Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs took command of the company's iPhone 4 announcement at its Worldwide Developer Conference yesterday, going so far as to order the assembled media and developers to stop using WiFi so he could demonstrate the Web features of the new phone. Despite the technical foible, Jobs gave another charismatic performance as Apple's pitchman and showed how Apple is continuing to innovate in terms of design and stay atop the application storefront heap.
"The new [Apple] device and OS clearly sets the bar again for the industry," Nielsen analyst Roger Entner said. "While Android gained steam in the last quarter through the release of many great devices on various carriers leading up to the announcement today, the new iPhone takes this device category again to the next level and exceeds again the highest expectations."
The iPhone 4 is an impressive piece of hardware. The gadget's new display, with its "retina screen," appears to enhance all of the device's content. And the device's new FaceTime video chat feature--arguably the iPhone 4's best new feature--has the potential to take video calling mainstream, though I remain a little skeptical over how many people will actually use it day-in and day-out.
I was worried that Apple's focus on video might clash with AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) new tiered data plans--what's the point of having a feature like video chat if you have to continually worry about your data usage? Apple side-stepped that by making the service available only via WiFi. The new plans might actually help Apple sell more devices. "Apple's carrier partners will benefit more in renewed loyalty as existing customers upgrade than in new customer acquisitions, though we expect AT&T's new introductory pricing tier will lure in family plan additions as well," Forrester analyst Charles Golvin said.
Apple's trump card against its mobile competitors still remains the array of services it has integrated with its hardware: iTunes, the App Store and iBooks. Jobs said that last week Apple crossed 5 billion app downloads and has given developers $1 billion so far--talk about a strong incentive. CCS Insight analyst John Jackson said the iPhone 4 announcement was unremarkable--Gizmodo took most of the suspense out if it in April by publishing photos of an iPhone 4 prototype--and noted it is becoming harder for Apple to out-do itself. However, he said comparing the iPhone with top Android phones is still like comparing apples and oranges. Android phones "are not the front end of a high-velocity commerce engine," he said, referring to Apple's iTunes content offerings. "At least not at this point."
Furthermore, Apple is ramping up its internatonal distribution efforts, and plans to release the iPhone 4 in 88 countries by September--its fastest iPhone rollout so far. Android is making big strides against Apple in terms of design and features. But to me, it's still playing catch up. And Apple has no intention of slowing down. --Phil