Apple unveils iPhone 4

Chief executive Steve Jobs pushes videoconferencing into the mainstream with new feature.

By Kim Peterson Jun 7, 2010 3:52PM
Apple iPhone 4. Credit: (© Paul Sakuma/AP)Companies like Skype and Cisco (CSCO) have been working on video calling for years. But now, with a little attention from Apple (AAPL), this technology is going to become hot.

Apple calls it FaceTime, and unveiled the feature Monday as part of its new iPhone announcement. The new iPhone 4 will have a front-facing camera, which is perfect for videoconferencing. Hold the phone in front of your face, instead of at your ear, for a video call.

Video calling isn't a big deal in the corporate world, but it's practically unheard of for mainstream mobile users. Even Apple won't change that immediately -- FaceTime will only run on Wi-fi at first -- but the company is working with carriers to get on 3G networks.

The beauty of Apple's approach to this technology is the ease of use here. The company promises no setup involved for FaceTime calls. And anyone who's ever tried videoconferencing in the past can tell you that a lot of setup is required.

Smashing through a technology barrier to make something simple and sexy is what Apple does best. Let other companies like Cisco clear the way and develop the technology. Apple comes in, smooths it out and makes it accessible to mainstream users in a way no one else can.

A shift to mobile videoconferencing is no small burden for carriers. I can only imagine the connection problems it will cause on AT&T's already-clogged network. But now that Apple has turned its attention to this feature, it won't be long before other companies jump on the bandwagon as well.

FaceTime is one key feature of the new iPhone. The new device is 24% thinner, but with a larger and better-performing battery. Its five-megapixel camera can also record HD video. And it goes on sale June 24 at $199 or $299, depending on how much storage space you want.

Apple shares dropped on the news Monday, which isn't surprising considering this happens every time Apple's hype machine revs up anticipation in advance of an announcement. But in late afternoon trading, the share price had recovered to about 1% below Friday's close.

Here's what some people are saying about the new iPhone:

Analyst Michael Gartenberg: "Apple isn’t the first to market with video conferencing on a phone but they’re the first to get it right. It’s not a feature unless the mass market uses it and I expect FaceTime will drive a lot of sales."

Tricia Duryee of MocoNews: "While nothing was breathtaking, Apple once again is providing good enough reasons for old iPhone users to upgrade and for new users to adopt the platform."

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