iPhone 4 Opinion: "Apple handset is back on top"

Duncan Bell reveals why Steve Jobs is tech's Freddie Mercury.

T3's Duncan Bell laps up the latest piece of Jobsian pantomime at the iPhone 4 launch and reveals why he thinks this smartphone upgrade puts Apple back on top.

The iPhone 4 launch was absolutely classic Apple. Reeling out all the features people have been clamouring for; serving up something more beautiful than its predecessor; throwing in a couple of bits of complete nonsense, just because they can.

I’ve never been seriously tempted to buy an iPhone up to now, but if there are no reports of reception problems, exploding batteries or increased risk of cancer in its first few months on sale, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist this one.

N Wi-Fi and the improved video recording and editing are killer features. The screen looks like it knocks the OLED efforts that have been in fashion on Android phones of late into a cocked hat. Add multi-tasking – it’s handy for instant messaging, if nothing else – slimmer size, faster processor and improved battery and you surely have the best phone on the market.

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No iPhone will ever be able to match the impact of the first one – it forged the template for the smartphone as we now know it and everything since has just been a refinement. But given that no miraculous Flash rapprochement between Apple and Adobe was ever going to happen, it’s hard to see how the new iPhone could have delivered more. It’s almost as if Apple actually does listen to the demands of its customers…

In the last year, rival phones – and by “rival” I mean “HTC” – have finally been matching and even overtaking the iPhone.

Arguments over whether Apple’s “walled garden” approach or Android’s open-sourcery is best will continue to rumble on. Fans of Symbian will doubtless continue to point out that their favourite remains the biggest seller, then go back to enjoying their other hobbies of cave painting and listening to 78s on their wind-up gramophones.

However, for any neutral observer it’s clear that Apple’s handset is now back at the top of the tree in terms of both spec and sheer style.

It’s also back on top of the hype charts thanks to the sheer genius of Apple’s presentation. Steve Jobs brand of squeaky-voiced, vaguely sinister tech pantomime is preposterous but totally compelling. He’s like the Freddie Mercury of tech, keeping the audience in the palm of his hand even when he’s making claims that frankly don’t stand up to examination.

The video chat function, FaceSit, allows iPhone 4 users to chat to each other – and nobody else – over Wi-Fi only. How feeble is that? Yet head to the BBC’s website and you’ll see clueless “analysts” queuing up to hail it: “A leap forward," says some guy from Creative Strategies. “Video chat is going to be something that really differentiates the iPhone from other devices,” avers some other twit. Only Apple can distort reality in this way and it’s not, as some think, because of some media conspiracy on its behalf. It’s because there is enough that’s sublime about its products to make people very forgiving of their, usually minor, failings

Having said that, the moment during Steve Jobs’ keynote when the Wi-Fi failed was pure comedy gold. I don’t think I’ve ever owned an Apple product where the Wi-Fi ever felt fully reliable, so it was good to see Apple itself having the same experience. I was waiting for the increasingly tremulous Jobs to go over to his router at the back of the hall, yank out the cable, wait the required 10 seconds then plug it back in again. Usually works for me.

That aside, the only serious disappointment was the absence of a 64GB model – perhaps Apple feels that would kill sales of the 64GB Touch.

In the last three months I’ve used the Google/HTC Nexus One and HTC Desire. They’re both superb phones but for me the iPhone 4 looks a cut above. The phone with the best app store and widest range of accessories is now also number one in terms of spec. No doubt it’ll still be more expensive than its Android rivals but for the first time ever, for me personally, that extra looks worth paying.