12 Comments

Summary:

So there was no iPhone 5. But there will be a new iPhone 4S, which Apple announced Tuesday. It looks just like the iPhone 4, but while there were no huge changes, it’s important to remember that these incremental upgrades could add up to a lot.

iphone4s-feature-2

So there was no iPhone 5. But there will be a new iPhone 4S, which Apple announced Tuesday. And yes, it physically looks just like the iPhone 4, which might be disappointing for some, but there are several useful new features, most of them not visible at first glance. While there was no big reveal, no “one more thing,” it’s important to remember these incremental upgrades could add up to a lot.

I say “could,” because we didn’t get to play with the iPhone 4S. But what CEO Tim Cook and others showed the press during the 95-minute presentation this morning is very symbolic of what Apple is trying to do to keep standing out: pay excruciatingly close attention to the little things that help make a product great.

The iPhone 4 is a great phone — and people continue to buy it in droves more than a year later — so it’s not like Apple had to go back to the drawing board or do a major overhaul. So what they did do to the new iPhone 4S was largely internal and incremental: a faster processor (the A5 chip, which is Apple-designed and already in use in the iPad 2), an improved camera (up to 8 megapixels from 5, wider aperture, better sensor for low-light photos, 1080p video recording, video image stabilization), updated software (the previously announced iOS 5, iCloud, iTunes Match), the ability to run on both GSM and CDMA networks, a new U.S. carrier (Sprint), redesigned antenna technology, aggressive pricing on older model iPhones (3GS now free on contract, iPhone 4 now $99) and Siri, the personal assistant app. All of it is relatively minor, but at the same time, all of it adds up to features designed to make the smartphone faster and its battery last longer with quicker downloads, uploads and streaming. And overall, the improvements are designed to make the iPhone 4S easier to use, which is what most people want from a smartphone anyway.

Siri got a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd Tuesday. It may not be useful to everyone — it seems largely designed for situations where you can’t look at or pick up your iPhone, like driving. You can ask questions like (in a phrase humans would use) “What time is it in Philadelphia right now?” or “What will the weather be like when I get there?”; respond and send text messages; make calendar appointments; search for restaurants (with Yelp integration); look something up online; set reminders; and more. In other words, it’s designed to help you get stuff done.

Siri is a great example of Apple doing something that other hardware makers it competes with are not. Siri isn’t something you need any technical know how to use or understand and it’s seamlessly integrated with the entire device. (Microsoft and Android have voice assistance technology, but don’t go this far in integration.) It’s not even a new technology, but Apple sunk resources into the Siri acquisition to make it an integral function of this and probably future iPhones. Like iTunes Match and AirPlay, they’re not sexy, they’re relatively small but useful features that are supposed to quietly just work.

Apple doesn’t jump on every new technology that comes along (Blu-ray, 4G, NFC, etc.). That’s not how it competes, so it’s not going to make a huge splash with every single new announcement every year. If you think about what Cook emphasized during his introduction Tuesday, you’ll see the things that Apple knows set it apart from other device makers that can slap together hardware that looks really good: Apple’s retail stores, customer satisfaction ratings, the overall iOS ecosystem and the tight integration of devices and software. It’s not super juicy stuff talking about how many new stores you’ve opened or how you redesigned the phone’s antenna instead of new design or the extreme thinness and lightness of a phone. But those small, sometimes unnoticed advances are the ones that matter when it comes to acquiring — and keeping — customers.

  1. i am just coming to terms with realizing how masterful
    and brilliant apple is with their marketing. everyone
    knows the spec bump isn’t radical, or that the design
    stayed the same. or that ios 5 may not be as special
    as everyone wants it to be. but one thing that apple
    realizes is that android is a mob bent on flooding
    the market every week with a new device that is the
    new bees knees. the hardware is totally awesome, and
    it will be outdated in a few months. so apple goes
    ahead and takes the exact opposite approach. they
    give you something that may not be the pinnacle of
    cutting edge tech, but it still comes close. it is
    unique, comes from one source, and isn’t a clone
    with different skins running on a various scale of
    hardware sets. all of these things may have value
    for many people, but there is absolutely nothing
    to differentiate itself from the next droid that
    comes down the pipe, except for minor variations.
    the people at cupertino have opted to take a more
    practical approach to their product cycles while
    capitalizing on their unique branding which can’t
    be found anywhere else. call it pulling a rabbit
    out of the hat, but they give you ultimate magic.

    Share
  2. Looking and listening, not only to the Cupertino presentation; but, business and technology analysts, today, on those nasty Wall Street programs which talk about how commerce and business and corporations really interact — I was pleasantly surprised at the 4S.

    Reason #1? Apple has just barely caught up to demand for the iPhone 4 in the last month – in the markets where they’re currently selling it. Do you realize that isn’t half the market space they could be selling in if they had the production?

    If they fiddled with the outside of the hardware, a new configuration, shape, screen size – they would have to go back to square 1 on the hardware side. But, they decided to put the guts of what could have been the iPhone 5 – along with iOS5 – into the same shell. It’s like adding a twin turbo and electric boost to a BMW 328 and surpassing the M series. They just didn’t add fins and blackout glass.

    Reason #2? Now they can continue to add markets and increase production to try to catch up with demand from those markets they will continue to add – at a faster pace than if they had gone with a complete hardware refresh.

    Makes sense to me.

    More important, the cache of the new features will overlay onto existing unmet demand. Sales will continue well beyond the estimates of the two or three thousands writers-about-geek-topics who are disappointed. Bloggers and analysts alike may be reminded they are as wrong about the 4S as they were about the iPad. Remember?

    Share
    1. I’d say – as wrong as they were about the 3GS.

      Share
  3. “Siri, what does the S stand for?”

    “Stupid”

    Share
  4. I think Siri has the potential to be very popular.

    Share
  5. George Lucas Bowen Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Siri will fail because people just won’t use it. There will be a very small percentage of people that love it and the majority just won’t engage with that feature. Hard to break habits.

    Share
    1. It’s hard to talk? No, it’s the easiest thing in the world. That’s why Siri will be popular.

      Share
      1. John Harrington, Jr. Wednesday, October 5, 2011

        Gonna have to agree with Rich. I’ve used the stand-alone app version of Siri and have had nothing but good things to say about it. Now I’d say what it brings to the iPhone 4 is so/so after seeing how it will be on the 4S. After watching the video at the bottom of this post (http://bit.ly/q4UdTZ) come back here and tell me that people won’t use it. This feature alone re-defines what a smartphone really is…

        Share
  6. I was one of those people who were looking through the internet everyday, just trying to find out what the iphone 5 was going to look like. I was very disappointed to find out that they hand not come out with a new design. I think that my feelings are shared by a lot of other apple users. This is something that could really hurt them. Even though the visual part was disappointing, the technical part of the new iphone is very cool. The Siri feature is very cool. I know earlier versions of this feature have been made in different phones and that this was an app but I’m still very excited to see it in action. Although my overall feeling is sadness, I’m still looking forward to the release of their next iphone design.

    Share
    1. Omid Mirshafiei Thursday, October 6, 2011

      I disagree. I’m sure Om could dig up the amount of R&D that was spent for the iPhone 4. Does Apple have the case to do it again for a new chassis? Yes, but the momentum and market dominance of the iPhone 4 probably mean that to going ADD with the entire aesthetic of the product–and doing so as a reaction to your competition–is absolutely the wrong approach.

      I think too many businesses let competition dictate their entire strategy–and marketing/sales dictate the product release cycles, forcing releases of premature products–and Apple is a rare company that doesn’t fall into that trap; if it did, it wouldn’t be known for its vision.

      Share
    2. Omid Mirshafiei Thursday, October 6, 2011

      Sorry, *cash to do it again

      Share
  7. Is the iPhone 4S 4G capable. I have heard a lot of rumors that it will be able to get 4G speeds??

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post