Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can iPhone 3G S Be The Universal Gadget?

What do we love? Electronics! What do we hate? Having to tote a bag full of devices. What do we really want? A universal gadget. Just one device that does everything, thank you.

What are the requirements for this universal gadget? It has to be a cell phone, an unlimited channel television and DVR, a high resolution digital camera, a camcorder, an audio recorder, a navigation system, a gaming console, a broadband Web connected computer, a messaging system, a productivity device, a radio, a library of books, a digital music player with your complete collection of tunes, a stock trading platform, a watch and alarm clock, weather radar and information, newspaper and shopping service.

That's a pretty long list, but perhaps it still leaves a few things off. Throw in some medical monitoring equipment and maybe a postal scale, car diagnostic code reader and so on. You can really get far fetched if you try. The odd thing is that today's far fetched is tomorrow's killer app.

That's why the newly introduced iPhone 3G S is likely within striking distance of universal gadget status. Let's take a look at what's been added.

All the iPhones have been cell phones. Hence, the name. They will likely keep the GSM cellular standard into the foreseeable future, although there will come a day when all wireless networks will be IP-based and phone conversations will be VoIP instead of channelized. In the meantime, voice and data are separate functions and have separate service plans. Apple has improved the data bandwidth as AT&T has improved their network. It's 3G now with a potential doubling of speed to around 7 Mbps peak in the next year or two. A future iPhone will incorporate LTE connectivity for wireless Internet that's as fast as the popular Cable broadband services.

With 3G data service augmented by speedier WiFi connectivity when at home or in a commercial hotspot, the iPhone serves as a mobile computer. This one is perhaps good enough to replace the luggable laptop for much of the time, and fend off competition from the emerging netbook market. The iPhone 3G S has double the operating speed, so that applications will behave more like what you'd expect on a computer. Memory has also been boosted to a maximum of 32 GB.

You carry a digital camera, right? In an effort to have your phone also be your camera, Apple has upped the resolution on the new iPhone from 2 MP to 3 MP and made it autofocus. It's also a camcorder now, a feature expected in high-end cellphones. You can do simple editing in the phone and then send your creations on to your friends or a service like YouTube.

Location based services are becoming the norm for travel. The 3G S iPhone has GPS with maps and directions. They've also added a compass for those days when you feel the urge to dress in khaki and a scarf and head out for parts unknown. Your navigation system is now in your phone. Hang it from the windshield if you wish.

Most of the other functions mentioned earlier aren't really a function of hardware. They can be provided as Internet services, since you have continuous connectivity. That includes things like a weather station. Sure, you can wear a beanie with a propeller and call it an anemometer. But why not just connect to The Weather Channel and get your local information. You can also get weather radar, which is beyond the ability of most people to carry with them as a hardware implementation.

Voice control and voice recording are more functions being touted for the new speedier iPhone. The voice memo feature is neat, but lots of phones have that already. What Apple mentions is that you can record in stereo with an external microphone. That suggests using your phone as an portable recording studio or podcasting platform. Fancy applications for those can't be far away.

So what's missing? Television? There's no dedicated over the air TV reception, but you can get a Slingbox app so that you can control your Cable or Satellite receiver from a WiFi hotspot and watch hundreds of channels on your phone. Or control your home DVR remotely and watch those shows you recorded but haven't had time to view yet.

Radio is in a similar situation. No FM receiver, but do you really need one? Listen to streaming audio on the Internet. Or use the iTunes capability of the iPhone to listen to your own mixes.

Honestly, we're getting close to the day when you can carry a cell phone in your pocket as your only electronic gadget and be happy with the performance. Apple is getting closer with the new iPhone 3G S, but there's plenty of competition from LG, Samsung, Palm and others to keep raising the bar. This should be a great product, but when the contract runs out you'll be salivating for the even newer and better model that's no doubt in the works.

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