Rhodri Marsden: You might not like it, but Jobs has set the pace

Tuesday 08 June 2010 00:00
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Secrecy is as critical for Apple as it is for someone arranging a surprise birthday party. The intensity of the media scrum surrounding the launch of an Apple product has been inversely proportionate to the amount we already know about it, so when a prototype of iPhone 4 was discovered lying in a bar in Redwood City, California, in April, you half expected the thing to be completely redesigned. Or the launch to be cancelled, lest it resemble a crowd yelling "Surprise!" at the aforementioned birthday party, only for the special guest to pop a sausage roll in their mouth and say: "Not really, Dave told me last Tuesday."

So, we knew that iPhone 4 was coming. Not just because the pictures of its exterior and interior had been plastered across the internet for weeks, or chief executive Steve Jobs' much-publicised annoyance at what he called "extortion" by the website whose hands the prototype ended up in – but also because Apple have launched a new iPhone every summer since 2007, and it was simply time for a new one. Still the rumour mill spun; a batch of fake pictures of an "iPhone HD" fooled at least one technology website over the weekend, and today newspaper pages are cleared to report it, merely days after the iPad launched in Britain. It's no wonder that those who don't use Apple products, and indeed a good proportion of those who do, are loudly questioning whether a phone is really as important as the Gaza blockade, or even Katie Price's dress at the Baftas.

There are some good reasons to join in with the critique. After all, Nokia shifts way more phones worldwide than Apple does; 21.5m in the first quarter of this year, compared to Apple's 8.75m. And the iPhone is a pricey gadget, seen by many as an elitist status symbol akin to a Rolex Oyster or Louboutin heels. But Apple's rise is inexorable, overtaking Microsoft to become the world's most valuable technology company. Technology is increasingly central to our lives. And regardless of what we might think of the manner in which people heap praise upon the iPod, iPhone or iPad, these gadgets continue to define mobile entertainment, mobile computing, and the way the internet generation interact. Yes, an increasing number of competing devices are out there, but many still take their cues from Apple products.

So it's not exaggerating to say that yesterday's unveiling gives an insight into what the majority of us will be carrying about in few years' time – especially as prices continue to fall. Aside from the introduction of face-to-face video calling, it's not a staggering feature set: a sleeker design, a better display and enhancements for gaming and photography. But, crucially, it's way more powerful than its predecessor, speedier, easier to use, and will make previously laborious tasks seem like a cinch.

Like, say, arranging that surprise birthday party.

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