Apple releases new iPhone 3GS and may end O2 exclusivity

Electronics giant Apple has unveiled the third iPhone release. Named "iPhone 3GS", the latest release contains some useful new features, notably the video/audio applications and voice command, but the advances are underwhelming compared with those made by iPhone 3G on the original 2G release. Most obviously lacking is an inbuilt FM radio, which Apple persistently disregards as a practicable addition to any of its personal mobile devices.

However, iPhone 3GS does address some of previous release's shortcomings. The previous capacity of 16MB has been doubled to 32MB (no 8MB version is available with iPhone 3GS). Texts may be forwarded, another problem reported with the previous version, but it is unclear if business contacts can be sent in the latest release. The camera has improved from 2 megapixels (Mpx) to 3Mpx with a touchscreen autofocus feature.

Perhaps the best application is the video recorder which now comes as standard (previously this had to be downloaded as a third party application). This again has touchscreen autofocus and the ability to trim the video length before saving, emailing, posting to YouTube at a touch or sending via MMS. Apple has incorporated Multimedia Messaging in the latest release allowing music, video, images and text to be sent via text message (and email). The Youtube video interface and the email and MMS ability opens up the possibility of person to web multimedia communication - some blogging interfaces will seamlessly post video/audio to the web direct from the iPhone. Ditto the voice memo - this is effectively a dictaphone which records messages that can be trimmed before saving, messaging or sending via MMS.

Voice command (which is standard with several other smartphones) allows numbers or contacts to be dialled by saying the details aloud; songs or playlists from the inbuilt iPod can also be played using voice command. A touchscreen cut, copy and paste facility performs those functions either within an application or between apps. Search spotlight searches through emails, contacts, calender and notes, including the ipod for a search word or phrase. The application can be launched from the search results. An inbuilt compass uses GPS triangulation to decide what direction the phone is facing - a neat application that interfaces with Maps to rotate the map in the direction the iPhone is travelling.

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Much of the software above is contained in the iPhone OS 3.0 software package which existing iPhone owners may download from iTunes. So apart from the 3Mpx camera and extra space, what is the advantage of the new hardware? Apple claims that the latest version is twice as fast as the iPhone 3G (in terms toggling between applications and loading web pages), and that wireless is now compatible with faster wireless networks (up to 7.2 Mbps HSDPA).

With a UK release date of 19 June, iPhone 3GS will likely reach Ireland late-June/early-July. Although not yet available, the pricing of but iPhone 3GS is likely to be higher than the current package with O2 (€569 on Speakeasy; €129 on Pay Monthly). UK prices have increased from approximately €400 for a 16GB  iPhone 3G to £440.40 a 16GB iPhone 3GS, while the 32GB version will cost £538 (UK Speakeasy prices). Unlocking the iPhone may be an attractive options to Irish mobile customers who either wish to stay on their current network or take advantage of Sterling prices, or both. Unlock instructions may be found on the web and is offered as a service through several websites, but unlocking nullifies the iPhone's guarantee.

Apple has not yet said if mobile operator O2 will retain exclusive re-sale rights in the UK and Ireland. However, a source in Apple Europe told Village in 2008 that the company may not renew the exclusive contract with O2. According to the source, Apple expects that opening competition between mobile operators would increase iPhone sales and have the knock-on effect of increasing sales of other Apple products. Apple Macs and other Apple devices sold appreciably better following following the launch of iPod, another hugely popular device, several years ago. It is thought that the success of iPhone 3G will reap a similar boon. A spokesperson for O2 said in 2008 that the company does not comment on commercially sensitive material, but that O2 held a "multi-year agreement" with Apple.

The verdict: iPhone lacks some of the features available in other mobile devices. But it's such a wonderfully crafted piece of engineering, it's worth the cost for those who can afford it.