Apple Races Ahead with iPhone 4, but AT&T Drags Like an Anchor

Last Updated Jun 7, 2010 3:39 PM EDT

As expected, Apple (AAPL) used the Steve Jobs Worldwide Developers Conference keynote address to introduce the iPhone 4. As the list of improvements, features, developments, and announcements came rolling out, one thing was clear. AT&T (T) has become an anchor dragging on Apple's progress.

The degree of advancement over the iPhone 3GS -- even with the advanced look at iPhone OS 4 (now known as iOS 4) -- is impressive:

  • The iPhone 4 is about 24 percent thinner than the 3G. A band around the perimeter is a combined antenna. Its manufacturing uses a reduced amount of toxic materials and it is supposedly easier to recycle.
  • A higher pixel density screen -- called the "retinal display" -- provides over 300 dpi resolution. To put that into perspective, if you ignore technical complications, that's more than triple what computer screens offer and is enough to get photorealistic effects. Text and video will look crisper than on any other display you've seen.
  • You will get iBooks on the device, including the ability to read PDFs and to sync your current place in a title, bookmarks, and notes across all your devices. Start reading on an iPad and you can pick up where you left off on the iPhone 4.
  • It uses the A4 chip from the iPad, which is light on power consumption, and has an improved battery. That means 5 to 7 hours of talk time, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours Wi-Fi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music, or 300 hours of standby.
  • Quad-band HSDPA/HSUPA support for 7.2Mbps down, 4.8 Mbps up data transmission.
  • A gyroscope adds more sophisticated motion detection than the accelerometer can provide by itself.
  • A 5 megapixel camera will take low-light images as well as 720p, 30fps video with a 5x digital zoom. (This is one disappointment, as a growing number of handsets can do far better.)
  • A front-facing camera allows video calls, though only over Wi-Fi connections through 2010.
  • Users can purchase iMovie for the iPhone to do more significant video editing than was possible on earlier models.
But iPhone 4 itself wasn't the only announcement. For example, Netflix (NFLX) has a new iPhone version expected this summer that will allow subscribers to start movies on a television and then pick it up on their iPhones.

That runs us smack into the brick wall that is AT&T. Forget about streaming that movie on the 3G network if you don't want to run into the new lower data caps that the carrier has imposed. Forget about video conferencing over 3G in the near future with higher per-megabyte data prices. And 7.2Mbps down, 4.8 Mbps data connections? You'll be lucky to get reliable 3G on AT&T.

Apple has now run headlong into AT&T's limitations. There was no talk of a version of the iPhone for Verizon (VZ), let alone Sprint (S) or T-Mobile. Then again, how well could the other carriers handle this?

Anchor image: user lusi, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.