to interact with devices, such as touch, text and voice.”
To buy, or not: Mahoney said the iPhone is not expected to have T9 or speech-recognition capabilities. But, he says, of the buying the device: “I’m going to be in line. It’s cool. Why not? It won’t be my primary phone, though, because it doesn’t support speech.”
Not alone: A host of companies are attacking this problem. Among them is Tellme, a speech-recognition company Microsoft bought in March. Medio Systems, of Seattle, and Bellevue’s InfoSpace are both creating search applications for the mobile phone.
— Tricia Duryee