Everything you wanted to know about the iPhone

Just back from outer space? Don't know what the iPhone is? You'd better catch up by reading this -- you'll avoid embarrassing yourself at dinner parties

If you've recently been released from a maximum-security prison or -- shock horror -- you just don't care that much about technology, then you might be wondering what all the fuss about the iPhone is. Instead of feeling bemused while your mates go on about how they want to buy one, and whether or not touchscreen interfaces are the future, read this article and wow them with your insightful comments and in-depth knowledge.

What is it?
The iPhone is a mobile phone created by Apple, the company that makes iPods. It combines technology from several of its devices. It features a large colour screen and doesn't have a traditional keypad, instead relying on a touchscreen interface that lets you tap it, brush it sideways and even use two fingers to enlarge images using a pinching motion. If you want to see it in action, watch Apple's tour-guide-style video.

What does it do?
Aside from calling and texting, you can use the iPhone to listen to music, watch videos, browse the Web, find directions on Google Maps and watch YouTube videos. What makes it special compared to other phones is a glorious combination of stuff: its on-board applications, 8GB of internal memory (or 4GB, depending on the model you buy), its easy-to-use interface, the large squint-reducing screen and myriad small details, such as a 3.5mm headphone jack that lets you use a normal pair of headphones.

Do I need one?
If you've already got a mobile phone you like and an iPod, and you're not much of an on-the-go Web-browsing kind of person, then you don't really need an iPhone. Yes, it's going to be the trendy must-have-gadget of 2008 and it does do some very cool things, but it's not going to change your life if you think a phone is just a phone. This is about convergence, so unless you want all your gadgets in one, then your current mobile and iPod should do fine.

Where can I buy one?
From this Friday, 29 June, the iPhone will be available at US Apple and AT&T stores. We in the UK, on the other hand, have to wait until the end of the year. If you're thinking about buying one from the US, think again. For starters, you have to buy it on a monthly contract and therefore need a US address. Then there's the issue of it being locked to the AT&T network -- there's no word yet as to whether or not you can change the SIM. So we're all going to have to wait.

How much is it going to cost?
At the moment all we know for definite is that the 4GB model will cost $499 (£250) and the 8GB model $599 (£300), not including monthly network charges. Rumours have it that the network tariff will offer unlimited data, so you can browse the Web as much as you like, and it may include 2,000 text messages too, all for the not-so-scary price of $34-44 (£17-22) per month. These speculated figures only apply to the US though, and no rumours have turned up for UK price plans.

Update: Apple has just announced the official AT&T network tariffs for the US, which you can check out for yourself here. They start at $60 (£30) per month and include unlimited data. Still no word on network tariffs for the UK.

Is there anything wrong with it?
For all the hype the iPhone attracts, there are a few problems with it that might wind you up. The lack of 3G, for example, means that you can only get high-speed Web access via Wi-Fi hotspots, which can be difficult to find or expensive to use here in the UK. There's also the issue of using a touchscreen interface to do everything, particularly text messaging and writing emails. Tapping a flat screen just isn't the same as using a traditional keypad -- it doesn't provide the reassuring tactile feedback you get from pressing real keys. It's bound to pick up grease and scratches, too. It's also not that small, so if you value your pocket space then you might not want to lug an iPhone about.

If I don't want to buy one, what are the alternatives?
If you're not an Apple fan and you don't want to splash out that much money on a mobile phone, there are other options. The Nokia N95 does almost everything the iPhone does and features HSDPA (3.5G) connectivity, which means high-speed Internet access almost everywhere you go. If Nokia's not your thing, then you can always opt for the Sony Ericsson W960i, due to be released later this year, which features 8GB of on-board memory, Wi-Fi and a 3.2-megapixel camera with auto-focus. -Andrew Lim

Update: a full review of the Apple iPhone is now live.