iPhone and Apple TV for Enterprise Mac readers

This story has already been posted in InfoWorld's Tech Watch (News) section. A colleague from Apple told me that in this blog, the last thing I had to say about iPhone was the potential downsides of the device.

I didn't mean to let that stand. Here's the full text of the Macworld Expo roundup story I submitted to News, which was cut way back for publication. My apologies to Apple and others who missed it.

Apple's got the urge to converge

Tom Yager

Steve Jobs delivered this year’s Macworld Expo keynote to an over-capacity crowd. He boasted that the Mac’s PowerPC-to-Intel transition had been completed in seven months, grinned about having sold half of new Macs to newcomers to the platform, and then he said "let’s move on."

Brother, has Apple moved on. Apple has dropped "computer" from its corporate name and is taking the sharp turn toward services, mobile and consumer electronics that Jobs emotionally identified as his two and a half-year dream. It's evident from the packed exhibit floor that the Mac is still very much in ascension. But for Jobs, who thrives on the new as much as Apple observers do, Mac is, for now, a fait accompli. Now it's convergence time.

The first of Apple's two market-shaking new products is Apple TV, the first credible entry into set-top TV over broadband. Apple TV is a receiver, digital content store and wireless LAN broadcaster for Apple's iTunes. The tiny box is neither a Mac nor a digital video recorder. The USB port is reserved for "service and diagnostics," not human interface devices, and all of Apple TV’s audio and video ports are outputs. Apple TV syncs content only from Macs and PCs within Ethernet or wireless (802.11 a/b/g/n) shouting distance that are running iTunes desktop software, and it can also reach out directly to Apple’s iTunes service with a touch of its gumstick remote. Apple TV will stream content, live or recorded, to as many as five additional PCs and Macs, each of which can watch or listen to anything on Apple TV's 40 GB hard drive. In other words, Apple TV turns every PC and Mac in your home or office into a tunable wireless digital television, but every channel has iTunes on it. It is possible, if a bit fiddly, to encode personal digital media, and even DVDs, and import them into the proprietary iTunes Library. Even with its peculiarities, at $299, Apple TV will become a popular home theatre component, a playground for hackers and the enabler for a future Apple venture into live and pay per view television.

Apple’s new iPhone is the penultimate converged mobile device, bringing together a mobile phone, a widescreen iPod and an Internet communicator in a a sub-12mm thin handheld that places iPhone users at three times the normal risk of plowing into oncoming traffic. iPhone has no physical keyboard; one pops up on-screen when you need it. Likewise, there is no scrollwheel, escape button, call start/end button or any tactile buttons at all except one that returns you to the application launch menu.

iPhone's exterior design is similar to Sony's PSP and Nokia's n-Series, but iPhone's interface is operated solely by a combination of a finger-driven GUI—-no stylus or handwriting recognition—-environmental sensors and wired or Bluetooth headset controls.

Inside its classy black polycarbonate chassis, iPhone has absolutely everything but a hard drive. It has a speaker, a microphone, a headphone jack, 4 or 8 GB of flash memory, a 2 megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless LAN, GSM/GPRS/EDGE mobile phone and data transceiver, an accelerometer that senses portrait/landscape orientation, and a proximity sensor that answers a call when you bring iPhone to your ear, and it's all managed by an embedded OS X operating system. Fantasize about what a company with unlimited time, money and imagination could do with all of that and you've got the iPhone.

iPhone's most stellar feature among its galaxy of features is its Multi-Touch UI. Sure, it lets you check checkboxes with a tap and fill in forms with an on-screen keyboard, but its intuitive innovation is exemplified in three gestures: Sweep, pinch and double-tap. The sweep gesture scrolls, and the device tries to be smart about how far and fast you wanted it to scroll. Scroll speed operates on a curveThe pinch (I'd call it pinch/spread) action is the "only Apple would think of this" of 2007. If you draw your thumb and forefinger together while they're touching the screen, whatever is on the screen will shrink, zoom out or otherwise get small. If you push your thumb and forefinger apart, whatever is on the screen will zoom in, grow or get big in an application-defined way. If you're looking at something that's just too small, double-tap it and it will enlarge to fill the display.

iPhone is a two-handed device, built for your fingertips rather than your thumbs. During the demo, Steve never rested his fingers on the display, and his one-fingered stabbing motion made the on-screen QUERTY keyboard look awkward and imprecise. I think it's better than he made it look. I see myself pecking around pretty quickly in an unlucky woodworker's touch typing style, and if iPhone doesn't already have a Bluetooth keyboard profile built in, it can't be far off.

Jobs’ explicit mention of iPhone’s OS X roots suggests that iPhone will be open to developers. If that’s so, then developers salivating over the prospect of a UNIX mobile device will account for a great many sales, and their apps will bring no small number of users to iPhone and Mac clients. As for iPhone’s target market beyond the super-savvy, Steve offered a one-sentence positioning statement: “iPhone is like a Blackberry without Exchange.” He wants 1 percent of the mobile market in 2007. That’s a tall order for a $500-$600 handset, especially given that the top-end mobile market is fairly well consolidated. But judging from the collective groan sent up by the Macworld Expo keynote crowd, Apple can count on at least 4,000 customers when iPhone ships in June.

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