Not to drink too much of the Kool-Aid, but the question has to be asked: Can anything stop Apple's iPhone?
Yes! Its partner AT&T could still foul things up. The old phone company is running as fast as it can, but it continues to be an anchor on Apple and is having a hard time delivering on some of the iPhone's promise. Among other things, the iPhone 3Gs offers video and can be wirelessly tethered to your laptop and act like a modem. (Say goodbye to ever again paying for wi-fi in hotels!) But AT&T won't discuss the matter, other than to say it will support the features someday. It won't even say whether it intends to charge extra for this service. "That is to be determined," a spokesman said. "We are not going into specifics beyond saying that we will offer it." Gee, that's awesome! (See pictures of Steve Jobs on the job.)
It's days like this that make Steve Jobs' dismissive pre-iPhone description of cellular carriers as orifices feel especially prophetic.
Meanwhile, with the newest iPhone going on sale June 19, and with an immediate price cut to $99 for last year's model not to mention a passel of new features coming in the smartphones' operating-system upgrade on June 17 Apple's competition is that speck you now see in the rearview mirror. Oh, wait, it was there just a second ago ...
It's not really fair, of course, to compare the iPhone to the Palm Pre, which went on sale Saturday. The Pre is the first smart alternative to the iPhone, but it's still only an infant at this point. It's like comparing a baby to a 35-year-old one is full of potential, but the other is already making its mark on the world. And what Apple showed off Monday will make it harder for the Pre and all other smartphones to catch up. (Watch TIME's video about the Palm Pre vs. the iPhone)
The s in the 3Gs stands for speed, and true to its name, the smartphone promises to load apps more than twice as fast as last year's model. The phone now shoots video and has a wonderfully simple interface that allows you to visually "scrub" your footage search through a visual timeline of what you shot find what you want and instantly edit it. You'll even be able to instantly e-mail your clip to friends or someday upload it to Facebook when AT&T gets around to it. The new phone has a 3-megapixel camera (autofocus, or you can tap an object in the viewfinder to focus on it). A built-in compass supplements the onboard GPS, so now you'll be able to see not only where you are on a map but also which direction you're facing. Voice commands, cut-and-paste options and a battery that will last 20%-30% longer round out the new product.
Yes, yes, I know. Your phone shoots video and can handle voice commands too. But trust me: Not like this. Under Jobs' tenure, Apple has excelled in taking well-known "features" that are out there in other products and making them actually work in ways that delight and surprise you.
You want surprise and delight? One of the features in the 3.0 upgrade to the iPhone's operating system is called Find My iPhone. Say you're married to someone who loses her phone. And let's say she'd had the phone for only two weeks when this happened. Had this feature been available then, instead of resorting to recriminations and finger-pointing, you could have simply gone to your computer, issued a command and voila! the missing phone would start beeping. (Even if the sound had been turned off. And it's an obnoxious beep too, like the ping of sonar.) But wait, there's more! The iPhone will also show up on a Google map. If your phone has been stolen, you can now remotely wipe it.
Sadly, that feature isn't free you'll need to subscribe to MobileMe, Apple's so-so synching service ($99 a year). But it's an innovative alternative.
With more than 1,000 new hooks that developers can tap into, third-party iPhone programmers are having a field day with the 3.0 operating system. The iPhone is becoming a platform for precisely the kind of cheap and disruptive technologies that fuel start-ups. The car-rental company ZipCar, for instance, showed off an app that lets you lease a car from your phone and points you to the parking space of the car itself. When you get close to the car, the iPhone can unlock the automobile as if it were a key. Seriously, how cool is that?