A daily bulletin of news & opinion

8 June 2010

Steve Jobs is a showman. Instead of verbose PowerPoint slides – industry standard in the tech world – his presentations are known for screens with so few words on them that they’re almost terse. People are there to watch him.

But on Monday at the keynote speech launching this year’s World Wide Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, the showman had a new trick he needed to pull off.

Of course, we knew he was going to announce the next iPhone – the last two WWDC keynotes were also the launch pads for the company’s smartphone upgrades. And a couple of months ago a prototype of the phone had found its way into the public domain after it had become separated from its Apple tester in a Redwood City bar. But people were still wondering how much of a revolution the new iPhone would be this time. And where is Apple really heading? Even the figures the company quotes puts the iPhone behind RIM’s BlackBerry handsets in the US. Jobs’s trick, then, was to prove that Apple hadn’t jumped the shark.

Sure, he seemed relaxed when he appeared, delighting in his standing ovation reception. When a developer in the crowd with a deep, husky voice shouted “We love you, Steve,” he paused, smiled and said, “Thanks. I think.”

He even joked about the fact that the iPhone had been leaked, “Some of you have seen this,” and then raised expectations by adding, “Believe me, you ain’t seen it.”

And for the next 90 minutes or so, he ran through the extra power the new iPhone contains with his trademark enthusiasm and persuasiveness.

There are features that will definitely keep Apple in the game: the screen is massively improved using something called a Retina Display. Jobs explained that the resolution exceeds the capabilities of human vision so that text on the new screen looks as smooth as printed paper. This is undoubtedly the single most eye-catching feature of the new phone.

Other improvements include an upgraded camera (at 5 megapixels, still not industry-leading) and the capability to shoot HD video, and the results shown are impressive. FaceTime is Apple’s take on videocalling: it only works with a wi-fi connection but looks good. If anyone can make videocalling finally work, it may be Apple.

More importantly, there were iAds. iAds, since you ask, are adverts that appear within apps, the downloadable programs on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. These apps are popular: so far over five billion have been downloaded.

So if you click on an ad in the game you’re playing, it starts showing a promotional video, say, but then returns you to the app when you’re done. Regular in-app ads on iPhone and rival smartphones simply take you to an online browser.

This key difference may be enough to make money for Apple. And for the app developers, too: Apple puts the ads where the developers want them and shares the revenue earned – developers get 60 per cent. In turn, this will encourage more free or low-priced games and applications to be developed, though the 225,000 already available may seem enough for most people, thank you very much.

Apple’s task is to capture consumers’ imagination all over again. The faster, more glamorous hardware will do that but it’s the business features such as iAds that will really deliver the money. Together, Apple hopes they may be enough to make it first among smartphone companies.


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