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Apple Announces iPhone 4 with Front-Facing Camera, Video Calling

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At today's Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference, company CEO Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone 4, which ships later this month.

"Now this is really hot," Jobs said, adding "some of you have already seen this" as a reference to a lost prototype that Gizmodo revealed and is now engaged in a legal battle over.

"Trust me, you ain't seen it," said Jobs, "you've got to see it in person."

Jobs accurately likened the new design of iPhone 4 to that of an old camera with rounded steel, glass and minimal buttons, and told the audience that it was 25% thinner than the iPhone 3GS. Three external bands, which are integral to the stainless steel shell that wraps around the phone, are part of a clever antenna system that moves the antenna to the outside of the phone, allowing for additional space savings within the interior of the phone as well as potentially improving reception.

The iPhone 4 also comes with a front-facing camera with a second microphone, allowing Fring, Skype, and other instant messaging companies to justify the launch of recent applications for video chat. In this regard, Apple is following rather than setting the trend, as many other smartphones already have forward-facing cameras.

On the display front, Jobs also noted improvements. The 3.5-inch display of the iPhone 4, which is the same size as the iPhone 3G, is markedly better. The screen-which Apple has dubbed the "Retina display"-is now 960 x 640 pixels, which Jobs noted is 326 pixels per inch (PPI), comfortably over the 300 PPI standard for printed documents. 

While not increasing the pixel depth significantly enough on the new iPhone to allow for 720p or 1080p HD video display, the resolution also allows for much higher SD video, since it exceeds the 480 vertical pixels that are required for 480p and SD video playback. An increased contrast ratio of 800:1 also will make the video quality significantly richer in terms of the separation between the deepest blacks and brightest whites.

On the video capture side, Apple's new 5-megapixel backside illuminated sensor will allow 720p video to be captured. A built-in trimming function for videos, based on iMovie for iPhone-a new application created by Randy Ubilios, who created the original Adobe Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro products-will also work with these HD video files.

Jobs said the iPhone's "tap to focus" for still images feature will also be available for video recording. The new LED flash will also double as a backup light for video recording.

Battery life has also been helped by better power management on the A4 processor that Apple custom-built in house after acquiring PA Semiconductor in 2008. Jobs says this will result in 40% more talk time in 3G, will increase 3G browsing to 6 hours and will allow for approximately 10 hours of local video playback or Wi-Fi browsing.

For connectivity, the iPhone 4 will sport a quad-band HSDPA/HSUPA (commonly referred to as 3.5G) for a theoretical 7.2Mbps downstream/5.8 Mbps upstream speed.

"That's 'theoretically' because the carriers don't support it yet," said Jobs, which is inaccurate since several European carriers have had HDSPA at 7.2Mbps for well over a year.

AT&T, however, does not yet have support for the standard across its entire network, so today's announcement of the iPhone 4 may have significant deployment costs associated with it as the wireless carrier will now be forced to roll HSDPA out across its entire network prior to its planned 2011 LTE (4G) roll out, which it must also deploy to counter rival Verizon's LTE deployment, also scheduled for 2011.

"FaceTime only works in Wi-Fi in 2010," said Jobs, referring to an integrated video calling feature he demonstrated at the end of his keynote. "We have to work with the carriers a bit to get ready for the future."

Finally, and somewhat related to the coverage I'll be providing over the next few days at the Infocomm systems integrators show, Jobs pointed out that the magic takes quite some time to produce.

"Apple is not just a technology company," said Jobs. "It's the marriage of technology and the humanities that distinguishes Apple."

Echoing sentiment I've heard from others, such as Sling's CTO Bhupen Shah, on the fact that the ease-of-use for compelling products is all about the hardware and software working seamlessly together, Jobs used the example of the new iPhone's second camera to drive home his point.

"On iPhone 4, it's not just a front-facing camera: it's a front-facing camera and 18 months'worth of work to come up with software that you'll never even notice when you want to place a video call," Job said.

"It's a complete solution so all of us don't have to be system integrators."

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