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The iPhone 4S from an Android user’s perspective

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Apple(s aapl) unveiled its latest handset, the iPhone 4S, at the company’s Cupertino headquarters on Tuesday, showing off new software and updated hardware features. The phone will be available for pre-order on Oct. 7 with a starting price of $199 and availability one week later. Apple’s iOS 5, the updated operating system for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad will be available as a free download on October 12.

I’ve been using Google Android(s goog) on a full-time basis for almost two years now, having bought a Google Nexus One in January 2010. I’ll be honest; with iOS 5, Apple has addressed some of the reasons why I left the platform in favor of Google. I’ve used iOS 5 for a few months on an iPod touch and it has impressed me — from less intrusive notifications to wireless data synchronization with iCloud to improved Twitter integration.

Still missing for me is the outstanding Google service integration I find native to Android. But even there, I’ve seen improvements. The Google Voice app is now supported. Mail in iOS gained the ability to archive mail instead of simply deleting it all. And it’s pretty simple to connect multiple Google calendars to an iOS device too. I’d love to see Apple add customizable widgets, but I’ve already seen widget-like functionality in the new notification lock screen, so perhaps developers will be able to build some.

Hey phone, I’m talking to you!

New to iOS 5 is a function I haven’t yet seen in the beta operating system; from what I read on our live-blog of the Apple event, Siri Assistant wowed the audience. Near as I can tell, only the new iPhone 4S will be able to use Siri, because only the new phone has the A5 dual-core processor and perhaps enough RAM to make Siri work. Here’s an official Apple demonstration video of Siri:

Android owners likely already know that voice control has long been part of Google’s native platform since 2009. And third-party options with improved speech-to-text recognition, such as Vlingo and Nuance(s nuan), are also available for Android. I’ve used them all, and while they work well, Siri looks to go a bit further due to its contextual integration with several iOS apps.

Instead of being an afterthought or add-on to the platform, Siri is more accurately described as part of the platform. I expect Apple to expand Siri’s integration over time as well. And unlike the Android voice action solutions, Apple will market the heck out of Siri’s capabilities and likely do more to bring voice recognition to mainstream users as a result.

Hardware wars

As far as the iPhone 4S itself, all the hardware changes are on the inside. Among the more prominent upgrades:

  • Apple’s A5 dual-core processor
  • 8-megapixel backlit illuminated camera sensor with f/2.4 aperture and 1080p video recording
  • World phone with CDMA and GSM support, including a 14.4 Mbps HSPA+ radio
  • 8 hours of talk time; 6 hours of 3G talk time; 9 hours of Wi-Fi browsing; 40 hours of listening to music

Many of these features can already be found in today’s Android phones in the price range. The Samsung Galaxy S II I recently showed off on video is a good example. It too has a dual-core chip; the 8-megapixel camera is superb both for stills and 1080p video; and it supports even faster download speeds –up to 21 Mbps — for the same $199 price in a 16 GB model. And that’s just one example; there are a number of capable Android phones that compete well with the iPhone 4S hardware, not to mention many more coming soon.

Not that I’m calling the iPhone 4S an incremental upgrade, but it reminds me of Apple’s jump from iPhone 3G to iPhone 3GS, which is now free on contract. Along with software updates, Apple bumped up the hardware specifications a bit. Android was just really starting to take off at that time, so it didn’t have the momentum or market share it currently holds. Times are different now. While the Apple faithful will very likely upgrade to an iPhone 4S, I don’t see the device stealing away much of the Android crowd, because the platforms are more similar now than they were two years ago.

Will I make the switch? Sorta, kinda, maybe.

My personal take as an everyday Android user? I may purchase the iPhone 4S, but I’d swap the SIM for use with a high-end Android phone like the Galaxy S II. Even though the iPhone uses a microSIM, I have verified it will work in some phones that take a full-sized SIM card. Most folks have one primary phone, so I’m in the small minority here, of course. But as it stands now, I use an iPod touch for work purposes to test iOS apps.

Had the new iPhone come with a larger display, I’d surely buy one to supplement Android. The same 3.5-inch screen as the iPhone 4 is a downer to me, but I have to say that Siri, the faster processor (used in my iPad 2), iOS 5 improvements and the updated camera might push me to purchase an iPhone 4S; there’s room for both platforms in my life.

Hardware vs. software cycles

One last, related thought pertains to the speed of advancement between iOS and Android. The 12- to 16-month refresh cycles for iPhones are becoming much slower than the constant onslaught of new Android phones and hardware. Chris Pirillo tweeted an insightful tidbit on this:

He makes a valid point that I can’t argue with, but I have to wonder: If Google can gain a little more control over hardware, perhaps with its purchase of Motorola(s mmi), will Apple’s growth continue at the same pace or might Android leverage faster hardware cycles to offer the perception of superior products to the masses?

If I get a new iPhone 4S, that might be the first question I pose to Siri.

59 Responses to “The iPhone 4S from an Android user’s perspective”

  1. samvitraina

    Regarding your comment about the iphone SIM, there are several adapters that are sold which enable the use of micro-sim as a regular SIM. I have been using one for almost 18 months. It works with most phones. here is one at Amazon for a buck – AFC Trident Micro SIM Card Adapter for Apple iPad and iPhone 4

    • Andre Goulet

      Siri lets you say things like “Rob is my brother” and it understands it from then on. If you want a different ‘Rob’ you would have to specify the last name.

  2. Nicholas

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see even apple fanboys jumping to this if already on the iphone4. A jump in specs is nice, but the screen size, no matter how clear is becoming a deterrence. Once the prime is announced next week and apple loses its retina display crown, there won’t be any advantages to it. For once, apple is just trying to catch up to android and in lte markets, they are falling another year behind.

    • John Harrington, Jr.

      The screen-size argument I really don’t fall for. I have an iPad and an iPhone and find the touchscreen much easier to navigate on my iPhone than I do my iPad. Sure, seeing more in one place is nice, but for functionality a smaller screen is better.

  3. I think you should have called this article
    The iPhone 4S from an iphanboy posing as an Android user’s perspective. But what do you expect people it’s gigaom…they dont do anything but gush over apple. Any time they have an article supposedly comparing any platform (not just Android) to apple in an unbiased manner, you know it’s just going be slante in apples favour. not because apple is actually better, just because they love apple. You know how you can tell gigaom writers are just penning “I love apple” articles instead of actual journalism…becdause they’re typing

    • Not sure I understand the comment at all. I bought an iPhone 3GS in 2009 and then switched full-time to an Android phone user 22 months ago. And that makes me an “an iphanboy posing as an Android user”? I guess the weekly Android column I’ve been doing since last year is another reason to label me an “iphanboy” too. ;)

  4. I agree completely.
    In my view, the iPhone 4S a “fine” incremental improvement (a fair summary, I think). I’m not blown away, but there are several nice features that were promoted superbly. Siri may not be totally new, but as with so many other Apple products, it’s done right.
    That said, competition is really cut-throat in mobile. I’m not sure that releasing a “fine” product is going to cut it, especially when the product in question is a keystone of your business for the next year. It isn’t that the iPhone 4 won’t be greatly successful, but it leaves the door open for competing products. Whether or not your competitors can capitalize on this opportunity remains to be seen, but the field is full and everyone is playing to win.

  5. ahow628

    “Near as I can tell, only the new iPhone 4S will be able to use Siri, because only the new phone has the A5 dual-core processor and perhaps enough RAM to make Siri work.”

    Siri was/is working (as are Vlingo and Nuance) on current iPhone 4 hardware. I doubt that is the reason Siri is a 4S exclusive. My guess is they just want to sell more hardware to on-the-fence upgraders.

  6. Raymond Padilla

    The PowerVR GPU in the 4S is impressive. It outperforms the Mali 400 in the Galaxy S II by a wide margin. I’m generally disappointed in the 4S, but the camera and GPU are pretty sweet.

  7. R. Paul Singh

    Purely looking from a hardware perspective this is just a catch up with other smartphones on the android side. From a software perspective it didn’t break any new ground either. However, when you compare with the overall device usage experience it is a huge improvement over the market in terms of Siri integration, hybrid cloud integration, improved photographic experience & overall battery life.

  8. tinotino

    It seems to me this revision show that Apple is actually a very stubborn company. Some of the design decisions they committed in the past and they are not willing to change it. For example, the 3.5″ screen.

    Its entirely possible to fit a bigger screen in the similar sized package, but Apple has committed to “retina display” as a selling point and they are not increasing the screen size. The shape of the iPhone 4 is also another example.

    The hardware increase is really not a big deal. Smartphone hardware development is still following the Moore’s Law. Its easy to get a similar power smartphone very soon.

    As for the software, a lot of refinement, but none of them can be called earth shattering new idea. There are reasons why Apple didn’t release this in June, and call it iPhone 5 instead of iPhone 4S. I don’t know what they are.

    • “Some of the design decisions they committed in the past and they are not willing to change it.” Why should they, when they’re selling all the phones they can make? Stubborn? More like smart.

      • Amaury Ramos

        Agree with rich. Apple will release a bigger screen next year when battery performance improves. Battery comes first then screen size in apples playbook.

  9. D.B Hebbard

    Tech sites are always obsessed with hardware. Users care about software because it effects the user experience. The hardware bump in the iPhone 4S is only significant because it allows for such things as display mirroring and the personal assistant. That why this upgrade will be the least interesting to the media, and the most useful to consumers (that and the addition of Sprint).

      • Amaury Ramos

        You are comparing completely different software buddy. Android isn’t better, just different and that’s a fact. Apple used some android ideas but android has done the same too and by a lot. You must be a android owner.

      • Idon't Know

        Android is slow and laggy even on dual core.
        It is malware infested.
        It is not reliable or stable.
        You really don’t want to use it unless you root it and violate the warranty.
        It sucks battery life and processor because it is not well optimized.
        App selection and quality is poor.

  10. Kevin, seriously this is a fare analysis – but good for 7 days at best. Come next Nexus, err Tuesday, and the 4S will look like the flop that it is. Apple lost the Christmas time frame it seems, unless there is another announcement coming after the Prime is revealed.

      • Robin Lim

        Nexus grade phones, with 4.5 toc 4.6 inch 720p screens, 1.4GHz+ dual core processors have already been launched in Korea, just without Android 4.0 yet.

    • And 7 days after that, the Nexus will be another forgotten Android incarnation. The hardware cycle for these Android clones is what turns me off. I got suckered in to buying one “premier” Android phone when it released. Never again. If we were talking cookies, Apple is making Oreos, and Google is supplying the filling for Sam’s Choice and Target brand generics.

  11. RTewDeeTew

    It becomes clear now why Apple felt it was necessary to slow down the Android pack by suing and mud slinging – they knew they’d have another delay of iPhone 5.
    This way they squeeze more money by a minor upgrade and strong-arm even more cash the way Microsoft is from Android….where is the innovation in that?

  12. anonymous

    another interesting point to make is what pirillo tweeted.
    it is joke… but it isn’t. you will never be able to truly
    compare the iphone versus an android phone. it’s apples to
    oranges. on one side you have a single device created by a
    single manufacturer that also happens to have a bunch of
    other product cycles for different devices to think about.
    and on the other side you have a single mobile os that is
    integrated by several third party vendors which some only
    design mobile phones as their business. until apple allows
    ios to be used by the likes of htc, samsung, motorola, etc.
    the playing field will never be equal. but then again this
    is also a conscious decision made by apple which thus far
    has proven to be a working success. they guard ios with a
    hands off approach which may be argued by others as the
    wrong way to go. maybe apple has also proven that having
    the best specs isn’t necessarily always a winning combo.

    • its worth remembering who make all the parts for iphones..screens, chips, boards..HTC & Samsung among others. In addition with googles acquisition of motorola they now hold a vast archive of mobile phone patents. Google could shut down the iphone pronto if they wanted and if apple keep pushing their legal case they will feel the heat for sure. Just imagine what google could levy on apple for patent rights that would increase their costs. Imagine the lack of parts available or spares for their iphone. After all what is apple…and assembly line for other companies parts with their iOS.

      • Apple being the world’s largest purchaser of flash memory and other components, and having over $75 billion in cash reserves, who exactly do you think would be able to hold out longer if Samsung were to cut Apple off? Samsung would be cutting off the massive profits they’re currently making off of manufacture of those components. On top of which, Apple has recently been aggressively diversifying in terms of component manufacturers; having different companies producing the same parts to the same specs.

        As for google’s ability to “shut down the iPhone pronto” if they wanted because of the purchase of Motorola; that’s a straw man argument if there ever was one.

        1) Apple has many of it’s own patents, many of which could be levied in reverse, thus shutting down google “pronto”.

        2) The purchase of Motorola does not nullify patent agreements that Apple has already made with both Google and Motorola.

        3) Patent law in the US states that reasonable royalties must be paid for infringed patents. Google could not just choose to charge whatever they want; that value would have to be deemed reasonable by a court of law.

        4) Apple makes a healthy profit margin on each iPhone purchased; more than enough to make up for even “unreasonable” royalties.

      • Idon't Know

        I’m sure this plays well with the other teenagers in Android forums.
        But here in the real world everything you said is wrong.
        HTC makes no parts for the iPhone.
        Many of the parts are custom designed by Apple and made to their specs. Thats why the phone is so small, fast with great battery life.
        Samsung needs Apple’s massive business. But Apple has other suppliers and is acquiring more. They don’t need Samsung
        Googles has not bought Moto yet so they aren’t Googles patents yet. Even when they are the consensus is they aren’t going to help Google much. Which is why Samsung just settled with
        Microsoft.
        Apple just sold a million iPhone 4s’ in 24 hours. Some people actually want quality, service and support, an optimized OS, no malware, top notch app selection etc over a cheap knockoff Android.

  13. trip1ex

    Apple always plays the practical game. They don’t do new tech just for tech’s sake or just to check a box.

    No LTE is the same as when they didn’t include 3g until battery life of the chips improved. And no doubt the price too.

    NFC isn’t even close being practical.

    These same arguments happen again and again. Sure Apple’s way isn’t without tradeoffs either. But let’s just recognize that there’s differences. Pick your poison and move on. AT least stop acting there is never a tradeoff.

    • Jack E Mabry Jr

      Maybe you should compare the new Android phones on 3g speed against the iPhone4S on 3g speed then and see where they are ahead on hardware and software.

    • You can easily identify a supposed “cool Apple dude” when he calls a “processor” a “chip”. Just shows how good the Apple hype machine (that includes the tech bloggers) is in brainwashing their Sheep.

      • And you can easily identify the chumps that Google has swindled in to tossing money at incomplete products under the headline of “customizability.” They’ve got a mass of sheep of their own, wandering about, waving spec sheets in the air, and equating less OS continuity and support with increased intelligence. I wonder how many Android phones the average anti-Apple Android user has been through in the last two years. Google is a master of targeted advertising (that’s their bread-and-butter, folks), and they’ve pegged a whole slew of suckers that will bounce from manufacturer to manufacturer every three to six months just to try and keep up with the “hardware cycle” of Android…and that slew of suckers will label themselves as brilliant tech consumers for doing so. It’s the ultimate positive feedback loop, and Google (and their vendors) are cashing in.

      • Idon't Know

        I’ve been in IT for 20 years. I design global financial systems. I use the term chip and processor interchangeably as does everyone I know.
        I’m betting your IT background consists of working in the best Buy computer section.

    • Yeah, except your article has a heavy anti-apple bias and doesn’t even *try* to be objective in any way. It’s just another rant by another Android user with a chip on his shoulder and a bone to pick against Apple. You basically mock *every single feature*, and fail to even give a single useful argument without forcing a gallon of vitriol down your readers’ throats.

      It’s not an article; it’s an obsessed lunatic’s rant.

      • applefud

        it’s funnier and more accurate. . .Tofel loves apple and is an apple fan through and through. he uses and android handset because he thinks that gives him more cred and ios has been so far behind android for so long. seriously, you know you are an apple fan when you own a Mac desktop, Mac laptop, iPod touch, Apple TV, and whatever else he has lol

        • Actually, I believe that honesty in my writing, and nothing more, gives me any “cred” I may have; not the devices I do or don’t use. You’re correct, I use an iMac, MacBook Air, iPod touch and an AppleTV. Why? Because they work well for some of the tasks I need to complete. I also carry a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch tablet *everywhere* I go, use an HP TouchPad, BlackBerry PlayBook and a Windows 7 laptop on a regular basis. To think that spend my own money on products for “cred” is nonsense, but you believe what you want to believe. I’ll simply keep using the best device that suits my needs; something I recommend for all.

  14. I’m curious as to why a faster hardware cycle is significant. Given the two-year lock in of contracts, a 12- to 18-month cycle seems to fit most people’s reality.

  15. the galaxy s2 is six months old and the screen alone kicks the iphone 4s’ ass. I guess we’ll really be able to put the iPhone 4s into context when the nexus prime is announced.