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Friday promises to be a dizzying day for Apple fans. There’s the iPhone 3G, the release of hundreds of new programs that will work on both the new phones and the first-generation versions, too; and Apple’s new MobileMe service, which replaces the mac.com e-mail, file sharing and online synchronization center.


Here’s what you need to know to sort the buzz from the baloney.


For all the attention it’s been getting, the new iPhone 3G that goes on sale at 8 a.m. Friday at Apple and AT&T stores is not that huge of a deal .


It has three things the current models don’t have.


First, it looks different, with a black plastic case. Whoopee.


Second, it has GPS. That’s new to the iPhone, but it’s been a staple on other smartphones for at least a year.


Third, the iPhone 3G runs faster, using AT&T’s advanced 3G, or third-generation, wireless network, which the company claims is twice as fast as the EDGE network used by the current iPhone. That’s admittedly very nice.


Since 2005, AT&T has spent more than $20 billion across the country beefing up its network.


“Having access to 3G in more places means having incredible speed and reliability from your broadband wireless network in places you once thought weren’t possible,” said Brian Ducharme, vice president and general manager for AT&T’s wireless operations in Michigan.


The iPhone 3G will automatically detect 3G service and use it; otherwise it will connect to the slower EDGE network used by the older model.


There’s really only one reason to get the new iPhone 3G. That 3G AT&T network speed.


If you are in your car or on the road a lot and need full and fast connectivity, it’s the phone for you. I plan to replace my old iPhone with the new model because of just those reasons.


But, if you are in an office that has wi-fi, or near home or business wi-fi networks, that 3G network isn’t going to be all that important.


Both the old and new iPhones have great wi-fi connectivity, and I’d guess that at least half the current users with the older phone just don’t need 3G wireless connectivity that much. Wi-fi works just fine, thank you.


Other than GPS, the faster network and some cosmetic changes, the rest of the new iPhone 3G is pretty much the same. The camera is still the same 2-megapixel unit found on the older model. The screen is the same size. The microphone and speakers are unchanged.


So there you go on the new iPhone 3G. Definitely cool. But not as revolutionary as the first one was last year.


The most exciting developments Friday deal with the release of the new iPhone applications, to be distributed and downloaded from Apple’s iTunes online store, just as music, videos and ringtones are now.


Those applications will work with both the new phone and the older ones, though the older ones need an iPhone 2.0 software upgrade that will be automatically pushed to the phones when users connect them to their computer after 8 a.m. Friday.


The most important of all those applications - which include games, business, educational, entertainment, shopping, social networking and professional management programs and tools - is the availability of Microsoft Exchange.


Microsoft Exchange is the application that most corporate users and businesses use to push, or instantaneously send e-mail, calendaring and contact information from corporate servers to mobile devices. For the business community, which up to now has not been a big user of the iPhone, that will be huge, allowing the iPhone to appeal to the same set that uses the BlackBerry.


For regular users, who do not need or have access to corporate exchange servers, Apple will also roll out its MobileMe online service. Apple bills it as “Exchange for the rest of us,” and it will push those same functions to multiple devices, like your desktop, laptop and iPhone. It will work with Macs and PCs and keep e-mail, schedules and address books automatically synchronized.


OK, now to the bottom line. From AT&T, here’s the official pricing info:


The iPhone 3G will be available for $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB model. These prices require two-year contracts and are available to customers activating a new line with AT&T and current iPhone AT&T customers who will extend their current contracts.


Existing AT&T customers who are not iPhone users and eligible for an upgrade discount can purchase an iPhone 3G for $399 for the 8GB model or $499 for the 16GB model. Both options require a new two-year service agreement. In the future, AT&T will offer a no-contract-required option for $599 (8GB) or $699 (16GB).


AT&T suggests that non iPhone customers may choose to wait until they become eligible for an upgrade discount. Eligibility is generally determined by the amount of time remaining on a current contract and payment history.


AT&T customers who are upgrading to iPhone 3G will pay an $18 upgrade fee, and new AT&T customers will pay the standard $36 activation fee.


Apple and AT&T stores will open at 8 a.m. Friday, and the new iPhone 3G phones will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Because the phones must be activated at the store, it is expected to take 5-15 minutes per transaction, so some lines are expected.


Apple says its stores should be able to handle 100 customers an hour.


___


(Mike Wendland is the technology columnist for the Detroit Free Press.)

Tagged as: apple | iphone | iphone 3g
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