iPhone 3G S offers speed boost, video capture

Apple on Monday unveiled a new version of the iPhone. Dubbed the iPhone 3G S, the latest version of Apple’s popular smartphone promises to launch applications and run software faster than the previous model, as well as take advantage of faster cellular networks. It debuts in the U.S. on June 19, two days after the iPhone 3.0 software update arrives.

The new phone will also be available in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland on June 19. A week later, Apple says, the phone will launch in six more countries, with more launches to come in July and August.

“The ‘S’ stands for speed,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, told Worldwide Developers Conference attendees during Monday’s conference-opening keynote.

“Overall, it’s just a faster better, quicker, snappier experience,” Bob Borchers, senior director of worldwide iPhone product marketing, told Macworld. Borchers said that developers of iPhone apps would have “a lot more headroom to play with,” and suggested that users would appreciate “the speed of the processor and the overall experience.” While Apple is loath to discuss technical specifications of iPhones, the technical message here is clear: the iPhone 3G S is faster at least in part because it’s powered by a faster processor, has more available onboard memory, and perhaps features improved display circuitry.

The iPhone 3G S can also take advantage of 7.2 Mbps HSDPA, a faster cellular networking format that’s becoming available in some countries, including the U.S.

For new and qualifying AT&T customers, the new iPhone will sell for $199 for the 16GB version and $299 for a 32GB model. Apple is also cutting the price on the current iPhone 3G to $99 for the 8GB phone. However, people who bought the iPhone 3G last year will discover that the cost to upgrade to this new model will be higher. Because AT&T subsidizes the purchase of iPhones and amortizes those costs over a two-year contract commitment period, many existing iPhone users will need to pay higher prices, which can vary based on each person’s individual contract standing with AT&T.

Physically, the iPhone 3G S is almost identical to the previous iPhone 3G model. The only exterior differences are painfully subtle: the “fine print” writing on the back of the phone is now color-matched to the silver Apple logo, and the screen is covered with a new oil-resistant coating.

But there are changes on the inside. the new phone offers a brand-new camera that lets you control the focus either by tapping on the screen or using the autofocus feature. In addition, the iPhone’s new camera also captures standard-definition video.

The iPhone 3G S also comes with Apple’s new standard for headphones, previously found in the second-generation iPod touch, fourth-generation iPod nano, and fourth-generation iPod shuffle. This set of headphones includes a microphone, a clicker, and volume controls.

Holding down the clicker — or, if you’re not using headphones, the iPhone 3G S’s Home button — activates the phone’s new Voice Control feature, which allows users to speak commands for applications on the phone, including dialing contacts and playing music. Accessibility improvements on the iPhone 3G S include VoiceOver support for reading to users and the ability to zoom in on the phone’s display for larger icons.

Enterprise users get a requested feature in the form of hardware encryption. For anyone using an Exchange service or the Find Your iPhone feature in the iPhone 3.0 software update, remote wipe is instantaneous and backups are encrypted whenever hardware encryption is enabled.

Apple promises improved battery life with the iPhone 3G S. The new phone offers nine hours of Internet access on Wi-Fi, 10 hours of video, 30 hours of audio playback, and 12 hours of 2G talk time. The five hours of 3G talk time on the new model is consistent with the estimated talk time of the previous iPhone 3G.

In keeping with Apple’s ongoing push to tout the environmental friendliness of its products, the company noted that it reduced packaging for the phone by 23 percent. The iPhone 3G S also features arsenic-free glass and a mercury-free LCD; the phone is also free of brominated flame retardant (BFR) and PVC.

Other features announced during Monday’s keynote include a built-in digital compass, and support for the Nike+ fitness accessory.

(Updated 6/8, 3:15 p.m. PT, to add detail throughout.)

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