Here's the consumer electronics news for PC users at Macworld Expo: Apple isn't just about the Mac anymore. In fact, the company's two big announcements at today's keynote--the iPhone and the Apple TV--are going to be Windows-compatible right out of the gate.
In an immediate, cool-gadget sense, the iPhone may provide a significant improvement over today's amped-up cell phones. Apple TV, on the other hand, is the next logical step in integrating the digital-media universe that Apple has helped create with its iTunes Music Store and iLife applications. The best news is that neither will be exclusive to Mac users.
iPhone's Killer App
The biggest excitement was around the new iPhone, shipping in June. It's billed as a phone with an intuitive touch-screen interface (which Apple calls Multi-Touch technology), a calendar and contact manager, and an iPod that can accommodate wide-screen movies, TV shows, and photos. Shockingly devoid of buttons and a keyboard, its design is reminiscent of Palm's LifeDrive, except it includes a phone. And it's like Research in Motion's BlackBerry or the Palm Treo, except that it includes an iPod.
In typical Apple fashion, Jobs stated that the company is "reinventing the cell phone" and that the device is "five years ahead of any other phone." That means the iPhone had better be darn near perfect to gather a following--in short, Apple has to have done the cell phone interface better. So far, it's looking good: The proximity sensor, as one example, knows when your ear comes close to the phone and disables the touch screen to prevent accidental input from your face.
If the iPhone truly thrills consumers, they'll also notice the built-in 2-megapixel camera, the integrated Google Maps, and a new way of Web browsing using an iPhone version of Apple's Safari browser.
What's in a Name?
Before Macworld Expo this year, speculation held that the iPhone wouldn't have that name because Cisco Systems had trademarked it already. According to Reuters online, Cisco expected to reach an agreement with Apple today regarding the name. It isn't clear whether that means Apple will change the name of its product or whether Cisco will transfer the trademark to Apple. The companies had been in talks prior to the product's announcement.
More Ambiguous Relationships
The iPhone will operate on Cingular's EDGE data network based on the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless platform. The exclusivity agreement between Apple and Cingular was ambiguously described as "multiyear."
"That's one of those terms of the contract that we mutually agreed not to discuss," says Cingular spokesperson Mark Siegel. Although some new phones are initially sold by just one carrier, many eventually end up being offered by multiple carriers. But Siegel says this deal is different. "In today's business environment, a multiyear commitment is a serious one, and obviously that shows that we have great faith in Apple and that Apple has great faith in us," he says.
Siegel also emphasizes that, contrary to prior speculation, this is not a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) arrangement, in which a company leases network access and brands the phone and the service as its own. Given the significance of the phone Apple was developing, "the only way we [Cingular] were going to achieve what we thought we could achieve with this extraordinary device was for it to be a full partnership," he says.
The iPhone will come in 4GB and 8GB configurations in June, and will cost $499 and $599 respectively. It supports 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 wireless technologies, and will be available at Cingular and Apple retail stores.