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iPhone FAQ

What Apple's new phone can do, and what it can't

Last Updated April 29, 2008

Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed off the new iPhone during his keynote address at the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco in January. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press) Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed off the new iPhone during his keynote address at the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco in January. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Apple Inc.'s much-anticipated foray into the world of mobile communication, the iPhone, officially went on sale in the U.S. on June 29 in 2007. Since then, Apple has rolled the device out in five other countries: Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Austria. Rogers Communications Inc. on April 29 announced it would be available in Canada in 2008, but did not provide a release date or pricing details.

The iPhone is a sleek, thin, device with a unique touch-screen interface that, from a design point of view, is unique for a cellphone, much less a personal digital assistant. So even though the product does not yet have a Canadian release date, that hasn't stopped the hype from reaching Canadians.

The device has won accolades for bringing the sort of internet surfing experienced on a desktop computer to the cellphone, and for making the idea of a "smart phone" � where the device is used for far more than just talking � popular with people other than business users.

Here we try to anticipate some of the questions most consumers will have about the iPhone.

What is the iPhone, anyway, and why all the fuss?

iPhone specifications

  • Height: 115 mm
  • Width: 61 mm
  • Depth: 11.6 mm
  • Weight: 135 grams
  • Capacity: 8GB or 16GB flash drive
  • Cost: $399 US or $499 US, depending on storage capacity
  • Operating system: Mac OS X
  • Battery: rechargeable, up to eight hours talk time
  • Wireless transmission: Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), AT&T's EDGE network, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
  • Camera: 2.0 megapixels
  • Video: H.264 format, but no Flash
  • Can read, but not edit, Word and PDF documents

The iPhone, like many of the latest generation of "smart phones," combines the features of multiple tools into one handheld device. It is essentially a cellphone, web browser, e-mail device, iPod, personal organizer and digital camera all rolled into one.

What makes it unique, however, is the interface. The iPhone doesn't have a keyboard; instead users touch its 3.5-inch screen to control the device, from choosing menu options to scrolling through websites to typing on a virtual keyboard.

Reviews from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today suggest the interface is well designed and particularly useful for browsing the internet, where websites appear as they would on a traditional browser. People can double-tap their fingers on an article to read material up close.

"The emphasis on touch sets it apart," said Shiv Bakhshi, the director of mobility research for technology analyst IDC. "The virtual keyboard, the ability to scroll through pages or photos, these are pretty cool features."

Its integration of communications functions and access to entertainment and media through Apple's iTunes store is also well ahead of competing smart phones, said Kaan Yigit, the Toronto-based president of technology analyst Solutions Research Group.

Apple also said the device can operate on its battery for up to eight hours of talk time or 24 hours of audio play before needing to be recharged, easing concerns of those who thought the device, with all of its features, would suffer from major power drain.

What can't it do?

For all the talk of the iPhone as a smart phone, it actually lacks many of the features people have come to expect from the devices, some of which may surprise consumers.

Though it can play YouTube videos and can take photos, it can't record video like many video phones.

While it acts as a music player and supports different ringtones, users can't actually use songs for their ringtones. It has text messaging and allows users to send photos using the internet, but doesn't allow them to send photos through text messages, a common feature on phones without internet capability.

The web experience reportedly has similar limitations. Users can play Quicktime videos online, but not Flash or Windows Media Video files. Because Apple signed an exclusive deal with U.S. carrier AT&T, the iPhone uses its network's EDGE Standard, which can make for a painfully slow internet experience. Most users will come to rely on the iPhone's Wi-Fi capability when using the internet, according to the reviewers from the three American newspapers who received the device to test.

Like the iPod, the iPhone's battery cannot be replaced by the user; rather it must be replaced by Apple. The phone also doesn't have room for extra storage, such as memory cards. Similarly, there are reports the information stored on the phone's SIM (subscriber identity module) card � which allows users to transfer key data from one phone to another � may not be transferable to other mobile devices.

Will it supplant the BlackBerry and other PDAs?

While the iPhone initially launched without the sort of push e-mail functions that made the BlackBerry so successful, such capability is now on the way. Users will be able to have their e-mail instantly appear on the iPhone starting in June.

The e-mail service will run over Microsoft Exchange servers, correcting the security issue that some analysts had pointed out.

Still, the touch screen could be a limitation in spurring business users to the iPhone.

"[The] lack of a tactile keyboard for fast thumb-typing may limit its potential in the business market," said Yigit in an e-mail interview. "Even though the virtual keyboard received good initial reviews, it still looks a bit more appropriate for light/medium mobile e-mail users."

Why isn't it in Canada?

Rogers Wireless is the only possible Canadian carrier because its network uses the GSM (Global System Mobile) communications standard for mobile devices � the same standard the iPhone uses � as opposed to the competing and incompatible CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard.

Rumours have circulated since the iPhone's initial launch that Apple has been very tough in negotiating deals with carriers, demanding portions of monthly revenue as well as lower costs for downloading so that users could get the full experience.

Comwave, a small Toronto-based company, is also disputing the trademark of "iPhone" with Apple.

What kind of impact will it have?

The iPhone has sold more than five million units since its launch, which analysts say is a very good sales rate.

Much like the iPod and iMacs, the iPhone's unique interface and sleek look are going to push the envelope on industrial design in mobile devices, said Bakhshi.

CBC stories: iPhone

Beyond that, the impact on the iPhone will depend on how successful it is with consumers and whether they are willing to spend over $500 for the device, the analysts agreed.

Yigit said it could potentially create a market for an entirely new kind of mobile device.

"There is really nothing quite like it and [it] will create its own category. The impact in the U.S. is already significant in terms of changing consumer expectations about what a mobile device can do," he said.

But Bakhshi cautions that consumers should resist the urge to invest too much emotion and expectation in what is just a piece of consumer technology.

"At the end of the day, it's just a device. You only get out of it what you put into it."

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