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iPhone 3G GPS Details, Power Adapter, and Industrial Design

The initial outpouring of information from Apple about the iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software, and .Mac’s metamorphosis into MobileMe left us dazed. Here are a few additional details that we glossed over at first.

Touch Me, 3G — In an Apple briefing, I was able to play with an iPhone 3G briefly, and I can report that it does, in fact, feel better than the original iPhone, which I have owned since the night they were first released. The plastic back feels good, and is clearly going to be more scratch- and damage-resistant. (My aluminum back is dented from a bad fall, and looks a bit shabby.)

The difference between the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G is nowhere near as large as that between the nice-but-boxy first-generation iPod and its smaller, rounder successors that switched from a mechanical to touch-based scroll wheel. It’s much more like the difference between, say, a third-generation iPod and a fifth-generation. It’s all about refinement.

The iPhone 3G definitely feels faster overall – it’s unclear whether this is due to iPhone 2.0 software optimizing the phone, or a faster processor. Apple declined to talk about processor speed.

More Power, Scotty! During the briefing, Greg “Joz” Joswiak , the marketing head for the iPhone and iPod, slid a small plastic and metal object over to me without comment. I put the thing in my hand and thought, “Huh. Metal prongs on one end – clearly power. A slot on the other side. Looks like a USB port. Plug, port. Plug, port.” My brain took a moment and then told me, “It’s a power adapter, dummy, just one smaller than you’ve ever seen before.”

And so it is. Exceedingly tiny, the adapter seems like it can barely contain the metal necessary to provide conductivity. It’s another aspect of Apple’s overall design philosophy. Even if another maker could design the iPhone’s industrial look and feel, they would still send you an ugly black brick to go with it.

Tag, You’re It — Joswiak said that while the camera is essentially the same in the new iPhone, the image handling and processing is improved, and the availability of the GPS chip will allow photos to be geotagged: marked with the GPS’s idea of the current latitude and longitude.

Using industry-standard photo metadata, uploading a geotagged image lets services that support location-based marking put your photo on a map. Flickr wasn’t the first, but was the first big service to add geotagging support.

I also extracted some detail about how the GPS will work in relation to both battery life and permission. A GPS can be a dangerous thing: What if you don’t want your location to be known? It can also be a battery drain. Joswiak said that the GPS function is active only when you’re using it; this is part of the whole philosophy of no unnecessary background activities to preserve battery life and functionality.

When you use the Maps application, you’ll be able to choose whether or not to use the GPS location and tracking features. Likewise, if a program wants to use the Core Location capabilities available to developers, the iPhone (any model) will ask your permission first. Core Location uses GPS, Wi-Fi, and cell-tower location. (Separately, I’m not sure if GPS routes can be transferred from the iPhone, or if you can only view your routes within Maps itself, as Steve Jobs showed.)

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