First Look: The iPhone: What you need to know

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The iPod

As an iPod, the iPhone’s functionality is similar to that of a fifth-generation (5G) model. In addition to playback of the standard array of music-file formats, the iPhone can display photos as well as play video. There are several key differences.

Like what?

Like navigation, for starters. Notably absent from the iPhone is the iPod’s famous Click Wheel; to navigate through your media and control playback, you use the iPhone’s touch-sensitive screen. To find a particular song, for example, you tap on the Music item, tap on the Songs item, then move your finger up or down the screen to scroll the song list up or down; a flick of your finger down the screen gives the scroll momentum to scroll more quickly. If you don’t want to scroll through all your music to get to a certain section, you can also tap your finder on any letter of the alphabet from the list displayed on the side of the screen to jump directly to items beginning with that letter. (Because of the small size of the letters, however, accurate jumps were somewhat difficult to achieve during in our brief time with the iPhone—but we did bypass a lot of scrolling.)

Once you’ve found the song you’re looking for, tap the track’s name to start it playing. Even with the different method of control, the menu system and media-browsing system are recognizably iPod.

Tell me about the screen.

Gladly. When turned horizontally, the iPhone is the first iPod to offer wide-screen viewing. (The built-in accelerometer comes in handy here, since it recognized when you’re turned the iPhone and adjusts video accordingly.) The screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally, with physical dimensions of 2.9 by 1.9 inches. That's not quite a cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio (it's more like 3:2), but it's wider than the current iPod aspect ratio. A double-tap on the iPhone's screen will toggle between a zoomed-in view, in which the video fills the screen, and a letterboxed view, with black bars at the top and the bottom.

Apple has taken advantage of the iPhone’s impressive screen to add other media capabilities as well. For example, album art display is much larger than on current iPods. And when browsing music with the iPhone oriented horizontally, the iPhone provides an optional CoverFlow mode just like in iTunes 7 —drag your finger across the screen to flip through album covers to find music.

Sounds great—will other iPods soon add that widescreen capability?

Apple may have unveiled the iPhone six months in advance of its release, but that doesn’t signal a shift in the company’s long-standing policy about future plans for products—it doesn’t reveal them. That said, we’re hoping that this design becomes part of the next iPod, perhaps with the cellular components replaced by a large hard drive but with Bluetooth for wireless headphones and WiFi for direct-to-iPod purchases from the iTunes Store. When will that happen? Only the higher-ups at Apple could tell you with any certainty. And they're not talking.

I thought the iPhone had a hard drive.

No, like the iPod nano, the iPhone includes 4GB or 8GB of flash-based memory, much more compact when compared to the considerably more spacious 1.8-inch hard drives found in 5G iPods. Although using flash memory helps prolong battery life, the iPhone’s small storage capacity is an interesting limitation for a device with video-viewing capabilities. (Full-length movies easily top 1GB, meaning you shouldn't expect to carry too many on an iPhone.) There’s also no slot for expanding the iPhone’s internal memory with extra flash cards.

Are there any similarities between the iPod and the iPhone?

The iPhone retains the 30-pin dock-connector port present since the third-generation iPod, which means that many existing dock-connector-based iPod accessories may work with the iPhone right away. However, others will need to be redesigned. One big issue with the iPhone is that, as a cellular phone, it's broadcasting wireless signals that the iPod never did. That means that some accessories will need to be redesigned with shielding, so that they don't pick up radio interference from the iPhone.

Since it uses the dock connector, we’d guess that you’ll be able to charge it from a computer’s USB port or using an AC adapter.

You mentioned charging the battery. What kind of battery performance can I expect from the iPhone?

One of the problems with converged devices such as smart phones is battery life—with so many great functions, it’ll be easy to run down the battery without even noticing. Apple told us the iPhone will contain a single battery (which, like the iPod, you can’t remove or swap) to power all aspects of its operation. The company also says the battery will last up to five hours for talk, video playback, or Internet browsing, and up to 16 hours for audio playback. (The iPod nano, for comparison, is rated for up to 24 hours of audio playback, and the 80GB iPod can play up to six-and-a-half hours of video.) In any event, you’ll need to exercise some good judgment if you want to ensure that you have enough juice left for your phone once you’re done listening to music, browsing the Web, or watching video.

The last word

The iPhone breaks new ground for Apple, but it also takes its cue from the expertise Apple garnered and lessons it learned from the iPod—one of the most successful consumer electronics products in recent memory. In the coming months, Apple will probably parcel out additional bits of information about the iPhone (and when Apple brings it to Europe in the fourth calendar quarter of 2007, and to Asia in 2008). But one thing is already clear: Apple has again done what it seems to do best—take a product that exists and give it the polish and attention to detail it deserves.

[ Dan Frakes is a Macworld senior editor and the reviews editor of Playlist. Jonathan Seff is Macworld’ s senior news editor. ]

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