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Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) ended the rampant speculation over the plans for its next iPhone with the announcement of a new model called the iPhone 4S during an event at its headquarters in Cupertino Tuesday. The iPhone 4S will be much the same as the current iPhone 4, but will use the faster A5 processor that ships with the iPad 2.
The iPhone 4S is basically the same design as the iPhone 4 but with a redesigned wireless antenna that will supposedly offer a better voice-calling experience (novel idea for a phone) and it will be a so-called “world phone,” meaning it will run on both the GSM and CDMA family of wireless network standards. It will start shipping on October 14th in several countries including the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Japan, and be available on AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon, and Sprint (NYSE: S) in the U.S., as expected. A broader international rollout will follow on October 28th.
Apple upgraded the camera on the iPhone 4S, improving the speed at which it can take and process images as well as adding HD video recording. But the meat of the presentation was saved for Siri, a voice-recognition service that will let iPhone 4S users set up calendar appointments and tasks on their phone. Perhaps more significantly, it will also allow iPhone 4S users to search the Internet with voice commands, tapping into information services like Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha.
If Siri works as advertised, that could be a problem for Google (NSDQ: GOOG), which depends heavily on iPhone owners for mobile Web searches. Apple said this would be a “beta” service to start (that means expect bugs) and it will support English, French, and German at launch. For its part, Google has offered voice commands on Android phones for over a year, but it’s unclear how many people actually use those services.
Apple said the iPhone 4S will cost $199 for a 16GB version, $299 for a 32GB version, and $399 for a 64GB version, the first time Apple has offered an iPhone at that capacity. It will continue to sell the iPhone 4 for $99 in black and white versions, and will sell the iPhone 3GS for free (presumably with a two-year contract).
The new device was announced during Apple’s first event since former CEO and current Chairman Steve Jobs stepped down from his leadership role in August. Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, and Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president in charge of iOS software, handled most of the introductions. Apple is hoping to keep the momentum in its mobile business going under the new leadership team, which has sold 250 million iOS devices to date, Cook announced.
Details were trickling out of an auditorium on Apple’s campus, where a dozen or so live blogs groaned under the weight of those seeking information about Apple’s new iPhone plans. Some believe the company also plans to introduce an iPhone 5 model with more features later in the presentation.
Apple senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller introduced the iPhone 4S, just minutes after announcing that Apple planned to cut the price of the iOS-bearing iPod Touch by $30 to $199 for the cheapest 8GB version.
Forstall spent a great deal of time recapping the features Apple announced in June for iOS 5, which will be available on October 12th. But Apple also announced Cards, a new iOS 5 application that lets users design a postcard on their iPhone and iPad and have Apple print out that card and mail it for a fee, $2.99 in the U.S.