The Apple Of Your Ear

With iPhone, Apple's Steve Jobs applied his revolution-by-design mind to cell phones. An inside look at innovation in action

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Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveils a new mobile phone that can also be used as a digital music player and a camera, a long-anticipated device dubbed an "iPhone."

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Now forget about phone calls. Look at the video, which is impressively crisp and sharp. This is the first time the hype about "rich media" on a phone has actually appeared plausible. Look at the e-mail client, which handles attachments, inline images and HTML e-mails as adroitly as a desktop client. Look at the Web browser, a modified version of Safari that displays actual Web pages, not a teensy, deformed version of the Web. There's a Google Maps application that's almost worth the price of admission on its own.

I do have nitpicks. You can't download songs onto iPhone directly from the iTunes store; you have to export them from a computer. And even though it has wi-fi and Bluetooth on it, you can't sync iPhone with a computer wirelessly. And there should be games on it. And you're required to use it as a phone--you can't use it without signing up for cellular service. Boo.

But these are quibbles. The fact is, the iPhone shatters two basic axioms of consumer technology. One, when you take an application and put it on a phone, that application must be reduced to a crippled and annoying version of itself. Two, when you take two devices--such as an iPod and a phone--and squish them into one, both devices must necessarily become lamer versions of themselves. The iPhone is a phone, an iPod and a mini-Internet computer all at once, and they all--contrary to basic physics--occupy the same space at the same time, but without taking a hit in performance. In a way, iPhone is the wrong name for it. (Indeed, Cisco is suing Apple, claiming it owns the trademark.) It's a handheld computing platform that just happens to contain a phone.

Why is Apple able to do things most other companies can't? Partly by charging for it: the iPhone will cost $499 for a 4-GB model, $599 for 8-GB. And partly because unlike most companies, Apple does its own hardware, its own software and its own industrial design. When it all takes place under one roof, you get a kind of collaborative synergy that makes unusual things happen.

Apple also places an unusual emphasis on interface design. It sweats the cosmetic details that don't seem very important until you really sweat them. "I actually have a photographer's loupe that I use to make sure every pixel is right," says Scott Forstall, Apple's vice president of Platform Experience. "We will argue over literally a single pixel." As a result, when you swipe your finger across the screen to unlock the iPhone, you're not just accessing a system of nested menus, you're entering a tiny universe in which data exist as bouncy, gemlike objects. You can actually pinch an image with two fingers and make it smaller. Because there's no mouse or keyboard, just that touch screen, there's a powerful illusion that you're physically handling data.

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