The iPhone 4S from an Android user’s perspective

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Apple 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 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, 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, 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.

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