Almost one year after the original Apple iPhone went on sale, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has announced a 3G version of the device, finally putting to rest months of rumors and speculation. While some of the rumors panned out--the new handset will offer full GPS--other rumors, like the addition of a 32GB model, fizzled. But even with the long list of basic features that Apple still is denying us (hello, multimedia messaging?), the addition of 3G support is a big win. If data speeds hold up as Jobs demonstrated (more on that later), the new iPhone really will put the Internet in your pocket. We also approve of the new price: $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB version, a pleasing price for all but the poor souls who shelled out nearly $600 a year ago. The new iPhone will go on sale July 11.
Though the iPhone 3G is thinner at the edges than its predecessor, the phone measures a hair thicker (0.48 inches versus 0.46 inches) in the gut. The other measurements are the same except that it weighs just the slightest bit less (4.7 ounces versus 4.8 ounces). Otherwise, the iPhone 3G shows few cosmetic changes from the front--same display size and resolution, and the single Home button sits just below the screen. We're very pleased to see that Apple has done away with the irritating recessed headphone jack, which now is flush so that you'll be able to use any 3.5mm headphones you like.
But turn over the iPhone 3G, and you'll see more significant changes. A black, plastic skin replaces the current silver-aluminum back. The swap may cut the cost, but we worry about its long-term durability. The 8GB model will come in black only, while Apple promises the 16GB version in black and white. The white model is a bit random--we were expecting something in red--but color is a personal choice. The camera lens, volume rocker, charger port, speaker, microphone, power button, and display locking switch show no changes. Our News.com colleague got a hands-on with the new device and reports that it feels similar in the hand to the current model, with the exception of the tapered edges.
With support for three 3G bands (850, 1900, 2100) and both UMTS and HSDPA networks, the iPhone 3G is well positioned for using high-speed networks all around the world. Considering that Apple is promising to bring the device to 70 countries, it had better be. During his WWDC keynote, Jobs demonstrated Web download speeds between the two iPhones. On the original model, which runs on a 2.5G EDGE network, a photo-heavy Web site loaded in 59 seconds, while the same site loaded in 21 seconds on the new device--impressive, but we take it with a grain of salt for now. Real-world tests, particularly with a multitude of devices flooding the same network, will be more telling.
This is one feature that was on our original iPhone wish list. While the current iPhone location services find your position via nearby cell phone towers and satellites, the iPhone 3G uses Assisted GPS supplemented by satellites. It also offers live tracking so you can monitor your progress as you drive (or walk) along. We're excited to see this feature as well, as it fills in another gaping hole on the original handset. You'll also find photo geotagging, and third-party applications with turn-by-turn directions are in the works.
Speaking of which, the iPhone 3G will indeed support the collection of apps available through the iPhone SDK--no surprise here. Apple promises to open an apps store in early July (Apple didn't release an exact date); we're guessing by July 11. Gaming apps should feature prominently; many will integrate with the phone's accelerometer.
Worker bees will be pleased to know that the iPhone 3G will offer support for Microsoft Exchange Server. That will bring push e-mail, contacts and calendar, remote wipe, global contacts access, and auto-discovery. That's another welcome change as it puts the iPhone in the hands of a whole new class of corporate users who now will be able to get their work e-mail on the iPhone.
Last year Jobs said that Apple had not included 3G in the first iPhone because it would have made too many compromises with the handset's battery life. But now it appears that Apple has solved that problem. The iPhone 3G promises a solid 5 hours of 3G talk time, 10 hours of 2G talk time, 5 hours of 3G Internet time, 6 hours of Wi-Fi Internet time, 7 hours of video playback, 24 hours of audio playback, and 12.5 days standby time. The audio and video times are unchanged from the original iPhone.
Since the latest iPhone will support the 2.0 software, additional new features will show up at launch and beyond, including contacts search, iWork document support, the capability to view PowerPoint attachments, bulk move and delete, a scientific calculator in landscape mode, parental controls, and support for 16 languages. You'll also be able to use a graffiti-style application for entering characters in Asian languages.
Unfortunately, we hoped for an even larger bundle of features in this round. Apple still leaves multimedia messaging out of the mix along with voice dialing and video recording. We still don't understand why Apple can't include these basic features, many found in even the cheapest and simplest cell phones. We were also hoping for a landscape keyboard, the capability to cut and paste, Flash support for the Safari Web browser, expanded memory, and additional Bluetooth profiles. Apple, you left us hanging in a big way. It's also disappointing to hear that the dock is now sold separately for $49, but we suppose that helped cut the price. No, you don't need the dock, but it's nice to have. Even the power adapter and the SIM card removal tool that now come in the box won't make up for its loss.
Should you buy it?
If you're an iPhone fence-sitter, now's the time. The addition of 3G and GPS, the affordable price tag, and extra features from the iPhone 2.0 software update make the iPhone 3G a worthy prospect. Unlike the previous iPhone, which we liked and recommended with reservations, we're much happier with what this new handset has to offer. iPhone 3G isn't perfect, but there's a lot to like here and we approach the device with much anticipation. We'll update this page with a full, rated review once we get our hands on the hardware.