Add one more reason to doubt the iPhone hype: It appears that Apple's uberdevice utilizes a totally proprietary 1.5:1 aspect ratio. While that's wider than the standard square-ish 1.33:1 (4x3) aspect ratio found on older TVs, PC monitors, and iPods, it's 15 percent narrower than the 1.78:1 (16x9) screen dimensions found on most HDTV and DVD programming.
The specs of the iPhone list a pixel count of 480x320. In and of itself, that doesn't prove anything: some displays utilize rectangular pixels, which allows them to deliver a true 16:9 picture. (Older Hitachi plasma panels, for example, have a 1,024x1,024 pixel count, but their rectangular shape delivers a wide-screen image, rather than a perfect square one might infer from the resolution). But examining the photos of the iPhone on Apple's site reveals a nearly perfect 1.5:1 aspect ratio on the device's 3.5-inch screen when it's viewed in landscape mode. (The images below were snagged from Apple's site, and they compare the iPhone to Apple TV, which offers a true wide-screen image of 1.78:1.)
The nonstandard screen shape means that wide-screen content will either need to be zoomed (cutting off the left and right sides) or letterboxed (black bars on the top and bottom) when viewed on the iPhone. Neither option will be as cramped as it is on current iPods, which cut off more when zoomed or have larger letterbox bars. But it might disappoint prospective iPhone owners to learn that the "true video iPod" offers a compromised wide-screen viewing experience.
For more information on letterboxing and aspect ratio, check out CNET's quick guide to aspect ratio.