Saturday, October 16, 2010


Back in 1997 I bought my first computer. It was made by the North London company 'Mesh' and had an astonishing 2.3 Gigabyte of hard disc storage together with 64mb of Ram. The standard RAM spec was 32mb, but I decided I wanted more bang for my bucks, and I ended up spending a lot - well over a grand - because I also shelled out for a 17 inch CRT screen. I think the system boasted a Pentium chip. The system lasted four years, the monitor a further five.

A month ago I acquired a new iphone4. Boffins reading this will have to tell me how this chip compares in speed with my 1997 machine, but this handheld device has ten times the storage of my first desktop. The phone is a much more powerful computer than the one which sat humming under my desk years ago. And it has two cameras. And a compass. And maps, and a GPS. Oh and it makes phone calls. It's this sort of comparison which makes me impatient of the android versus iOS debate; if this is the kind of progress that can be made in computing in just thirteen years what will the future hold? And taking the long view means arguments about 'widget handling' look what they are: meaningless.

The new iphone is a solid piece of quality engineering, made of metal and glass. You know when it's in your pocket because in phone terms it's quite large and a bit heavy. The buttons are much where they were in my 3G, but made of steel. I accidentally dropped it onto some stone flags while out on the town in Turkey and it didn't even scratch.

The OS has been upgraded and so you can now use several apps at once by simply pressing the home button twice in quick succession - thus I can play my internet radio and tweet while checking the headlines. Much has been written about the 'retina' screen and it's very clear indeed; videos, web pages and apps display content beautifully on it. It comes with the Safari browser as standard, but may I suggest icab as a better alternative, since it allows muti tabbing and boasts all sorts of options Safari does not have.

The ipod facility is the same and the apps transfer seamlessly from your previous iphone - and if this is your first then wonders await - but the big technical change is surely the camera. Here I must confess I quite liked the one included on the 3G effort; phone cameras are not really about composition and professional results, they're really about the impromptu moment down the pub when your mate gets up to do Lady Gaga on the karaoke machine. Which brings me to the other big change from the 3G - this device shoots HD video at a really impressive 720p. It tends to produce shaky-vision and you have to remember to tun the phone on its side to shoot 16:9 ratio, but this function is great, and the imovies app means that you can edit on the phone itself before posting to the web.

The phone itself, while being a nigh invincible weapon of web, is not that great as a phone. Reception can be a bit crusty although I suspect the O2 network may be partly to blame here and actually ending a call can be a bit hit and miss since the screen turns itself on and off as if possessed by some light flicking poltergeist.

And I am yet to use the much trumpeted Facetime video calling feature. I know a few people with these now and I know of nobody else who has made a call with it either. But the more down to earth task of contact handling is great particularly if you run an exchange account over the air with Gmail, which meant I could simply wipe one phone, start again with another and instantly download all my contacts and calendar from the cloud.

As usual with Apple I'm left wondering what might have been. It would have been nice to have an SD card insert, for example, and bluetoothing data around does not seem to be allowed. But the other question in my mind is what Apple can possibly do to improve this phone to make me buy another in 18 months time. Sheesh, I expect they'll come up with something.

This changes everything, said Steve Jobs when he wheeled the iphone 4 out. Actually the change is really further development on a theme, that being Apple's drive for dominance of the mobile internet by the use of the App store and its linked devices. The iphone4 costs, feels and works like the quality digital companion it's been designed to be. My friends may (and do) sing the praises of the cheaper android OS rivals. But there is a clarity of purpose about the quality design and ease of use of the iphone4 that is its own potent argument.

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