As expected, Apple announced a new iPhone at a press event today, but rather than naming it an iPhone 5, it will be referred to as the iPhone 4S.
The fact that the phone’s name/number didn’t change from 4 to 5, but merely from 4 to 4S fairly reflects that this is a modest evolution of a phone rather than a massive step forward, as had earlier been hoped for.
Although there was a greater gap between the release of this phone and its predecessor than between the releases of earlier models of phone in the iPhone annual release series, it seems there is less of a progression in terms of new phone features.
Externally, the iPhone 4S seems to be almost indistinguishable from its predecessor iPhone 4 in terms of size and shape.
Internally, well, okay, so the new iPhone 4S has a faster processor (twice as fast CPU, up to seven times faster video), a better camera (8MP compared to 5MP), and voice recognition/interaction. Yawn. The camera is still inferior to that on just about any digital camera, and the voice interaction will almost certainly disappoint in the real world. As for a faster processor, yes, it will make games go faster, if you’re the type of person who enjoys gaming on a tiny screen, but for regular apps such as phone calls, email, web browsing, etc, there’ll be precious little difference.
The phone will download data through a faster type of 3G connection – HSPA+ compared to HSPA – but being as how almost no-one gets maximum rated download speeds from HSPA, will there be any benefit from a higher theoretical maximum that may or may not translate to any perceptible difference in real world speeds?
So what doesn’t the iPhone 4S have? Most obviously and most importantly, it doesn’t have a bigger screen. At a time when nearly all Android based phones are offering screen sizes with diagonals greater than 4″ (and some reaching 5″), the iPhone languishes with its relatively tiny and definitely dated 3.5″ screen. Although rumors had persuasively indicated that Apple would release a phone with a larger screen, clearly that is not happening, at least, not today and not with the iPhone 4S.
A bigger screen really is a significant omission. You might think ‘Big deal, 4″ is only half an inch bigger than 3.5″, but the actual extra screen area is significantly larger (remember Pythagoras’ theorem and the stuff about squares and square roots?). And 4″ is the smallest of the new generation of larger sized phone screens – most are 4.3″ or larger. These larger screens can do a much better job of displaying web pages and provide a much more immersive experience when watching video or playing games.
It is very perplexing that a company so focused on visual elements as Apple has allowed itself to fall so far behind on the issue of screen size.
Other features not in the iPhone 4S include near field communications or true 4G capabilities. Neither are essential, but both are leading edge features appearing in Android based phones, and so in terms of a phone that has something ‘state of the art’ or ‘ahead of the game’, the iPhone 4S can only be considered as a total fail.
As for battery life, it is almost completely unchanged from the iPhone 4. To be fair, that is a modest accomplishment, because the new faster processor is probably slightly more battery hungry, but from an end-user perspective, the bottom line is the phone retains a battery life that is only marginally adequate for a full intensive day of work.
Interestingly, Apple will not only continue to sell an 8GB version of the iPhone 4, but it will also continue selling the much older iPhone 3GS too. The rumor mill had been anticipating both a new iPhone 5 (which in terms of specifications, the iPhone 4S certainly is not) and also a new ‘entry level’ phone to give Apple both a high-end and a low-end phone, enabling it to reach more of the market. But perhaps Apple’s ‘new entry level’ phone is actually its two year old iPhone 3GS?
The new model lineup comprises
- iPhone 3GS, 8GB $0 (all prices on a new two year contract with a wireless phone company, of course)
- iPhone 4, 8GB $99
- iPhone 4S, 16GB $199
- iPhone 4S, 32GB $299
- iPhone 4S, 64GB $399 (this is a new expanded capacity phone, there was no equivalent iPhone 4 with 64GB)
The $299 and $399 price points are consistent with the earlier two models of the iPhone 4, but whereas the iPhone 4 came in 16GB and 32GB capacities, the 4S comes in 32GB and 64GB capacities. So you’re getting more for the same amount of money.
The new phone will be available for pre-order from 7 October, with delivery starting 14 October (in US, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Germany and Japan). Twenty two more countries will get the phone released on 28 October, and by the end of the year, it is projected to be available in 70 different countries.
Should You Rush to Buy an iPhone 4S?
Probably not. If you already have an iPhone 4, skip this upgrade (as I’ll be doing myself). If you have an iPhone 3GS or earlier, then your two year contract is probably coming up for renewal, and your choices are either to keep the current phone, upgrade to a 4S, or wait for the iPhone 5, whatever that will be and whenever it will be released.
If you’ve been waiting to see what this year’s iPhone will be before choosing to buy a smartphone of any type, you might want to have a look at some of the exciting new Android phones out there too. You might find an Android phone to be a better choice of phone in just about every respect.