First pictures of Apple's new leicaPhone
When Apple’s Steve Jobs claimed the iPhone4’s closest kin is a beautiful old Leica camera it was just a veiled hint of things to come. Barely a day after Jobs made his comment at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference the company hosted an unscheduled session to announce its purchase of Leica Camera AG and a subscription contract with Eastman Kodak.

After communications glitches marred the WWDC Apple were taking no chances and laptops were banned at the latest launch: instead audience members were handed pencils and paper as they entered the hall. While some younger members were seen to struggle with the unfamiliar technology, it didn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. There were cheers as Jobs took the stage and launched straight into his presentation of the company’s newest product: the leicaPhone, the world’s first mobile phone to use film and interchangeable lenses.

The audience gasped as Jobs quipped, “some of you won’t have seen one of these before,” and produced a roll of Kodachrome 64 35mm film that he slipped it into the leicaPhone’s bottom-loading slot:

“You simply load the film cassette into the bottom of the leicaPhone, and when you’ve used the 36 frames post the cassette in the envelope provided to the Kodak laboratory in Switzerland. A few weeks later you will receive your transparencies by post: no other phone in the world can do this.”

Using the classic Leica M-mount means the leicaPhone will accept all Leitz lenses made since 1954. A range of accessories will be available, including 21mm and 28mm viewfinders. In a nod to the camera company’s heritage, the famous Leica red dot is replaced by a red Apple symbol on the front of the phone.

After demonstrating the leicaPhone by walking amongst the audience taking pictures Jobs returned to the stage and continued his presentation. “This is the first phone to take interchangeable lenses and the first phone to use film: there’s simply nothing else like it. If Cartier-Bresson were alive today I’m sure this would be his phone of choice. The classic Leica form factor makes it perfect for discrete communication on the street.”

Shrugging off criticisms that previous Apple phones had weak coverage, Jobs paraphrased Robert Capa: “If your signal isn’t good enough you’re not close enough to the cell mast.”

Although technically the leicaPhone can use any brand of 35mm film, initially the units will only be sold with a monthly subscription package for Kodak film. Two contracts are available. The D76 package will include a monthly supply of black and white Tri-X; film processing will not be included, but Kodak chemicals will be available at Apple stores. The higher priced K64 colour package includes a supply of process-paid Kodachrome.

Jobs dismissed concerns that tying leicaPhone users to Kodak film was a restriction on consumer choice. “History and our research show that Tri-X and Kodachrome are the film of choice for Leica users. By making these products available again Apple is actually increasing consumer options.” Taking a swipe at Adobe, Jobs continued: “Unlike others, our imaging technology is not tied to proprietary standards. If other manufacturers want to offer users the choice of Kodak or alternative films all they have to do is produce a film-loading cell-phone.”

An Apple spokesman was quick to quash speculation that Apple would soon produce a digital version of the leicaPhone based on the Leica M9. “When Steve compared the iPhone4 to an old Leica camera he meant just that. The images from 35mm film are vastly superior to any current camera-phone digital photos, and by marrying Leica’s analogue heritage with Apple’s digital technology we’re giving consumers the best of both worlds.”

Speaking after the presentation Jobs said: “Apple phones are not merely a mobile phones; in fact, they’re barely that. Rather, they’re a lifestyle choice, and the people who buy our phones want the best branding marketers can dream up. That makes for a natural synergy with other overpriced and out-dated design classics, so the Leica deal was a natural for us.”

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