Apple unveils faster iPhone 3G S, slates June 19 launch

Execs tout 2x speed and video camera, reduced $99 price for old iPhone 3G

Apple Inc. today took the wraps off its next iPhone, the iPhone 3G S, touting it as twice as fast as the current model and saying it would go on sale in the U.S. and several other markets June 19.

The 32GB iPhone 3G S will sell for $299; a 16GB model will go for $199. Both will be sold by Apple and AT&T Inc. at brick-and-mortar and online stores, and at Best Buy and Wal-Mart stores. Apple is also retaining the 8GB version of the iPhone 3G, and starting today it will sell that older model for $99. All iPhones sold in the U.S. require a two-year commitment to AT&T service, which starts at $70 a month.

Those prices and models match what some bloggers -- including Jon Gruber, the well-connected author of Daring Fireball -- and analysts had predicted. In particular, the chatter about a cheaper iPhone turned out to be correct, although it was, as analyst Ezra Gottheil bet last week, the existing iPhone 3G at a reduced price, not a new model.

"They filled in the holes," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "It's evolutionary, not revolutionary. But they did what they had to do. They made it faster, gave it a better camera -- I love the tap-to-focus -- and added voice control, which was always a drawback."

Apple's iPhone 3G S will be powered by iPhone 3.0, the new operating system that the company previewed in March. Current owners of the first- and second-generation iPhone and iPhone 3G will be able to download the new operating system as a free upgrade starting June 17.

The announcements of the iPhone 3G S and the availability of iPhone 3.0 came at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where company executives, led by Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, earlier announced that the next operating system for the Mac, Snow Leopard, will launch in September as a $29 upgrade to Leopard. Schiller also unveiled a top-to-bottom refresh of Apple's laptop line.

The iPhone 3G S -- the "S" stands for "speed," said Schiller -- will be available June 19 in the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. Other countries will receive the iPhone 3G S starting July 9.

Much of the time that Schiller spent talking up the iPhone was dedicated to bragging about the phone's faster speeds and touting a new auto-focusing camera that captures not only still images, but also video.

"Just tap on what you want to focus on," said Schiller during a demonstration of the 3-megapixel camera's auto-focusing capability. The camera application lets users switch between still shots and video mode, he added, with the latter capable of taking video at a rate of 30 frames per second. Because the camera is in the same location on the iPhone, however, video chat won't be possible, contrary to speculation last month based on AT&T's plan to expand to a faster wireless network called HSPA 7.2 later this year. The iPhone 3G S does support HSPA 7.2, Apple said in a statement.

The new iPhone also features a new voice control interface that enables users to make calls by saying "Dial" and then stating the name of a person in the address book, or queue up iTunes tracks by saying "Play all songs by..." and stating an artist's name.

As reported widely prior to the kickoff of WWDC, the new iPhone 3G S also features a digital compass. It also supports data encryption and -- via the new iPhone 3.0 "Find My iPhone" feature -- remote data-wiping. Moreover, it offers enhanced turn-by-turn directions and boasts improved battery performance. Regarding the latter, Schiller said that the iPhone 3G S's battery will run the smartphone for nine hours worth of Internet surfing or 30 hours of music playing.

Apple will release the new iPhone 3.0 software worldwide on June 17, considerably earlier than most analysts had predicted. As the company said in March, the upgrade will be free for all iPhone and iPhone 3G owners, although iPod Touch customers must pay $9.95 for the new software.

Some features included in iPhone 3.0 rely on mobile carrier cooperation, which may or may not be quickly forthcoming, depending on the market. Tethering, the ability to use the iPhone as a conduit to the Web for a notebook computer, will apparently not be immediately available in the U.S., where AT&T has exclusive rights to the iPhone. As for MMS, the ability to send photos along with text messages, Apple said that capability will be available from AT&T, but not until later this summer.

All in all, Gottheil said he was impressed, although not overwhelmed. "You can't blow people away all the time," he said. Among the disappointments, he ticked off a lack of any information about the iPod Touch, the iPhone look-alike that also relies on the iPhone operating system, and the fact that there was no reduction in AT&T's data plan pricing

Apple is taking pre-orders for the 16GB and 32GB models of the iPhone 3G S starting today on its online store. According to the site, customers who pre-order will receive their iPhone 3G S's on June 19.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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