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So, There Was This Keynote Earlier Today…

There’s no doubt that Apple has thrown down the gauntlet to all of the other phone and portable device manufacturers.
Steve Jobs announces the iPhone

Earlier today, I sent out an e-mail to my co-workers explaining why I was acting like a little schoolgirl, lest they become worried at my incessant giggling. And the reason for my little bout of glee? Why, Steve Jobs’ keynote at this year’s Macworld Expo, of course.

A Jobs keynote is always a big deal — not only is Jobs an extraordinarily charismatic speaker, but Apple almost always comes through with things that are just really cool.

This year’s keynote, however, promised to be something extra special, considering how much Apple was hyping it (though, as is usually the case, without revealing any of their secrets).

While Apple provided more details on Apple TV, their set-top box for high-def televisions that allows you to pull in media content from your iTunes library, the big deal this year was, without any doubt whatsoever, the iPhone — a combination mobile phone, widescreen iPod, and “Internet communications device.”

And it’s easy to see why.

At first glance, it makes every other cellphone look like those rotary dial telephones your grandparents thought were all the rage. Looking at the iPhone, with its elegant form factor and interface, you almost feel sorry for all of those Microsoft engineers who worked so hard on last year’s Zune, which looks about as advanced and sophisticated as a rubber doorstop by comparison.

The focal point of the iPhone is its interface, which is a giant, ultra-bright 3.5″ touchscreen. No more scroll wheel, which was itself pretty cool. No, with the iPhone, you literally let your fingers do the walking. Scrolling through long lists of contacts, songs, photos, and other media looks like a cinch. You can use your fingers to resize photos and move them around, literally by squeezing them between finger and thumb.

Perhaps most impressive is that the iPhone is literally a handheld computer. It runs OS X, and so uses a full-fledged web browser (Safari) and e-mail client (Mail) for its Internet apps. Plus, it takes advantages of OS X’s widgets and other apps, such as the address book.

As with so many of Apple’s offerings, it’s all about the little details:

  • Details such as motion sensors that detect whether the iPhone is being held vertically or horizontally, and automatically rotate the content being viewed — which would come in very handy while watching videos or scanning through a catalog of album covers. (See it in action)
  • Or proximity sensors that detect when the iPhone is being held up to your face while making a phonecall and disable the touchscreen so you don’t accidentally interrupt things.
  • Or a touchscreen keyboard that is predictive, meaning that it automatically corrects any spelling mistakes you make as you type. (See it in action)
  • Or sensors that automatically adjust the brightness of the screen based on the ambient light.
  • Or the integration of Google Maps, thereby allowing you to use Google Maps to find a nearby restaurant, call to make reservations, and get directions — all in one fell swoop. (See it in action)
  • Of course, there’s still that little issue about obtaining FCC approval (though I doubt Apple would make such a big deal about the iPhone if they weren’t 99.999% certain of just coasting through the approval process). And there are other issues as well.

Why Cingular? Will it always be Cingular? The interface looks amazing, but really, how easy will it be in everyday usage? How well will the touchscreen sensitivity hold up under regular, prolonged usage? What about fingerprints (we recently bought a black iPod, and the thing is just filthy right now)? What are the ramifications of the non-replaceable battery, or the fact that third-party programs can’t be loaded onto it?

However, there’s no doubt that Apple has thrown down the gauntlet to all of the other phone and portable device manufacturers. I can just imagine the execs over at Nokia, Palm, Samsung, et al. throwing emergency powwows as soon as Jobs’ keynote was finished, calling in envious engineers and pleading with them to come up with something — anything — that was even half as cool or intriguing.

However, as cool as the iPhone is, and at the risk of sounding like an ingrate at the tremendous efforts of Apple’s engineers, I can’t help but wonder about the other big announcements that are almost certainly brewing over there in Cupertino. Announcements that were conspicuously absent from this year’s keynote.

When are we going to find out more about OS X 10.5? Will it have a completely overhauled user interface or not? What about new ultra-compact MacBooks? What about those dual quad-core Mac Pros? Will we see updates to the iWork and iLife suites? As dazzled as they are by the ultra-pretty iPhone, Mac geeks the world over have got to be asking these questions.

But Apple likes to hold their secrets close. Which can be frustrating, because it causes the rumor mills to go into overdrive, which leads to far more noise than signal (not to mention insanely high expectations). However, it’s all worth it when Apple pulls something completely out of left field, something that noone, even with all of the rumors, was expecting, and leaves us breathlessly wanting more.

Come tomorrow, this may all change, but as of right now, Apple is certainly the coolest company in the world.

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