The most telling moment in last night’s Apple keynote marking the arrival of the iPhone 4 was not the failure of the sleek new cell to play nice with the 3G network on stage.
It came during the usual self-congratulatory video of Apple execs shown as proceedings wound down. The segment included Apple’s design doyenne Jonathan Ive claiming that the iPhone 4’s smart new video calling app Facetime is going to "change the way we communicate forever".
Even given that in the US video calling is much more of a novelty than it is on these shores and thus seems a lot more revolutionary, it was a staggering remark. And the tenor of overweening hubris was compounded by comments from other Apple execs stating they “couldn’t believe [Facetime] was real". It’s certainly clear that from Steve Jobs’ brief demo on stage with Ive that Facetime is slick. And Apple’s claim that it doesn’t hammer battery life is very welcome indeed.
But even so this is the latest, and perhaps most jaw-dropping, piece of Newspeak to emerge from Cupertino. Pick up any one of the slew of smartphones other than the iPhone that have landed over the past three years and they can all handle video calling. Apple is not the first to the party here. In fact, the party’s been over for ages.
Video calling on mobiles is still something of a mystery. Apple haters have slated previous iPhones for not having a front-facing camera for video chat. Now it has one, ask yourself if you’ve ever seen anyone out and about using it? It’s a niche concern which Apple is clearly hoping to boost with Facetime.
Of course, Facetime looks great. The ability to use both cameras is cool and the gooey Sam Mendes ad to promote the feature will push people's buttons. But this is not a core function. Apple has seemingly been caught in its own bluster surrounding the iPhone 4, despite there being so much else under the hood to get excited about.
iMovie for iPhone looks a peach, but really should have been there last year. The fact it’s not included on the phone from the get-go is a real shame, but not a deal-breaker. Likewise, the new IPS screen (“quite a bit better than OLED,” according to Jobs) promises to offer detail unlike any other smartphone (except perhaps the Samsung Wave. However, it’s hard to get past all these great extra features when the Apple hype machine is working at full tilt. It’d almost be better if Apple dropped a spec sheet, showed a few pics and let everyone have a play. That way, we’d escape the PR videos that cause Apple’s detractors to become indignant.
There’s no escaping that the iPhone 4 has set the standard. Android phones haven’t dated overnight, but Jonny Ive’s design can only be matched by the HTC Legend. Plus it’s really Android’s skins that bring it to life; HTC Sense being a case in point. This though, will not be the focus, as people become infuriated with suggestions that Apple is leading in certain areas where it is actually following. The iPhone 4 looks amazing. Be under no illusion that it will sell by the bucketload. But the bombast leaves a bitter taste and one which some smartphone lovers will find hard to stomach.