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IPhone 4: Through the prism of capped data

Apple showed off its fourth version of the iPhone yesterday and there were few surprises--thanks in part to Gizmodo's recent outing of an iPhone prototype. The phone has a new tough metal and glass design, perhaps the sharpest smartphone screen on the market, hi-def video recording, and a video chat program called FaceTime.

But I couldn't help thinking about what AT&T's new data caps will mean for the future of iPhones and other super smart phones, if other carriers follow AT&T's lead and set tiers on data plans.

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For example, I currently shoot a lot of short video clips of my young daughter on my iPhone 3GS and email to family. I can send about 45 seconds worth of non-HD video via email this way. Now imagine having to send HD video clips via an iPhone 4. Would the clips have to be shorter? How many HD clips could one reasonably send in a month and still stay within bounds of AT&T's 2gb plan (at $25 a month)?

Apple's FaceTime program -- which enable video chat via wifi on iPhone 4s -- also don't have a chance in a 3G world dictated by tiers, since video chat is a serious data hog.

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My point: tiered plans such as what AT&T has modeled aren't what customers of super smart phones will want in the future. Sure, admittedly heavy users may opt to pay more for unlimited plans. But tiered plans, I think, will constrain the rapid growth and adoption of the mobile web.

You don't have data tiers on your home Internet connection, but you do have differentiation based on speed. Should wireless networks adopt the same approach?

That's why, at the of the day, I'm afraid that the technology of super smart phones, such as the iPhone 4 threatens to outpace the capacity of the networks. Some might say that's already happened.

This is why, as an aside, people interested in a next-gen network and smart phone might check out the HTC EVO phone on Sprint in Baltimore. The EVO is the first smartphone built for use on a 4G network. We should all be watching closely how it performs in Baltimore and other parts of the US where 4G is offered.

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