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New iPhone 3G S could have huge impact on newsgathering

With all the media hype surrounding the latest Apple iPhone that went on sale last week, one of the smart phone’s more than 100 new features has huge implications for the future of video newsgathering.

The new iPhone 3G S, priced beginning at $199, is the first Apple model to offer video recording, editing and the one-button ability to transfer the finished product to YouTube or another Web site for viewing. Other smart phones have offered this feature set before, but the iPhone is far more significant because it is the market leader with more than 6 million phones already in the field.

The implications are huge for a mass-market smart phone with a built-in three-megapixel camera that shoots both still and 30 frame-per-second VGA video. Coupling that recording/editing capability with automatic transfer to YouTube and other Web sites makes the iPhone a potentially empowering tool for further democratizing newsgathering.

The iPhone’s new autofocus camera adjusts focus, exposure, color and contrast and includes an automatic macro focus for close-up shots. A new “tap to focus” feature allows the user to touch the display to select an object or area of interest, and the camera automatically readjusts focus and exposure.

The older iPhone model gained notoriety earlier this year during the crash of a U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River in New York City. Blogger Janis Krums, a resident of Sarasota, FL, was on a commuter ferry when the plane crashed. He used his iPhone to take a still image that was seen around the world after he used an application called TwitPic to attach the photo to a Twitter post.

Advocates of citizen journalism applauded the new iPhone. Rachel Sterne, founder and chief executive of the citizen journalism site, said the new device would make it easier for average people to gather and distribute video footage. Many are still learning to independently document news, and the simplicity of the new iPhone will help train laymen to be reporters, she said.

YouTube added a “citizen news” channel to its Web site last year, but so far it has not had active use. There is hope the new iPhone with video recording will change that.

Even before the new 3G S model went on sale last week, the iPhone had distinguished itself among newsgatherers. Last Christmas, the Knight Digital Media Center said the iPhone was closer than other device to being the “Holy Grail” for digital journalists.

“A single handheld unit that surfs the entire Web, including audio and video, that allows you to update Web sites, to shoot photos and send them to the Web, to record and post audio, that supports e-mail and includes a phone, and that offers a GPS with maps and directions to help you find your way to wherever your reporting takes you,” the site wrote about the iPhone 3G model.

When video recording is complete, the new iPhone 3G S features simple editing. Using a finger to drag video while viewing a clip, the user can trim the “in” and “out” points of the video — essentially deleting unwanted footage.

In addition to the “Send to YouTube” tab, the camera allows users to send video or still images to their MobileMe account, an optional Apple Web service, via MMS (when exclusive U.S. carrier AT&T activates this feature at the end of the summer) or as an attachment to e-mail. Users must set-up accounts with YouTube and MobileMe in advance of sending video or still content.

When the iPhone syncs with a Mac or PC, the video or still images are automatically moved from the phone to the iTunes software on the larger computer. There they can be edited with either typical video post-production software like Final Cut Pro or iMovie, or photo editing software such as iPhoto, Lightroom or Photoshop.

In addition to the video capability, the iPhone 3G S boosts processor speed — being on average twice as fast as the previous iPhone 3G. Web pages can be rendered quicker, applications launched faster, and battery life is much longer. The device takes advantage of the OpenGL ES 2.0 standard for improved 3D graphics. It also supports 7.2Mb/s HSDPA for faster networking speeds.

The new iPhone 3G S will be available in more than 80 countries in the coming weeks.