iPhone Goes 3G

After Apple announced the iPhone 3G at their annual WorldWide Developer Conference in June of this year, anticipation for the first 3G-capable iPhone was running high. While the original device launchefd in the U.S. and then spread to a handful of European countries, Apple planned to launch the iPhone 3G in 24 more nations worldwide and expected to be offering it in a whopping 73 countries by the end of 2008. On July 11th, Applef and AT&T stores started selling the 3G, and over one million consumers bought one in the first three days, making this the hottest smartphone launch ever.

The iPhone 3G brings speed, assisted GPS, and a new low price to Apple's smartphone platform. And while the hardware has definitely been improved, it's the iPhone 2.0 OS and software suite that is truly revolutionary. (See page 11 for a review of the iPhone 2.0 software.)


Minimalist design

There's no way to tell that the design has changed by looking at the front of the iPhone 3G. The beautiful slab-like iPhone body didn't need any major cosmetic changes, so Apple Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive retained as much of the original look as possible.

Picture of iPhone 3G

The dimensions of the iPhone 3G are very close to the original—still 4.5 inches tall and 2.4 inches wide, but slightly thicker at 0.48 inches. The extra thickness is due to a larger battery, and is compensated for by a more curved design that fits more comfortably in the hand. The weight increased by a scant 0.1 ounce over the first-generation iPhone, and now weighs 4.7 ounces.

Also unchanged is the lack of buttons on the face of the iPhone 3G. While iPhone-inspired Windows Mobile devices like the HTC Touch Diamond clutter the lower part of the face with a D-pad and buttons, there's still only one button on the iPhone 3G—the Home button. The Home button is used to navigate to the Home screen from within any application. All other navigation is done using the touch screen.

There's more on the face of an iPhone 3G than meets the eye. The device has a proximity sensor built in, so the display and touch screen are disabled when your face is pressed against them. An ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness of the display, turning it down in dark conditions or making it brighter in broad daylight.



The iPhone 3G (left) has a single Home button below the display;
the Windows Mobile Touch Diamond (right) has a central navigation
button flanked by Call, End Call, Home, and Back buttons on the face.




iPhone cover colorsThe back of the device is the first indication that you're looking at a new iPhone. The first-generation iPhone sported an aluminum cover over most of the back, while the new device uses a plastic cover for improved signal quality. The 8 GB model is basic black, while the 16 GB version is available in basic black or two-tone (black front with a white back). Many Apple enthusiasts expect that the iPhone line will eventually sport a spectrum of body colors, much in the way that the iPod family eventually sprouted colorful cases.


The iPhone 3G comes in basic black
or a black front with a white back.


Located on the back of the iPhone 3G are the lens for the 2.0 megapixel camera (unimproved since the first iPhone), a shiny Apple logo, and the barely visible product information.

The only other protuberances on the iPhone 3G are a volume rocker and ring/silent switch on the left side (black on the original, now silver), the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack (now flush with the case, not recessed like the original); the SIM tray cover; and the sleep/wake (power on/off) switch on the top. The switches on the original iPhone were plastic, the ones on the 3G are made of metal.

The bottom of the iPhone 3G has changed slightly from the original, with the speaker and microphone now covered with miniscule metal grids, two small exposed screws, and the 30-pin proprietary Apple dock connector. A small charging and syncing dock was included with the original iPhone, but no dock is shipped with the 3G (a concession to the lower price). Syncing and charging are done through a USB cable.


Maximum power

Apple's commitment to simplicity extends to the lack of an expansion card slot. Fortunately, the iPhone 3G comes with plenty of flash memory built in, 8 GB ($199) or 16 GB ($299).

The screen was the highlight of the original iPhone, featuring a 3.5-inch diagonal widescreen "Multi-Touch" display. The colors are slightly warmer on the 3G than they were on the original, and the resolution is still an outstanding half-VGA (480 by 320 pixels) at 163 dpi.

With the iPhone 3G, connectivity is not an issue. The device retains the quad-band GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) capability of the original, but can also access high-speed UMTS/HSDPA (850, 1900, 2100 MHz) networks. As with the original, it also comes with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR. It still lacks A2DP support for Bluetooth stereo headsets.

The first-generation iPhone had no built-in location capability until January of 2008, when a software update added auto-locate using a combination of cell-phone tower triangulation and a Wi-Fi positioning system from Skyhook Wireless. iPhone 3G adds true Assisted GPS to the positioning toolkit, providing more accurate coordinates and faster location determination.

To power all of the functionality of the iPhone 3G, Apple relies on the Samsung S5L8900 chipset. This chipset combines the power of the 620 MHz ARM 1176 CPU (underclocked to 412 MHz to conserve power) and the PowerVR MBX 3D GPU.


Design details

The original iPhone was the first smartphone to feature a built-in accelerometer, which determined the orientation of the device held in your hand, and automatically changed the screen orientation accordingly. By turning the device on its side, many (but not all) applications adjust to a landscape mode. Apple put this feature to a unique use in the 3G; the 4-function calculator of the original iPhone now turns into a full scientific calculator in landscape mode.

The Multi-Touch user interface is the same as that on the original device. Buttons are "pressed" by tapping on the their images with a finger, lists are scrolled with a flick of the finger, date and time wheels are adjusted by scrolling with a finger, and users can zoom in or out of Safari Web browser screens or photos by placing two fingers on the screen and spreading them farther apart or closer together.

The scratch-resistant touch screen is capacitive, which means that you must use your finger for control. Fingernails and styluses will not work to control the iPhone 3G.

The iPhone 3G comes with the same white wired headset that shipped with the original device. It has a built-in microphone with a call accept/hang up switch. This headset has relatively good frequency response, ranging from 20 to 20,000 Hz, making it suitable for listening to music as well as phone calls.

Battery life from the built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery varies depending on the network being used; expect a maximum of 5 hours of talk time on 3G and up to 10 hours on 2G. Standby time is about 300 hours. If you're using your iPhone 3G as an iPod, you may be able to watch up to 7 hours of video or listen to up to 24 hours of music. For Internet use, 5 hours on a 3G network is about as long as you can expect, or 6 hours on Wi-Fi.

The battery is charged via USB either through a USB 2.0 port on a computer or through a new, extremely small power adapter. As with the original iPhone, you cannot remove the battery.

As mentioned, the iPhone 3G comes with the new iPhone 2.0 OS and software suite, which includes many enhancements and a few new applications. For more on iPhone 2.0, be sure to read my follow-on article on page 11.

Apple's iPhone gets a hardware makeover for its first birthday
October 2008 (Premier Issue)
iOS Devices
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