Is the iPhone 3G S really such a big deal?

Live bloggers were burning up their keyboards. Twitter was awash with bile and love. But having slept on it, is the new iPhone 3G S really all that?

Last night we saw live bloggers burning up their keyboards and Apple lovers and haters trembling on Twitter, as Apple announced the details of the new iPhone -- the iPhone 3G S -- at its developer conference.

But the world is full of people who wonder why the iPhone inflames such passion -- if it's just another phone, why has it gained the status of a mobile celebrity, hounded by the tech paparazzi? And what the hell just happened? Is Steve Jobs dead, or what?

What's the deal with the iPhone 3G S, is it a new phone?

The clue is in the name here: the iPhone 3G S is not a huge change for the touchable one. While the iPhone 3G improved on the original iPhone with a whole new network band, the App Store and a shiny new look, the 3G S is just a little, one-letter addition to the handset we know and love/hate/are indifferent to.

There's a smattering of handy new features, of course, but most of them have been available on other phones for ages -- remote wiping a lost handset, for example, or MMS and copy and paste. This is Apple patiently plugging the holes that made some people hate it.

If these new features are already in other phones, why is the iPhone so popular? Other manufacturers are firing out new handsets like a phone-loaded Gatling gun, each one more feature-packed than the last. Samsung , LG and Sony Ericsson have all launched several flashy touchscreen phones recently. But Apple is cruising along with its one handset (or two, if you count the still-available iPhone 3G), bucking the trend and seizing a small, but very lucrative, corner of the market -- and changing the mobile game while it's at it.

Apple's sticking to its program of handset unity, and it's the same reason every other phone maker feels as though they're playing catch-up. By having one phone, managed with the strict discipline of a drill-sergeant-turned-fat-camp-fitness-instructor, it's created a device where the hardware and the user interface are so tightly bound that things almost always run smoothly. It's Apple's computer dream re-born into the locked-down world of mobile phones, where applications aren't expected to do much more than let you play a single game and people are happy to trade flexibility for an effortless experience that 'just works'.

Fine, iPhone lover. But is there anything new worth having in the 3G S?

Absolutely. It's not a wholesale change, but there's some very useful stuff. Apple's putting the spotlight on speed -- that's what the 'S' in 3G S stands for -- but we think the improved battery life is the unsung hero of the hour. The iPhone made the mobile Web a fantastic reality, but staying on the grid strangles the battery and turns newly minted Internet addicts into whimpering kittens. The 3G S promises 9 hours of surfing compared to the 3G's 6 hours, which is a significant improvement -- although we hope much better is on the horizon.

Other favourites for us include tethering, where you can connect your laptop to the Web through the iPhone using a USB cable or Bluetooth. Unfortunately O2 is charging extra to let you do this -- a bolt-on for data used in this way, even though you get unlimited data in the contract.

We also like that the iPhone will expose more functionality through its docking port, so third parties can create better hardware accessories. This will help fill the gaps that are still there -- such as the lack of an FM radio, which gives us a deep sadness that only a Today programme addict can truly understand.

Turn-by-turn navigation is going to be a huge help when we're lost, which is most of the time, and HTTP streaming media in Safari mobile and push notification will make the iPhone's Web experience even better.

What didn't we get?

We sighed the sad sighs of a lonely willow tree when we realised there'd be no 802.11n Wi-Fi support, no FM radio and no OLED screen. But we have only our over-enthusiastic rumour machine to blame, we suppose. The bundled helper monkey we'd hoped for wasn't there either. Perhaps we just had a dream about that.

We think Apple really missed a trick by not giving the 3G S a cosmetic makeover. How hard would it be to have slapped that matte rubber backing on there? We may be as shallow as a kiddie pool, but after we've shelled out for some exorbitant contract that will last until we're in adult nappies, it's nice to feel as though we've bought something new. Instead we'll be arguing with our mate who picked up their iPhone 3G on the new bargain-basement plan. It's not the same, buddy -- ours has an S on it.

So... is the iPhone 3G S really such a big deal?

Not really, no. There's nothing mind-bogglingly new here -- none of the innovation of the first iPhone or the major improvements of the iPhone 3G. The improvements are sound, but either long-overdue, such as copy and paste, or boringly practical, such as the speedy processor. Don't get us wrong, this looks like the best iPhone yet, with many irritations ironed out and a focus on what made it great from the beginning: speed and ease of use.

But this is an iPhone that's moved into a reasonable middle age, with a sensible family car and a wardrobe full of ironed shirts. And we can't wait till it has a midlife crisis, with an unreasonable red supercar and a new piercing -- now that would be something to get excited about.

Bonus question: is Steve Jobs dead?

No.

 

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