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Helium Digital rolls out leather cases for iPhone 3G

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Helium Digital has announced two new cases for the upcoming iPhone 3G. The LeatherBack Pouch is a form-fitting case made from 100% cowhide leather, and offers direct access to all the iPhone’s ports and controls, including the screen. It also features a snap closure, contrast stitching, and leather-covered belt clip. It will sell for CAD$20. The LeatherBack Flip is similar to the Pouch, but forgoes the prior’s leather-covered belt clip for a flip-up leather face cover with magnetic closure. It too is made from 100% cowhide leather, features contrast stitching, and offers access to all ports and controls. It will sell for CAD$25. Both cases will be available starting July 11 from Helium Digital’s website and from select retailers in Canada.

Optus planning midnight launch of iPhone 3G

Optus plans to become the first Australian carrier to offer the iPhone 3G with the midnight opening of its George Street store in Sydney, according to the Age. The carrier plans to open a number of other stores at 7 a.m. Friday morning for the iPhone 3G launch. Optus corporate affairs manager Melissa Clare said that only deposit holders who were Optus customers would be able to pick up their iPhone at the midnight event, adding that deposit holders would receive priority service throughout the day on Friday, although anyone could come in to purchase the device. Clare also said Optus would have events on Friday morning at the Chadstone store in Melbourne and the Queen Street store in Brisbane, with other participating stores around both cities opening for business in the early morning. Competing carriers Telstra and Vodafone have yet to announce details of their launch plans for Australia. [via MDN]

Rogers announces new 6GB data option, launch details for iPhone 3G

Rogers Wireless and Fido have announced a new 6GB data option that will be offered to iPhone 3G customers who activate their phones by August 31, and have also revealed details of their iPhone 3G launch plans. Both will be opening select stores at 8 a.m. local time Friday morning to begin sales of the iPhone 3G, and will celebrate the occasion with free early bird breakfasts and various giveaways. Participating Rogers stores include the 112-10 Dundas Street East location in Toronto, the Montreal store at 1015 rue St. Catherine Ouest, the 690 Bank Street location in Ottawa, the Halifax store at Unit 265, 7001 Mumford Road, the Rogers store at 5244 Falsbridge Gate, NE in Calgary, and the company’s location at 2097 West Broadway in Vancouver. Fido will be hosting its event at its flagship store at 1004 rue St. Catherine Ouest in Montreal.

In addition to the launch details, both companies announced a new 6GB data option that will be offered as a limited time promotional offer for customers who activate by August 31 on a three year contract. The CAD$30 a month option can be added to any in-market voice plan, and both companies will offer customers the choice to select from their existing voice and smartphone data plans and/or additional features to best suit their needs. Finally, existing customers can keep their current voice service plan and select a separate data plan or choose from other plans after checking their individual upgrade eligibility. Rogers Wireless and Fido had previously angered some customers with the announcement of their iPhone service plans, which the upset customers deemed unfair.

Mobistar details plans, pricing for iPhone 3G in Belgium

Mobistar has announced its plans and pricing for the iPhone 3G in Belgium. In accordance with local law, Reuters reports, iPhone 3Gs sold by Mobistar will be unlocked, and will not be sold with a mandatory subscription. The exclusive Belgian carrier will sell the 8GB iPhone 3G for €525 (~$825) and the 16GB model for €615 (~$967), a price that CEO Benoit Scheen noted was “above that in other countries.” Mobistar will offer three plans (Translated link) for the iPhone 3G, all of which are subject to a 24-month contract. The My30 plan offers three hours of talk time or 300 SMS messages and 200MB of data for €30 (~$47) a month, the My45 plan offers six hours of talk time or 600 SMS messages and 500MB of data for €45 (~$71) a month, and the My60 plan offers nine hours of talk time or 900 SMS and 1GB of data for €60 (~$94) a month. Mobistar will launch the iPhone 3G in Belgium on July 11.

Apple: 15-minute setup process for iPhone 3G

In an interview with Bloomberg, Apple retail chief Ron Johnson said the company expects the in-store setup process for the iPhone 3G to take around 15 minutes, including credit check and activation. “Our expectation is that in 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll be set up and ready to go,” said Johnson, adding that each of Apple’s more than 185 retail stores in the U.S. are aiming to handle about 100 customers an hour. Speaking about supply, Johnson said, “You’ve got pent-up demand because we haven’t had phones for a while. Our goal is to always have enough supply for every customer.” Johnson also said customers would need a credit card and Social Security number for activation, mirroring Apple’s “What to bring” information from its website, and added that although the stores will be handling 30 customers at a time, they won’t be rushed. “We’ll spend as long as it takes with our customers to make sure they’re happy with the phone,” he said. Apple will begin sales of the iPhone 3G at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, July 11.

Photo of the Week: iPhone in Hawaii

This week’s featured photo is from our iPhones Around the World gallery, and shows an iPhone atop Haleakala on the island of Maui in Hawaii. To share your photos and to be considered for our Photo of the Week, you simply need to submit your own photo to one of our galleries. So get out there, take some pictures with your iPod or iPhone, and maybe your submission will be our next Photo of the Week!

iPhone 3G rate plan poll ends, Apple debut poll begins

Our most recent iLounge Poll, “Have recent iPhone 3G rate plan disclosures changed your mind about buying one?,” has ended. With over 2,500 votes, the poll indicated a strong late shift in purchasing intent based upon pricing announcements made after Apple claimed that the new iPhone offered “twice the speed” at “half the price” of its predecessor. A full 41% of responding readers indicated that the costs of local rates had scuttled their plans to buy the iPhone 3G, while only 2% said that their local rate plans made the device more attractive. By comparison, 37% said that they were not surprised by the rates and were still planning to buy one, while 20% indicated that they had not planned to buy one, and the rates didn’t change their minds. Thanks for your responses!

We have just opened our new poll, “How do you think Apple has handled the iPhone 3G’s debut?” A variety of choices, ranging from great to bad to “don’t care” are available, allowing you to also express whether Apple met, surpassed, or fell below your expectations. The new iLounge Poll can be found on our main iLounge.com homepage in the left-hand column. Cast your vote today!

Baig: iPhone 3G ‘worth the wait,’ 3.75/4 stars

Contrasting with Wall Street Journal and NY Times reviews published today, USA Today’s Edward Baig offered almost universal praise for the iPhone 3G, awarding it 3.75 out of 4 stars and “an enthusiastic thumbs up.” In his review, Baig cites disappointment over the device’s inability to access AT&T’s 3G network “in parts of my northern New Jersey neighborhood and elsewhere,” but lauds each of its other features, stating that “the list of reasons the device doesn’t make sense for a certain class of users is shrinking fast.”

Singled out for special praise were Apple’s “improved overall audio quality” and addition of GPS to the device, which was accurate “as I drove along in my car, searched for nearby pizza places, and requested directions. Alas, the feature begs for the audible turn-by-turn directions found on Samsung’s Instinct and others.”

Baig also confirmed 3G speed improvements seen by other reviewers. “It generally took 10 to 30 seconds to load popular websites through 3G, a lot zippier than when I accessed the sites on Edge. Oddly, parts of the pages sometimes showed up first on the older iPhone screen. But pages always finished loading on the 3G device first, often by a half minute or more.”

Unlike The Wall Street Journal, which noted that battery life was a major issue, Baig suggested that the two devices were similar in performance. “I started receiving low battery warnings toward the end of a busy work day;” he said. “I found myself charging the device overnight, the same as with the older iPhone.” However, Baig cited battery charging issues, saying that he “couldn’t juice up the latest device using my Bose SoundDock or Belkin car kit. Apple says there will be adapters to permit charging with certain older accessories.” According to Baig, this issue was attributable to iPhone 3G’s lack of compatibility with FireWire charging devices; it remains to be seen whether the new device behaves differently from the original iPhone in this regard.

Mossberg: iPhone 3G ‘much faster,’ with ‘hidden costs,’ battery issues

Reviewing the iPhone 3G for The Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg today said that the device “mostly keeps its promises,” but is saddled by “two big hidden costs:” weaker battery performance and AT&T price plans that “effectively negated the iPhone’s up-front price cut.”

On upbeat notes, Mossberg praised iPhone 3G’s data performance, which he said outstripped Apple’s clams of twice the prior model’s speed. “The new iPhone typically was between three and five times as fast as the old one,” Mossberg noted, achieving speeds of 200 to 500kbps in Washington and New York versus 70 to 150kbps on the original iPhone. He also offered generally strong praise for the device’s audio, citing a “much louder” speaker for music and calls, but noted that “the new phone produced an echo when used with the built-in Bluetooth system in my car.” His initial “overall” conclusion was positive: “I found it to be a more capable version of an already excellent device.”

However, the columnist noted previously unreported battery and calling issues that might concern some potential buyers. “[I]n my tests,” said Mossberg, “the iPhone 3G’s battery was drained much more quickly in a typical day of use than the battery on the original iPhone,” a result he attributed to 3G network power drain. “In my test of voice calling, I got 4 hours and 27 minutes, short of Apple’s maximum claim and nearly three hours less than what I recorded in the same test last year on the original iPhone.” Practically, this meant a mid-day loss of power: “I found the battery indicator on the new 3G model slipping below 20% by early afternoon or midafternoon on some days, and it entirely ran out of juice on one day.” While 3G network power requirements aren’t unique to the iPhone 3G, he notes, “some other 3G competitors… have replaceable batteries. The iPhone doesn’t.”

Mossberg also noted mixed performance in real world calling situations, finding certain coverage improvements, but also dropped calls. “In New York City, riding in a taxi along the Hudson, one important call was dropped three times on the new iPhone,” he said. “Finally, I borrowed a cheap Verizon phone and got perfect reception.” The review ended with a less positive conclusion than his overall assessment suggested: “If you’ve been waiting to buy an iPhone until it dropped in price, or ran on faster cell networks, you might want to take the plunge, if you can live with the higher service costs and the weaker battery life. ...But if you already own an iPhone, and can usually use Wi-Fi for data, you probably should hold off and get the free software upgrade before deciding whether it’s worth getting the new hardware.”

Pogue: First iPhone ‘stunning,’ iPhone 3G ‘nice upgrade’

Reviewing the iPhone 3G for The New York Times, technology columnist David Pogue offered light praise for the device, contrasting the “stunning” first iPhone with the new model. “When the iPhone 3G goes on sale in AT&T and Apple stores, iPhone Mania will be considerably more muted. That’s partly because the mystery is gone, partly because the AT&T service costs more and partly because there aren’t many new features in what Apple is calling the iPhone 3G.”

In his review, Pogue touches on each of the iPhone 3G’s major new features, caveating many because of unexpected limitations. The “much faster” 3G Internet feature, he notes, is not usable in 10 states, with 16 others having three or fewer covered cities, while the device’s GPS functionality is limited—according to Apple—by its antenna. “Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do with the G.P.S.,” Pogue says. “[T]he metal of a car or the buildings of Manhattan are often enough to block the iPhone’s view of the sky, leaving it just as confused as you are.”

Additionally, Apple’s claim of a half-priced phone is “not really” accurate given the heightened expense of its required calling plans. “[B]y the end of your two-year contract, the iPhone 3G will have cost you more than the old iPhone,” says Pogue, “not less.” Still, he describes the device as “a nice upgrade,” and notes that “new buyers will generally be delighted.”

Praised by Pogue are the flush headphone port, the unit’s smaller power adapter, and its audio quality, which he notes “has taken a gigantic step forward. You sound crystal clear to your callers, and they sound crystal clear to you. In fact, few cellphones sound this good.” His favorite feature? “[T]he really big deal is the iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store, neither of which requires buying a new iPhone,” said Pogue, which “may come as a refreshing surprise to planned-obsolescence conspiracy theorists—and everyone who stood in line last year.”

iPhone App Contest still going, enter today!

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iLounge is still accepting entries for our Quest for the Best iPhone App Contest, so if you haven’t yet entered, now’s your chance. In the contest, iLounge and Bowers & Wilkins are giving away three of B&W’s Zeppelin speaker systems to our three favorite native iPhone applications. To enter the contest, simply submit your application to our Application Gallery, which will highlight new iPhone software with individual listings and information for each application. One winner will be picked from each of three categories: Games, Business/Professional, and Just Plain Cool, with each winner receiving their own Zeppelin system plus a $100 Apple Store Gift Card. The contest runs through July 23, and only official, App Store-ready applications will be considered, with the winners being announced on July 25. Below we’ve highlighted some of the great submissions we’ve already received.

Optimus reveals iPhone 3G plans, pricing for Portugal

Optimus has revealed its plans and pricing for the iPhone 3G in Portugal. The company will offer both pre- and post-paid non-contract service for the iPhone, along with traditional contract plans. With pre- and post-paid plans, the iPhone 3G will sell for €499 (~$786) for the 8GB model and €599.90 (~$943) for the 16GB. iPhone Total is the pre-paid iPhone service option, offering 250 SMS messages to other Optimus lines, 250MB of data, and a voice and non-Optimus SMS charge of €0.17 (~$0.27) for €20 (~$31) a month. Post-paid options include the €15 (~$24) a month iPhone 15 plan, which offers 100 Optimus SMS, 100MB of data, and a voice and non-Optimus SMS charge of €0.15 (~$0.24), the iPhone 30, which brings 300 Optimus texts, 300MB of data, and a voice and SMS rate of €0.13 (~$0.20) for €30 (~$47) a month, and the iPhone 50 plan, which offers a voice and SMS charge of €0.10 (~$0.16), 500 Optimus texts, and 500MB of data with a monthly charge of €50 (~$79).

In addition, Optimus will offer three contract plans for the iPhone 3G. The €30 plan will offer 100 Optimus texts, 100MB of data, and a voice and non-Optimus rate of €0.15, the €45 plan will offer 300 Optimus SMS, 300MB of data, and a voice and SMS rate of €0.13, and the €65 plan will offer a voice and call charge of €0.10, 500 Optimus texts, and 500MB of data. With the €30 plan, the 8GB iPhone 3G will cost €250 (~$393) and the 16GB model €350 (~$550), while selection of the €45 plan brings the prices down to €200 (~$315) and €300 ($472), respectively. Finally, with the €65 plan, the 8GB model will sell for €150 (~$236), while the 16GB model will run €250 (~$393). Optimus will begin sales of the iPhone 3G on July 11.

iPhone 3G Apple retail sales limited to U.S. stores

Based on information found on Apple’s international websites, it appears that sales of the iPhone 3G in Apple’s company-operated retail outlets will be limited to stores in the United States. Apple previously sold the first-generation iPhone at its stores in the United Kingdom, but those stores are conspicuously absent from the “Where to Buy” page on the company’s U.K. website, and are also absent from similar pages for ItalyAustralia and Japan. Currently circulating reports claim that Apple’s decision to not sell the iPhone 3G in its Canadian stores was a response to consumer outrage at Rogers Wireless’ service plans for the device, however, confirmation of Apple’s decision was received alongside Rogers’ announcement, making this scenario highly unlikely. A more likely reason for the decision would be that Apple’s international retail stores may lack the ability to handle in-store activation, and the company may also want to avoid potential confusion in countries where the iPhone is being offered by multiple carriers.

Vodafone lists iPhone 3G pricing for Italy, Portugal, New Zealand

Vodafone has announced its plans and pricing for the iPhone 3G in Italy, Portugal, and New Zealand. In Italy (Translated link), Vodafone will offer three main plans - Facile Large, Special Edition, and Facile Medium. Facile Large offers 900 minutes and 900 SMS for €99 (~$156) a month, Special Edition offers a maximum of 7,000 minutes and 7,000 SMS to Vodafone numbers in addition to 250 all-purpose minutes and texts for €79 (~$124) a month, while Facile Medium includes 400 minutes and 400 texts for €59 (~$93) a month. All three plans offer 600MB of data. With the Large plan on a two-year contract, the 8GB iPhone 3G will sell for €49 (~$77) and the 16GB model for €119 (~$187), while selection of the Special Edition plan brings the prices to €99 and €169 (~$265), respectively. A two-year agreement on the Medium plan sets the prices at €199 (~$313) for the 8GB model and €269 (~$423) for the 16GB version. None of the plans include free Wi-Fi.

In Portugal, Vodafone will offer three iPhone plans — Best iPhone 100, Best iPhone 230, and Best iPhone 500, each including 250MB of data, and either 100, 230, or 500 minutes and texts, respectively. Monthly pricing is €29.90 (~$47) for the 100 plan, €44.90 (~$71) for the 230, and €64.90 (~$102) for the 500; an iPhone data add-on will be offered for customers who want to use the iPhone 3G with an existing plan, it will include 250MB of data for €19.90 (~$31) a month. iPhone 3G handset pricing will range between €129.90 (~$204) and €389.90 (~$613) depending on the model and which plan the customer chooses for their 24-month contract; the phone will also be offered without a contract for €499.90 (~$786) for the 8GB model and €599.90 (~$943) for the 16GB.

Finally, in New Zealand, Vodafone will again offer three plans for the iPhone 3G: iPhone 250, iPhone 500, and iPhone 1GB. The 250 plans offers 120 minutes and 250MB of data for NZD80 (~$60) a month, the 500 plans steps up to 250 minutes and 500MB of data for NZD130 (~$98) a month, and the 1GB plan offers 600 minutes and 1GB of data for NZD250 (~$188) a month. All three plans include 600 SMS texts, and data add-ons will be offered for current customers for NZD29.95 (~$23) a month for 200MB and NZD49.95 (~$38) for 1GB. Pricing on the iPhone 3G handset will vary depending on what 24-month plan the customer chooses: it will cost NZD549 (~$413) for the 8GB and NZD699 (~$526) for the 16GB with the 250 plan, NZD449 (~$338) and NZD599 (~$451) with the 500 plan, and NZD199 (~$150) and NZD349 (~$262) with the 1GB plan; both models will also be offered without a contract for NZD979 (~$736) and NZD1129 (~$849), respectively.

iPhone 3G unboxing photos appear

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The first iPhone 3G unboxing photos have appeared on an iPhonePortugal.com forum. The iPhone 3G box appears quite similar to that of the original iPhone, made from hard, black cardboard with a top that lifts off to offer access to the phone, manual, and included accessories. The iPhone itself is presented in a black tray, as opposed to the clear plastic tray that came with the original, and both the new SIM card removal tool and slim new charger are pictured, as well. In addition to the unboxing photos, a brief gallery of an iPhone 3G in-store display and demo unit have been posted by Swiss site Gadget O’ Mac. The iPhone 3G will go on sale this Friday, June 11. [via Engadget]

SoftBank to launch iPhone 3G in Japan at 7 am Friday

Japanese iPhone carrier SoftBank has announced that it will begin selling the iPhone 3G at 7 a.m. on Friday at its store in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. Other SoftBank stores and major retailers will begin offering the phone at noon. The carrier recently announced its service plans and pricing for the iPhone 3G; plans will start at 7,280 yen (around $68), including unlimited data-transmission usage, while the phone itself will run 23,040 yen (around $215) over 24-months for the 8GB model, and 34,560 yen (around $322) for the 16GB version.

Apple changes iTunes Store’s iPod Games heading (again)

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Following a change made to the heading of the iTunes Store’s iPod Games section just a few weeks ago, Apple has again changed the heading to further clarify which iPods those games can be played on. Apple previously changed the heading on its iPod Games page from “iPod Games” to “iPod classic and nano Games,” differentiating the current listings from possible future listings for iPod touch- and iPhone-compatible games. It has since changed the heading to “iPod Click Wheel Games,” a phrase which helps avoid confusion among fifth-generation iPod owners whose devices are still capable of playing the currently offered games but were excluded from mention in the prior heading.

Telcel announces iPhone 3G pricing, plans for Mexico

Telcel has announced (Translated link) its service plans and pricing for the iPhone 3G in Mexico. Telcel is offering three different plans for the iPhone in Mexico, and as with other international carriers, it is pricing the iPhone 3G hardware based on which plan the customer chooses for his/her 24-month agreement. Plan iPhone I will cost 459MXN (~$44) per month, and will include 200 minutes, 100MB of data, and 100 SMS texts, while Plan iPhone II will run 599MXN (~$58) monthly, and will include 300 minutes, 150MB of data, and 150 texts. The Plan iPhone III will cost 799MXN (~$77) a month, and will offer 400 minutes, 200MB of data, and 200 SMS texts. Additional minutes will be charged at a rate of 1.15MXN (~$0.11) per to Telcel and land phones, or 3.45MXN (~$0.33) per minute to other operators’ phones, while additional data will cost 0.04MXN per KB, and each additional text will run 0.85MXN (~$0.08).

With the Plan I, the 8GB iPhone 3G costs 3,419MXN (~$331) and the 16GB model 4,689MXN (~$454), while with the Plan II the two run 2,159MXN (~$209) and 3,419MXN, respectively. Finally, with the Plan III, the 8GB iPhone 3G sells for 889MXN (~$86), while the 16GB model sells for 2,159MXN. All prices include 15% VAT. Telcel will launch the iPhone in Mexico on July 11. [Thanks, Bernardo]

Apple confirms 8 am iPhone 3G launch, posts ‘Where to Buy’ guide

One week after AT&T announced it would be opening its retail stores at 8 a.m. local time on July 11 for the launch of the iPhone 3G, Apple has confirmed that its own retail stores will do the same. A new message on Apple’s retail website reads “iPhone 3G Coming July 11 at 8 a.m.” In addition, the company has set up a “Where to Buy” page for the iPhone, featuring links to find the nearest Apple retail store or AT&T location, a list of what customers should bring with them to purchase and activate the phone, and a brief overview of how to get their data ready to make syncing to the iPhone 3G easier.

Square Enix releases Song Summoner: the Unsung Heroes for iPod

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Square Enix, publisher of the popular Final Fantasy series of video games, has released Song Summoner: the Unsung Heroes for the fifth-generation iPod, iPod classic, and iPod nano (video). Song Summoner is a role-playing game (RPG) that lets users play as Ziggy, a “conductor” who creates warriors out of music, as he embarks on a journey to rescue his brother from the Mechanical Militia. Features of the game include the ability to transform songs stored on the iPod into “Tune Troopers” to combat the enemy, a turn-based tactics battle system, and more. Square Enix’ Song Summoner: the Unsung Heroes is available from the iTunes Store and sells for $4.99.

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