Apple's iPhone: Playing Catch Up

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Steve Jobs introduced the second-generation iPhone today at the Apple Developers' Conference in San Francisco. In front of a packed house, Jobs laid-out his company's plans for total world market-share domination.

Think of today's announcement as catching-up. It was something like a baseball team that has lots of talent but is a few games out of first place. Today, Apple (AAPL) may have tied the game, and possibly loaded the bases for the big come-from-behind win. But they didn't win it.

Today's announcements are a direct shot at the current smart-phone leaders: Research in Motion's (RIMM) Blackberries, Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Mobile devices and Palm's (PALM) Treo and Centro phones.

The biggest feature announcement was predicted by everyone. It's the new hardware, a 3G iPhone. Aside from complaints about the original phone's speed, if Apple wanted to continue selling lots of iPhones they needed to make the new phone a 3G design -- so that it worked everywhere on the planet. Some countries in the Far East really don't handle EDGE data all that well.

On the outside, the new iPhone 3G bears a huge resemblance to the first-generation phone, but it does a whole lot more. It will sell for a lot less: $199 for the 8GB model; $299 for the 16GB version. The official release day will be July 11.

There's a slew of new features to tell you about:
1.    Enterprise Mail: Allows Windows Exchange Mail and Cisco VPN security settings (announced a few months ago).
2.    Built-in GPS
3.    Accelerometer (allowing you to control cursor movement by moving entire phone)

Available software programs includes:
•    TypePad: A blogging tool
•    AP Mobile News tool
•    Band: Make music on tour cell phone
•    Major League Baseball (Scores and highlights)
•    New Games (many of them including some 3D titles)
•    Modality: (Human body parts for med students)
•    MIMvista: Body scans for doctors
•    PowerPoint support (to go with Word and Excel support)
•    Contact Search
•    Bulk delete/Move function

All of this new software will be rolled into a package called iPhone 2.0, which will be available in July, for free for all current iPhone owners. It will cost $10 for iTouch owners.

The other big announcement was for another Apple paid service called MobileMe. It was called "Exchange for the rest of us" relating back to Microsoft Exchange (an enterprise favorite). $99 per year. It lets you share files without emailing. It looks like a combination of Blackberry, Palm and Windows Mobile features but we'll see exactly what it can do when we buy a new iPhone next month.
Overall, it was a very impressive presentation. But, we'll have to see what effect it has on the rest of the industry.

Forget about all the flashy new programs, I can tell you that its most important new feature is its price. There were a number of cell phone manufacturers waiting to set the prices of their "iPhone killers" until they heard what Apple would charge for the new phones. Now they know. I think they might be able to match the new prices - but not beat them. That puts every new smartphone in jeopardy of either being feature-lean or way too expensive.

As for the smartphone giant, RIM/Blackberry, Apple has answered with two new types of email synchronization: the MobileMe service for non-business users and Windows Mobile/Cisco VPN for the enterprise. That beats Blackberry. We'll have to see if the combination of new features, price and "coolness factor" will let iPhone start grabbing market share away in big chunks from the industry leader.

The next few months should be very interesting.

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