Apple's WWDC Keynote is over, and while the big news here may have more to do with Apple's Mac OS X laptop line and operating system than with iPhones, there was plenty of iPhone news to gather up. Much of today's news was previewed and/or leaked awhile back, but we did see a new iPhone model and a 50% price cut on the current iPhone 3G - though I'm guessing that the $99 3G will be a "while supplies last" kind of thing. Perhaps to pave the way for the fabled "iPhone nano" in time for back-to-school in the Fall.
The other big news so far as I'm concerned is the continuing disappointment that is AT&T's 3G network in the US. Performance on all 3G phones on AT&T's network in the San Francisco Bay Area has been terrible as of late. Really, it's been pretty bad for months now, but it seems to have gotten even worse in the past month or so. And no, it's not an iPhone thing: iPhone 3G, BlackBerry Bold, Samsung Impression ... you name it, and if it runs on AT&T 3G, it drops calls, loses signals, and makes calls sound worse than competing devices from Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Last week I even had a rep from a major handset company ask me what was up with AT&T - he said he'd switched 3G off on his phones in order to get decent service while visitng Northern California. It's true - dropping back to EDGE yields much more reliable AT&T service, if slower data.
I mention this not just to complain, but also because Apple announced a few long-awaited features for iPhone OS 3 that will likely be available in other parts of the world before they're usable in the US, thanks to AT&T's ineptitude. MMS. Frickin' MMS will be coming to iPhone OS 3 on June 17th ... but not to AT&T iPhone users until "Late Summer." What the what? Why?
Laptop tethering? iPhone OS 3 will support it, and Apple showed a slide with the logos of partners around the globe all lined up to offer tethering plans to iPhone users. I searched and searched for AT&T's logo on that slide ... and never found it. Seriously? For the record, my first answer to the inevitable "iPhone or Pre?" question will now officially be, "Sprint's network destroys AT&T, so far as I'm concerned. At least where I live."
But back to the Apple announcements. The new iPhone 3GS is all about speed (hence the "S" in the name). Faster processor, faster video, faster data via HSDPA 7.2 (if your non-AT&T network supports it), and video capture backed by more storage. 3GS ships in a week or so at $299 (32 GB) and $199 (16 GB) on contract in the US. Meantime, the current 8GB 3G model will be blown out for $99 on contract starting today. Nice.
3GS gets an upgraded camera with auto-touch-focus and VGA video capture, but the big news is software-related: Voice control, support for software-enhanced dock accessories, remote wipe and "Find my iPhone" features via MobileMe, and more. I think you're going to see Apple working to extend their App Store advantage over up-and-coming platforms like Google's Android and Palm's WebOS, even if it means that the new iPhone looks exactly the same as the old iPhone ... from the outside.
I wouldn't be suprised to see an Apple tablet running a modified form of iPhone OS, and a new low-cost iPhone ("nano"?) in time for back-to-school. Apple's smart enough to know that even in a recession people will spend a few bucks here and there for apps, and a few hundred bucks for a device that seems like it can really help their lives. For the affluent, that means a faster iPhone (3GS). For students that means a semi-low cost tablet that's easy to use and sports a Kindle-killing e-reader app ... like the one shown off during today's keynote.
Here's hoping that if such a tablet comes, and comes equipped with 3G data, it runs on a carrier worthy of supporting it. Unless AT&T ups their game in a big way, and right quick, that's going to mean a shift in Apple's current US carrier relationships.