New iPhone's Features Pose Questions for AT&T

By now, those who care about the upcoming fourth-generation iPhone have seen the photographs that surfaced on Gizmodo's Web site and are likely wondering what Apple will do next. Here at GigaOM, we're pondering another question: how will AT&T's role as the exclusive provider of the iPhone affect some of the promising features of the next-generation iPhone?

Here's a look at some of the iPhone 4.0 features we're forecasting—and how receptive AT&T is likely to be to them. (Here's a hint: One of them could help improve call quality on the carrier's network.)

Front-facing camera: In trying to predict iPhone 4.0 OS features, I said that the product would add support for a second camera. The new iPhone does indeed sport a front-facing camera—presumably for video chatting because the camera on the back is for snapping photos while using the display as a viewfinder. Such a feature is welcome as we find new ways to connect with the people in our lives, but will AT&T support such a feature?

The carrier currently offers video services on its phones, but only for one-way video and at a price of up to $9.99 per month. If Apple's front-facing camera is meant for two-way video conversation, AT&T will need to create a new offering. It remains to be seen if AT&T customers will pay for further add-on service. An additional hitch could be a lack of initial support for the camera; AT&T has yet to offer the iPhone tethering feature that arrived internationally last year.

Micro SIM: As with the iPad 3G model, the new iPhone may use a micro SIM card. For consumers who don't swap SIM cards often, such use would be a nonissue, although I anticipate some hackery. Some will invariably try to use the cheaper 3G plan of the iPad by putting its micro SIM card in the new iPhone for data services. Abroad, where SIM card-swapping is prevalent, it could generate some backlash as few phone models currently use the micro SIM form factor.

Here in the U.S., some iPhone owners could use a T-Mobile SIM card to extricate themselves from AT&T's network. Because T-Mobile doesn't yet use micro versions of such cards in handsets, the new iPhone will be completely tied to AT&T, unless consumers want to trim their existing T-Mobile SIM cards to fit.

Secondary microphone and new back cover: A hole atop the handset appears to be a second microphone, which should help improve voice quality, both on calls and for the advanced voice-control features I anticipate in iPhone 4.0 OS. With the right signal processor and software solution, a secondary microphone vastly improves the voice experience; my Nexus One offers it, and now that I've used one, I wouldn't want to go back to a smartphone that didn't. And the device's new, clear back, which appears to be ceramic or plastic, will enable the next iPhone to get a stronger cellular signal, significantly improving the voice experience on AT&T's network.

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