While all eyes are on the CES show this week for the latest in consumer gear the big content news so far is coming from the Macworld Expo. Read/Write Web covers the debut of Apple's new iPhone, a Zune-sized gizmo running a version of Apple's OS X that combines phone, iPod and Web functionality into one slick package. There are any number of typical nifty features on the phone - built-in camera, video-capable touch-screen interface, easy PC or Mac syncing - but the key factor is Apple's Safari Web browser that comes along with the heavy-duty OS X underpinnings. It's the first time that a fully-featured Web browser has appeared on a mobile phone to render native HTML Web pages. While Australian IT notes that the iPhone's preview iteration is equipped with older and slower phone communications technology it's likely that it will get performance upgrades that will make iPhone a powerful mobile Web content delivery device - capable of upstaging many of the made-for-mobile content services launched over the past few years.
I've been mentioning for a while that mobile content deals are short-term gambles at best, and iPhone's full Web browsing capabilities only cements this factor in my mind. Hooked up to high-speed broadband, the iPhone promises to usher in an era in which people can move their electronic lives into a phone-ready device with minimal angst. Certainly Microsoft is out there also with scads of Windows Mobile-enabled phone devices, but they pull punches on Web functionality with a wimpy Internet Explorer Mobile browser - a gap that they can fill easily enough in time, but for now it's a handicap, especially since those same devices lack entertainment options.
For the moment iPhone swings the buzz - and music downloads - away from Microsoft and begs big-time one huge question: with the Web the music delivery medium of choice for young content consumers, why on earth didn't Microsoft put a phone and a decent Web browser into the Zune instead of a dumb old-media radio tuner? If I am going to tote around a relatively bulky device I want to be able to eliminate the need for other hardware whenever possible. Expect these issues to be rectified soon enough by Microsoft - and for the mobile Web to become largely just another place to consume what people have been getting via their PCs for years. In the process of doing so, expect geo-based contextual marketing and and localized publishing via the Web to take yet another great leap forward.