iPhone 4 is slimmer, sharper, smarter -- and still tied to AT&T

By Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Apple debuted a thinner iPhone with a sharper screen, high-definition moviemaking and video-chatting capability -- but one that, in the United States, remains locked to AT&T Wireless.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs showed off the new iPhone 4 -- on sale June 24 at $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage, $299 for a 32 GB model -- in a keynote speech opening the Cupertino, Calif., company's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

In some ways, the new device matches a prototype that the tech-news site Gizmodo dissected this spring. Built of stainless steel and glass, the iPhone 4 is slimmer than its predecessors, just 0.37 inches thick.

It features a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash on the back, plus a second camera with an unannounced but presumably lower resolution on the front. The back camera can record movies in 720p high definition -- and with Apple's $4.99 iMovie for iPhone program, users can edit videos right on the device.

Both cameras support Apple's new FaceTime videoconferencing protocol. But you'll need to be on WiFi to use that this year, maybe longer -- remember that AT&T is adding "tethering" support, the ability to share the phone's Internet access with a nearby computer, a full year after Apple enabled that option.

(Other smartphones, such as Sprint's Evo 4G, already allow video chats over 3G.)

Inside its metal case, the iPhone 4 hides a gyroscope to sense roll, pitch and yaw -- measurements used for vehicles that open interesting possibilities for game developers -- and the same efficient A4 processor as the iPad. It's supposed to handle seven hours of calling, six of Web browsing over AT&T's 3G service and 10 of browsing over WiFi.

Apple labels the iPhone 4's screen, with its high resolution of 960 by 640 pixels, the "Retina Display." That vaguely medical moniker, Jobs said, comes from its ability to show 326 pixels per inch -- more than human eyeballs can spot a foot away.

Apple's new device runs the "iPhone OS 4" software debuted in April, now renamed "iOS 4." Jobs revealed that users can now set Microsoft's Bing as a default search engine.

Starting June 21, iPhone 3GS users can upgrade to iOS 4 and such benefits as the ability to "multitask" third-party applications. The iPhone 3G and iPod Touch can also run iOS 4 but lose out on some of its features.

Jobs began the keynote by revealing a few details about Apple's mobile-device business. Its App Store now stocks 225,000 titles, he said, with over 5 billion downloads to date. Jobs defended Apple's strict control of the store, describing it as a "curated platform" and saying it approves 95 percent of titles submitted.

The keynote was also marred by WiFi dropouts that led Jobs to ask attendees to turn off any WiFi transmitters -- an echo of the networking issues that plagued Google events in the same building last month.

At one point, Jobs asked a colleague for suggestions on fixing their WiFi woes, after which somebody in the hall shouted "Verizon!" But the one iPhone feature some users were most anxious to see -- support for a carrier besides AT&T, preferably Verizon -- still isn't happening. Those sad smartphone shoppers can, however, comfort themselves with the thought that Apple ships a new iPhone every summer. There's always next year.

A version of this ran first on Rob Pegoraro's blog; read more at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward.

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