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A New iPhone... About Time

Apple recently unveiled the iPhone 3G S – a faster version of its popular smart phone. Yes, the ‘S’ stands for speed; trust Apple to come up with something simple, even in the naming convention. So what’s so special about the 3GS ? Is it just an iPhone 3G with the new OS 3 software preinstalled? Certainly not. Although the 3G S may have the new OS 3, it’s faster functioning lies mainly in the hardware. Many of the 3G S UI functions including copy and paste, MMS support, the new Voice Memos app, and search capabilities are part of the iPhone 3.0 software update. And consequently will be available to iPhone 3G users who simply upgrade to the new firmware.

What then do the innards of the new iPhone hold in terms of hardware? Well, no one is quite sure yet and Apple as always is tight lipped about the specs of the iPhone. Why should it bother with giving out specs anyway? Since the time of its launch Apple has sold the iPhone based on its design, mind blowing UI, and the bountiful app store. Not spec comparison charts.

However a T-Mobile web page reportedly had put up hardware specs of the new phone. The page was instantly pulled down but several reports suggest that the page showed the 3G S to have a 600 MHz processor and 256 MB RAM. The iPhone 3G on the other hand had a 412 MHz processor and 128 MB RAM. So, twice the ram equals twice the speed? Going by what was said at the WWDC keynote during the phone’s unveiling, most functions in the phone, including launching apps, opening web pages, and viewing attachments, will be at least twice as fast. The numbers thrown about were in the range of 2.4 to 3.6 times for different functions.

It’s not just the speed of the iPhone 3G S that’s sent joygasms down the spines of geeks worldwide. The phone reportedly is going to come with graphics that will equal, if not surpass, some of today’s gaming handhelds. The phone supports an advanced graphics API for mobile phones – the OpenGL ES 2.0. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the phone has a new graphics chip – Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR SGX. This chip supports a shader-driven tile-based deferred rendering architecture.

The phone sports a better camera this time around. The camera is supposed to take better pictures compared to any of the earlier models thanks to the improved pixel count. The 3G S come with a 3 MP camera instead of the 2 MP one on the earlier model. The camera will work much faster in line with the other hardware improvements. Along with the camera come additional features such as auto-macro picture capability and ‘tap to focus’. This feature allows you to tap and focus on any part of the screen. By default, the iPhone would focus on the centre of the screen but now you can tap on, say, an object in the background to focus on. Not only will the app now focus on it, it will also automatically adjust other settings such as white balance and exposure.

To give a Boy Scout helping hand to some of us who are directionally challenged, Apple has a built-in digital compass in the 3G S. The compass will tell the phone which direction you are facing even when you are stationary. Earlier this was figured out via GPS by judging your direction of movement. In the maps application the maps will automatically reorient themselves to the direction the user is facing. This should definitely help in navigation.

So, is there anything different in terms of looks? Not really. In fact we had difficulty telling the difference while watching the video tour of the 3G S on the Apple web site. As for the body, it is supposed to have a new oil resistant coating that will make cleaning the phone easier. About time that they did something about the finger smudges.

Let’s now conclude with the aspect that worries all of us – price. How much does the iPhone 3G S cost? The contractual schemes under which it is available through a network operator are as complicated as our constitution. But the full price of the phone without a network lock-in is $599 for a 16-GB model and $699 for a 32-GB.

Augmented reality browser

Imagine looking through your phone’s camera. You see a couple of buildings, and within moments an overlay starts displaying all sorts of information about them. The kind of information you see will include, say, the price of the building, information on various establishments located within, such as bars and restaurants, and even whether there are jobs available there. Kind of reminds you of the heads-up display we saw in Terminator 3. Particularly the sequence where Arnie analyses clothes sizes for himself with information constantly being displayed on screen, and finally zeros in on one that’s a perfect match.

Well, that type of overlay experience is now being offered by a browser through a mobile phone. Layar, a mobile phone browser launched by SPRXmobile, is the world’s first mobile augmented reality browsers. It displays real time digital information on top of the visuals being viewed through the camera. Whilst looking through the phone’s camera lens, a user can see things like houses for sale, information on popular bars and shops, establishments where jobs are available, healthcare providers and ATMs. Currently, the app is built only for the Android operating system, such as on the HTC Magic, but a version can presumably be built for other smart phones including the Apple iPhone. All the phone needs to have to support the browser is a camera, GPS and an in-built compass.

The service is for now only available in the Netherlands, where the content for the browser is provided by partners such as local market leaders ING (bank), funda (real estate web site), Hyves (social network), Tempo-team (jobs agency) and Zekur.nl (healthcare provider). The technology underlying the system is quite fascinating. When you look at a scene through the camera the GPS tells the service providers of your location while the compass tells them where the phone is pointing. The content providers then provide the relevant data that is tagged according to coordinate details, and this is displayed as a layer on top of the scene being viewed. Each provider gets access to one overlay, or layer. Tapping on the side of the phone switches between different layers provided by the different providers.

SPRX mobile is planning to release the browser in other countries as well. Plans are being chalked out for sourcing local partners in Germany, the UK and the United States this year. Furthermore other platforms like the Apple iPhone 3GS are also being considered.

Nokia Life tools

Remember old eChoupal, the ITC initiative from a while ago that revolutionized information flow for the Indian farmer? Nokia has launched a similar service, except this one is available on mobile phones. Nokia had been talking about this kind of service since November last year, and it has now come to fruition after a pilot project in the form of Nokia Life Tools. Life Tools, which was designed as a service specific to emerging markets, is a range of agriculture, education and entertainment services intended for the non-urban consumer.

The agriculture portion of Tools has two plans to choose from: the basic plan, available across India at Rs. 30 a month, provides daily weather updates and relevant agriculture-related news, advice and tips. The premium plan, at Rs. 60 a month, will be available in 10 states, including Maharashtra, and provides the closest market prices for three crops chosen by the subscriber, as well as weather, news, advice and tips. The service will commence first in Maharashtra before it goes countrywide. Nokia has implemented a tie-up with Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board (MSAMB), who will provide expertise in the areas of commodity prices from its network of 291 local mandis (markets). MSAMB will in turn have the opportunity to deliver relevant news, alerts on schemes and other information directly to grassroots consumers. Reuter’s Market Light (RML) Syngenta, Madison Research, Skymet will also provide inputs.

Under the Educational services banner, Nokia plans to offer three components: learn English, with basic, intermediate and advanced levels; exam preparation, which offers students tips and advice for ICSE, CBSE and state board-level exams mapped to the relevant curriculum; and general knowledge, which gives subscribers useful information about the world around them. The pricing of these components will be Rs. 30 a month.

Entertainment services will include astrology, news, jokes, cricket and ringtones, offered at existing market prices. The content provider for this will be OnMobile.

The pilot models to deploy this service are the Nokia 2323 classic and Nokia 2330 classic, but other models will soon be incorporated.

Audio Movies?

Movies are to be watched right? Well not anymore. Looks like the guys at UTV are planning to revolutionize the way we ‘watch’ movies. With the launch of the new service called UTV@Play’s Audio Cinema they plan to bring to users one hour audio versions of movies, complete with dialogues, narration, and plot summary. Sure, there are people who recite dialogues of their favorite movies, but will anyone be able to sit around and listen to an hour of a movie without any supporting visuals? UTV sure hopes so. To access the service, users are expected to dial in to 505999555 and the charges are Re. 1 per minute. To start with, Audio Cinema is offering movies such as Fashion and Sholay (Hindi), Prem Loka (Kannada), Thalapathi (Tamil) and Gang Leader (Telugu). Just like in the theatres, the movie listing changes every Friday. The service has features that let you let you skip, forward, repeat scenes, or reconnect later and start from where you left off. The service is available through various operators such as Idea, Vodafone, Airtel Mobile and Reliance.