The iPhone 3G S… Why I Was Hoping for More.

June 12, 2009 by Lisa Oshima | Developers, Mobile, Review

I’d been looking forward to Apple’s announcement of a new iPhone for a long time, and while the iPhone 3G S (announced earlier in the week) looks marginally better than its predecessor, there are a handful of important features I’d hoped to see in this release that just aren’t there – specifically:

  • A hard-key QWERTY keyboard (note my love/hate relationship with Multi-touch)
  • The ability to use more than one app at a time
  • A removable battery and improved talk time
  • A better camera with flash

I listed three of the four of these missing features in my post on the Top 10 Reasons why I don’t want an iPhone 3G in August 2008.  I must admit – I’m surprised that a year has gone by, and these features are still missing.  If you compare the iPhone 3G with the iPhone 3G S, there are a variety of improvements in the S:

  • The ability to shoot video (er…excluding video recording capability on both the iPhone 3G and the original iPhone was just silly, given that most decent smart phones have had this functionality for years.)
  • Voice control (another “me too” feature that was missing from the first two iPhones but exists on even the most basic of most other smart phones)
  • A compass (This has to be the LEAST exciting feature on a mobile phone – EVER.  The last time I used a compass was when I was 8, and I made it from a pin and a cork in science class.  Between now and then, I’ve found that if I’m lost, looking at my watch in relation to the position of the sun seems to do the trick.  And, besides, who needs a compass when you’ve got built in GPS? I wish Apple had focused on allowing multitasking instead of building a feature that no one needs.)
  • Cut and Paste
  • A 3 megapicsel camera (versus 2 Megapicsels on the iPhone 3G)
  • Fractionally better battery life (but only on wi-fi or 2G)
  • “2x better” performance
  • 16 GB and 32 GB models available on the iPhone 3G S (vs. only 8 GB on the iPhone 3G)

With the exception of the compass, all of the above features are mainstays of many other smart phones. From what I can tell, none of these add-ons is a “killer feature,” capable of deflecting competitors.  Cumulatively however, the changes make this iPhone better than the last one.  That said, I can’t help but wonder whether this iteration of the iPhone is going to cause Apple more trouble than it’s worth…

Why? The most substantial thing to change in the iPhone 3G S  is the graphics processor, which is more powerful than the preceding iPhones.  Engadget summarized the challenge presented by this new processor a recent post:

The graphics processor in the 3G S — the PowerVR SGX — supports hardware acceleration of both OpenGL ES 1.1 and 2.0 while the more pedestrian PowerVR MBX found in the iPhone 3G supports 1.1 alone…OpenGL ES is the lightweight version of OpenGL, a powerful library of real-time 3D rendering APIs; many modern phones and other handheld devices support the older 1.1 specification, but 2.0 is less common — it kicks things up a notch by supporting more complex textures and shading operations… Here’s the problem, though: because OpenGL ES 1.1 and 2.0 are completely incompatible with each other, apps need to be written to support both if they’re going to be maximally compatible. A 2.0-only app can’t simply run on a 1.1-only device and not look as good — it won’t work at all.

One of the best parts about the iPhone for developers was that they only had to develop an app once and it would work across millions of handsets (more or less).  From a user perspective, the iTunes App Store was easy to use because most apps worked across the original iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPod Touch (with the exception of dial-ers and camera apps, which don’t work on the touch).  From the 3rd party developer’s perspective, the introduction of this new graphics processor means that developers that want to sell their apps to iPhone 3G S users need to develop their app for a new platform and pass the apps through the approval process again.  Several of the developers I’ve talked to claim to have been waiting weeks for their apps to be re-approved for the new iPhone 3G S.  With so many thousands of apps on the iTunes App store that will likely want to be approved for the new version of the iPhone, I suspect the approval process could take a long time.  It is therefore likely that the iPhone 3G S will not have as many apps available as its predicessors from the start, which isn’t ideal for end-users.

On the positive side, the processor change and resulting fragmentation of available apps versus devices will mean that sooner rather than later the iTunes store will have to become more dynamic to avoid user confusion.  It would make sense for Apple to modify the iTunes App store in its next revision so that apps are more easily discoverable and the app store is more dynamic, changing based on a user’s devices and specified preferences (i.e. behavioral targeting).

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    • Kevin Niven

      You may want to try out the HTC Touch Pro 2 Comes out in a few weeks.
      Thanks, great post!!

    • Kevin Niven

      You may want to try out the HTC Touch Pro 2 Comes out in a few weeks.
      Thanks, great post!!



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