#WWDC highlights: iPhone 4 now a true smartphone. Steve leapfrogs rivals by years with iOS, gets really anxious about Google

There were quite a few interesting things presented during Steve Jobs Apple Apple WWDC keynote.

iPhone 4 attracted the most attention. And, it really is a great device. Specwise, iPhone 4 caught up with other latest high end smartphones in every way that matters. Given that iPhone OS already had the best user experience all around, and other vendors relied a lot on missing iPhone features to promote their flagships, this is a really big deal.

But, IMHO, one, even more important thing, happened during WWDC keynote. Hidden behind the simple iPhone OS name change  to iOS4, was Apple’s official statement that they have a new main computing platform – iOS.  And announcement new computing paradigm, based on a lightweight, power and resource efficient, connected OS.  Most  of the competition was caught completely off-guard by this new shift, and will take at least a year to even start catching up.

Except for Google, which emerged as the main Apple competitor from now on.

iPhone 4 finally becomes a true high end smartphone

My big takeaway from the iPhone 4 announcement is that iPhone has finally became a true high end smartphone.

Yes, iPhone has been high end, wildly popular, provided the best user experience, tons of interesting apps, and what not. But, feature/spec wise, it has been still catching up to the market standard for smartphones.  All the while justifying that this, or that missing feature doesn’t matter, until it became a great, must have thing, in the next iPhone.

Remember “Who needs 3G, when we have Wi-Fi?”, Bluetooth, copy paste, 2 megapixel camera is good enough, multi-tasking?

The strength of the iPhone was always about the vastly superior user experience, not the specs. But those missing features and specs in the top of the line, high end handsets, allowed competitors to promote their offerings as a superior, despite their shortcomings of overall UX.

Well, not anymore. With iPhone 4, competition at the high end of smartphone market became significantly tougher. iPhone 4 is now good enough to 95% of potential high end smartphone customers. My guess is, the writers of the next “Droid Does” campaign will have a lot of rethinking to do.

For the next 4-6 months, at $5-700 smartphone price range, iPhone’s only viable competitor remains Android. Though it is a bit lacking in the overall ease of use, Android (2.1/2.2 and upcoming Gingerbread release) already has a good enough UX, tight integration  with Google, and other cloud and social services. Plus, it is a much more open platform, with strong appeal to the more technically oriented audience.

The latest Android handsets –HTC Desire, Incredible, EVO 4G, Samsung Galaxy S, Motorola MIlestone XT720 –  looked very attractive, compared to iPhone 3GS. But, with iPhone 4, the game for the Android vendors became much tougher.

Other vendors/platforms in 2010 – Nokia Symbian, Samsung Bada, Palm WebOS, pricey feature phones – are  non-players here (at the high end), and will be competing only in the mid-tier/mass markets, at $450 and lower price points. Rumored Nokia Meego device is a bit of a wildcard, but it is not coming until Q4, and even if  very good, it will take time to ramp up the sales, so it will probably be a moot point for 2010 competitive landscape.

iPhone OS becomes iOS 4. A new connected computing platform for Apple

As of this week, Apple’s officially got a new connected computing platform.

Until this year, we were used to thinking about iPhone OS, as Apple’s platform for smartphones and other pocketable devices like iPod Touch. When it was first launched in 2007, iPhone OS was introduced as a mini version of OSX.

This year, when Apple introduced iPad – with the same iPhone OS- it became clear, that they may have some bigger ambitions for this OS. But we were still guessing. This week it became official. The new platform has shed it’s baby iPhone clothes and became iOS 4.

Kind of reminds me about another big name change at Apple. Until 2007 we used to know this company as Apple Computer Inc. Back then, the key metrics of Apple’s success  have been tied to computers. Yes, they had iTunes, iPods, Apple TV and what not. But the big announcements were all about the new Macs, and new OSX features. The bulk of Apple’s revenue was also directly related to personal computers.

Then, in 2007, by dropping “computer” from the company name, Apple clearly signaled that they do not consider themselves a computer company anymore. They are much more then that.

Fast forward to today – while computer side of business still makes a lot of Apple’s income, as long as it’s at least keeping up with the market trends, nobody cares much about it. Compared to the media frenzy of a few years ago, I’d say new Mac announcements are greeted with collective yawn, as are new iterations of OSX, like Snow Leopard.

And, during Monday WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs didn’t mention Mac or OSX even once! Together with the iOS name change, the signal is pretty clear. Apple will continue milking it’s computer business cash cow for years to come, and improving it as market demands. But it is the thing of the past.

Apple’s main device platform form now on – is iOS 4. And it appears to be ready to get into every connected Apple device out there.

iOS might have been disguised as mini OSX version for smartphones and pocket sized devices, but it has been envisioned as a larger computing platform from the very start. In hindsight, you can clearly see that in multiple multi-touch patent applications Apple filed, and Steve Jobs admitted as much during his D8 interview.

This disguise now seems as one of the most brilliant moves by Steve Jobs.  When you think about it, there was no big technical reason for Apple to do a phone, before putting iOS on a tablet. Actually, getting it to work on a pocket sized device, must have been a much more difficult task. But, by misdirecting everyone’s attention to what iOS can do to smartphones, Apple managed to build a next generation connected computing platform, with nary a competitor noticing. Leapfrogging most of the competition  by at least a year.

And to build the most vibrant and active ecosystem around the new platform. Now Apple has 100 million iOS devices out there (a number is a bit exaggerated, since not all of the iOS devices sold, are still in operation). They have hundreds of thousands of developers working on the software for the new platform. The iOS has already generated $1 billion in direct revenues for the developers. Add to that indirect advertising income, sales generated through various iOS apps, all the services that sprung up around iOS app development, and the financial side becomes even more impressive.

What about competition?

For now, Microsoft is a non-starter in this new, light connected computing paradigm. It’s Windows 7 OS is barely OK for netbooks, and after the iPad, hopeless for tablets. Their smartphone OS –WP7 – won’t even be ready for market for the next 5 months. Their lightweight Windows Embedded Compact 7 tablet seems to be just at a concept stage, and won’t be ready for at least a year.

Nokia/Intel’s Meego might become a good lightweight connected computing platform one day. And we may see the first Nokia Meego device this year, but that is again, only a smartphone. Meego won’t be ready for a larger form factor devices until sometime in 2011.

WebOS? Now that HP bought them, they may have something interesting to show us eventually. But that again won’t come until later next year.

Apple is pissed off/nervous about Google

Having a 1 year, or bigger head start, before your main competitors can even start thinking of catching up, is a thing almost unseen in tech industry. And, with his brilliant iPhone OS misdirection, Steve Jobs managed to achieve that.

Except for one, unlikely competitor – Google. I don’t know why Google decided to get into computing platform business themselves. Maybe it’s something Eric Schmidt learned, while he was on Apple board. Or maybe it was just a natural company evolution, after becoming the fabric of the Internet. But, as unlikely as it might have seemed just a few years ago, Google is the main competitor to Apple.

They are also gaining on Apple, and making Steve Jobs really pissed off and nervous about it.

Just look at Apple’s knee jerk reactions to every mention that Android is becoming bigger then iPhone.  A number of pot shots Steve has taken at Google in his WWDC keynote.  Banning Google’s  AdMob network from iOS apps, with blatantly anticompetitive act, even at the risk of inviting federal scrutiny of your practices…

It shows that Apple feels really uneasy about Google. And they are right to feel that way. If only because of the speed Google’s main lightweight OS is evolving.

Last year, when iPhone OS 3 and iPhone 3GS launched, Android was at 1.5. A really crude, immature, not ready for wider adoption OS. But in the time it took Apple to create iOS4, Google went through Android 1.6, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, and now has a powerful and easy to use smartphone OS.  In the next 3-6 months they will transform this OS into a full fledged lightweight computing platform, that will work well on tablets, netbooks, TVs and other things.

Apple still has at least 6 month lead over Google, but that’s a lot less of a breathing room then Apple would have had, if Google had stuck to it’s traditional business.

Anyway, I’m  looking for a  quite interesting Apple vs Google showdown this fall. And next year, when other competitors had time to process what just happened, and react to that, the fireworks will only get bigger.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • mNation

    I have been following this website for a while now. It has been a great source of up-to-date tech information distilled into a pleasurable read. However, upon reading this particular review, I have to say the credibility of the author is questionable.

    The author (Staska ) commented on, and I quote ” SPECWISE, iPhone 4 caught up with other latest high end smartphones in every way” later comparing with actual devices “The latest Android handsets –HTC Desire, Incredible, EVO 4G, Samsung Galaxy S, Motorola MIlestone XT720″
    Camera? Screen size? mHDMI output? Clock speed (A4 chip unconfirmed)? RAM? Front camera pixel size?

    I wonder if our author has actually pulled up the spec sheet and had comparison between the devices before going to work on this piece.To boldly state the hardware spec between the latest HTC and Samsung devices falls short of iphone 4 is an incredibly short-sighted and near fan-boy.

    Here is an example; the nokia 6680 did every single thing the iphone 4 does, save the touch screen. and that nokia phone was released in 2005. Don't get me wrong, iOS brings everything neatly together and user experience is incomparable to others. iOS is the reason I keep sim-swapping between my 3gs and n900. But we are not talking about the software, we are talking about the hardware specs here.

    I suggest Staska do some research before publishing their review. It makes your website much more reliable.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    I did not say that iPhone 4 specs are superior. What I said was that iPhone
    4 caught up “to the market standard for smartphones” and that it now is “good
    enough to 95% of potential high end smartphone customers”

    And that paragraph where I mention other Android phones – the point there
    was – that comparing iPhone 3 GS to latest Androids, you could easily make a
    very convincing point that new phones are really much better. (As Droid Does
    campaign did). With iPhone 4 those superiority comparisons are not that easy
    anymore. You can makes some of them still, but that becomes a more a matter
    of preference and taste. Do I want more compact device or bigger display? Do
    I really need 8 mpx camera on a phone, isn't 5 mpx good enough? etc;

    There is some point for average user, where specs reach the point of “good
    enough”, and are not a big factor in purchasing decision. And iPhone 4 is
    now there. Camera – 5 mpx with good sensor and imaging software – is good
    enough, screen size – was always good enough, clockspeed/RAM – as long as
    OS/software is snappy, fast – they do not matter at all..

  • nismo280zx

    He is using the term caught up with because it obviously doesn't exceed the specs of these other phones, but it is a viable competitor with android based phones and by far exceeds them from a multimedia standpoint, however it lacks some great features that droid has.
    And yeah Nikia had some of these features years ago, and don't get me wrong they have had amazing phones, but this is about perfecting the technology and end user experience. I actually think that this is a good article from a neutral standpoint it lacks bias.

  • Foo Bar

    Interesting article.
    Ultimately, Apple's biggest issue is likely going to be trying to attract developers with an increasingly closed platform.

    At this point, developing applications for the iOS is getting to be a risky business, in that Apple can just arbitrarily decide to prevent you from using the App store to deploy your software… and since there's no alternative distribution method, you're out of luck. The possibility that you won't be able to sell software you develop, because Steve Jobs says so, poses a major problem for developers.

    If Apple cannot address this issue, then the software developers will move the Android. If that happens, then the iPhone as a platform will die, no matter how pretty and shiny it is.

    Apple went down this same road in the 80's, and their refusal to open up development for their platform resulted in their getting crushed by the PC. Sure, the Mac was really cool and neat-o.. but at the end of the day, consumers went with the platform which made more software development support. And we're talking about consumers as a whole, not just the techno-geeks.

  • Foo Bar

    Interesting article.
    Ultimately, Apple's biggest issue is likely going to be trying to attract developers with an increasingly closed platform.

    At this point, developing applications for the iOS is getting to be a risky business, in that Apple can just arbitrarily decide to prevent you from using the App store to deploy your software… and since there's no alternative distribution method, you're out of luck. The possibility that you won't be able to sell software you develop, because Steve Jobs says so, poses a major problem for developers.

    If Apple cannot address this issue, then the software developers will move the Android. If that happens, then the iPhone as a platform will die, no matter how pretty and shiny it is.

    Apple went down this same road in the 80's, and their refusal to open up development for their platform resulted in their getting crushed by the PC. Sure, the Mac was really cool and neat-o.. but at the end of the day, consumers went with the platform which made more software development support. And we're talking about consumers as a whole, not just the techno-geeks.

  • Cmcwcc

    Let's not forget the most important thing about the difference between IPhone and the so call IPhone killers, all of those other phones are NOT world phones and will never be anywhere near the success only work on CDMA or other unsuable network that wont work anywhere.

  • Vasra

    @Cmcwcc

    Have to disagree. Galaxy S is quad-band UMTS world-phone and definitely up there against iPhone 4. IMho much better than HTC EVO, which has too big (clumsy) form-factor, lesser screen & worse cpu/gpu.

    I think's Apple as a company has problems with it's carrier selection. Several analysts have said, that iPhone could sell a lot more, if the users were not force to switch carriers to get iPhone. In US this also means that they need to ship (the rumoured) CDMA version soon, some WSJ rumours were saying as early as Q1/2011.

    On the iOS front I think Android's challenge is from the openness. iPhone really only has one full fledged browser (mobile safari). Everything else either has to use the Apple Webkit/JS implementation and just offer a skin + added features over them, or alternatively not be full-fledgeb browsers. Mini opera is a great example: a good browser, but only unpacks JS on the server side – no client side JS support.

    Lack of flash support in browsers might also start to hurt apple by 2011 when we get 1.2-1.5GHz Cortex A9 MP phones which can hopefully finally do a bit of Flash embedded, without completely choking like the current phones do.

    But what Apple loses in openness and slow hw updates, it gains in less fragmentation of the platform. We all know Android fragmentation has been beaten to death and somewhat overblown, but the fact remains that there are 1.5/1.6 phones, 2.1 phones and soon 2.2/gingerbread phones. That's pretty difficult to target to, unified common API or not, esp. when the hw differences are also quite vast and multi-tasking on Android can totally kill the performance of an app.

    In the end the battle will be around open/full access style of Google vs. Closed/controlled “family safe” version of Apple. Personally I hope open access wins over proprietary/controlled systems, but only after they have caught up with Apple in terms of user-experience, security of the platform for basic users and general ease of the whole platform (incl. app store).

    This will take some time. The war won't be over by the end of 2011 or 2012.

  • Vasra

    I think you are spot on.

    Even objectively thinking iPhone is up there. Best of class cpu, 2nd best gpu (only Galaxy S has faster PowerVR SGX), among the best displays (debateable if Super Amoled at lower res is better), first backside illuminated CMOS sensor (Nokia's N8 is likely to better, but otherwise it's a lower specced phone), etc.

    Apple lacks some things like memory card slot, hdmi out and the like. But for the most part, it's hw specs are amongst the best of phones out now or out in the next month.

  • unknown

    True, i just cant wait for the war to start, its so getting better .Im enjoying this.

  • jose_ndc

    I think the party is over. Not only will the iPhone 4 have to deal with consumers looking to buy the HTC EVO 4G, but now Motorola will soon release their next generation Droid running at 2GHz by the end of this year!! If HTC EVO 4G can't pull away all of iPhone 4's potential consumers, the Motorola Droid 2 GHz will. Apple should be pissed off and concerned about Google, manufacturers are spitting out more faster, stronger, and powerful Android smartphones than the iPhone, it's hopeless for Apple.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Nah. The party only's just gettin started.

    Nobody except us geeks cares if it's 1 GHz, 2GHz or 5 GHz CPU inside. As
    long as the thing is snappy.

    And, btw, Symbian with 256 of RAM can do everythin on mobile, that Android
    does on 512MB, with better battery time. And nobody still cares, cause
    Symbian decided to take their time (2 years) to make UX right. .

    It's all about user experience. And now, Google will do their thing (cloud),
    Apple wil do theirs – feeling that this stuff is just right. And they both
    gonna sell tons of handsets, until (I hope) others catch up next year.

  • borignf

    This is going to be an interesting 6 months. I can't wait to see what's on offer during Christmas.
    The biggest winners: The consumers thanks to this intense competition between the companies.