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Between 2 and 4AM this morning, a few die-hard Apple followers and a handful of grumpy tech reviewers peered through the intertubes for snippits and scraps of news leaking from Steve Job’s Keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference.

A somewhat disjointed exercise of scanning multiple live blogs, made even more difficult by UStreams quickly overwhelmed traffic and Steve’s eventual ban of portable hotspots inside the convention hall, the news was obtained, consumed, analyzed, and discussed online, mostly on twitter and a few bulliten boards. So what was announced and what does it mean to Japan.

iPhone 4

So of course, the big news is the release of the iPhone 4. The same device we have seen in spy shots for weeks, we now have concrete details about it’s makeup and functionality, and from what we know now, it’s pretty certain Apple has another hit.

Form factor: The iPhone gets its second major physical overhaul, losing the smooth curved back and replacing it with a glass ice cream sandwich design. The new phone is thinner and smaller than the iPhone 3GS, and replaces the volume toggle button with round push buttons. Perhaps one of the only changes that can not be unilaterally classified as an improvement, the smaller form factor should gain at least as many fans as detractors. But personally I am digging the flat glass backside.

Specifications: Pretty much everything gets a bump. 40% more talk time from a larger battery will make many people happy as accessory makers lament the possible loss of charger sales. The new A4 processor, scaled down from the iPad should offer a nice kick in speed to handle the more needy iOS4. The camera gets some much needed attention, upping the MP count to 5 while maintaining pixel density. With the new built in LED flash, the iPhone is finally getting a camera that is at least on par with other high end cell phones. Much attention is being paid to the new Retina screen, with exactly double the resolution of the current iPhone 3GS. With 4X the pixel count the resulting screen is reported to be incredibly sharp and pushed Apple back to the top of the hill. Finally, a quad band HSPA modem and wireless n compatible wi-fi bumps up the data speeds to the threshold of 4G. Conspicuously absent is a storage capacity bump, with only 16 and32GB models announced. This may mean we might have a capacity refresh sometime later this year, or it could also reflect the increasing pressure to put things on cloud services.

New Toys: So what’s new and different? The big “One more thing” announcement this year was the front facing VGA video camera and FaceTime video chat service. To be honest, I’m a bit skeptical here. We have had cheap, high quality telepresence capability for several years now, and certainly those people who use it are going to be very pleased with this new function (hobbled as it is with a wi-fi only requirement), but the mass market has yet to embrace video chat (with the exception of the emo tweens and predators hanging out on chatroulette). In fact, japan has had video chat on cellphones since the implementation of 3G. It was an early requirement of 3G phones that they should all have front facing cameras for this reason, and ironically the iPhone was one of the first phones to break this mold. While the high cost of 3G video calls was a factor in the general atrophy that the video call system has endured for nearly a decade, the average user still has lots of hangup when it comes to broadcasting their own face for casual communication. It will be very interesting to see if Apple will be able to break this trend with a video chat enabled phone.

iOS 4

The other big announcement centered around the OS itself. First of all the name; iPhone OS is now iOS and we are about to receive our next major upgrade. This time around, Apple has tacked the bane of smartphone existence, multi-tasking. While detractors have long blasted the iPhone for the lack of multi-tasking, what only a hardened, battle scarred smartphone veteran can explain to you is that no one has actually ever done multi-tasking well. We’ve lived between “I can live with it” up to “not that bad” as users have been forced into daily reboot routines and task killer performance monitoring applications. Heck, even my laptop struggles with multi tasking when I get really busy, and so will the iPhone. Average users don’t forgive poor handset performance if the app slowing things down isn’t visible on the screen. Hopefully the iPhone 4 will be able to keep things speedy and stable. I’m less confident about my iPhone 3GS or even a 3G being able to handle the load. Still, the introduction of background processes opens up a whole new world for developers to create new tools for consumers and I am all about that.

Also loving the folders for organizing apps on the iPhone. We’ve needed this since the app store opened and it can’t come soon enough. I just hope they don’t throw in silly flourishes like the icon rearrangement for the iPad (which makes it nearly impossible for me to find any app on the iPad).

Overall, it will be an interesting and anticipated update to the operating system. What’s even better is that it’s less than two weeks away with a free download for iPhones on June 21st.

So what about Japan?

Well, still no official word on pricing and plans in Japan, but I would anticipate that will come in the next day or so. We do have a launch date and this was a nice surprise. In the past, Japan has been well treated with Apple launches, usually getting a new iPhone in the first batch of international partners a short time after the US launch. This time however, Apple is doing a full court press, launching the iPhone in five countries all at once, The US, UK, France, Germany, and (YAY) Japan will all get a crack at the iPhone 4 on June 24 (with preorders starting June 15). So do a little time zone math and you come the the remarkable conclusions that


Yup. let that sink in a bit,

Before the US, before the UK.  Hours before the sun peaks up in the east coast of the US, there will be Japanese users happily playing with their new iPhones.

But who will be getting one?  Of course with no pricing info, (I would expect similar pricing to the US with $199/$299 for a subsidised iPhone 4 16GB/32GB) we don’t know how eligibility will work.  All iPhone users in Japan are still technically on their two year contract, with even those who lined up overnight to buy the iPhone 3G when it launched have weeks left on their agreement.  No word from Softbank if there will be an early upgrade option, and those with a 3GS have over a year to go.  More questions surround topics like tethering, unlimited data plans, and SIM locks, although I doubt anyone is expecting any happy surprises in these cases.

Still, this with strong improvements in nearly every important metric, this will certainly be a big hit in Japan and you will likely see first day lines that make the 1,200 people lined up in Ginza for the iPad launch look like a simple practice run.

Stay tuned for more information an analysis as the next few weeks will likely be pretty exciting, and join in the conversation with the Mobile in Japan community in our iPhone forum.

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