Last Friday, the long-awaited iPhone 4S was officially released. The iPhone 4S is, if you don’t already know, the successor to Apple’s wildly successful iPhone 4. I don’t have an iPhone 4, but I do have a fourth-generation iPod Touch, which is more or less the same device, minus a few features. I love my iPod Touch, but I wouldn’t mind trading it for an iPhone 4S. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening, since I can’t afford smartphone service, but that sure doesn’t keep me from saying what I think about it.
As a die-hard Apple fan/gadget nerd, I followed along with the live coverage from the event where Apple announced the iPhone 4S. Frankly, my initial reaction was one of disappointment. Android and the many devices that run Android have been offering up serious competition for the iPhone lately, and it seems like every week a new Android phone is announced or rumored or released that blows all the previous Android phones out of the water. Because of this, I hoped/suspected that Apple was preparing a device that would completely obliterate the competition. The mythical iPhone 5 – the greatest invention since the light bulb or whatever.
After all, that’s pretty much what happened last year. Phones like the Droid Incredible, the Droid X and the EVO 4G were putting the iPhone 3GS to shame, at least in terms of performance and features, and it seemed like Apple might really start to struggle. And then Apple released the iPhone 4, and, for me at least, Apple had won. The iPhone 4 was way more impressive than anything Android could offer, and it became abundantly clear that Apple was not going to cede the smartphone market to Google without a fight.
But time passed, and Android devices kept getting better and better. Meanwhile, Apple held their yearly Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) this past June, which has traditionally been where they announce new versions of the iPhone. But this year, there was no mention of a new iPhone. The months ticked by, the rumors piled up, Android kept getting better and stronger, and it became obvious that Apple was preparing a real humdinger of a device that would put an end to Android once and for all.
Except, that didn’t happen. Instead, they announced the iPhone 4S, a minor revision to the existing iPhone 4. And much disappointment ensued.
But I feel like a lot of people, including myself, are really starting to rethink their initial reactions. The iPhone 4S seemed underwhelming at first, but the more I think about it and read about the upgrades that Apple made with this latest iPhone, the more I think that Apple made the right move here.
First of all, I should say that I don’t feel that the iPhone 4S is a necessary upgrade if you already have an iPhone 4. Most of what makes the iPhone 4S special comes from the new operating system that it runs, iOS 5. And iOS 5 is available as a free upgrade for anyone who has an iPhone 3GS, an iPhone 4, a third- or fourth-generation iPod Touch, or an iPad. There are basically three things that are exclusive to the iPhone 4S: a faster processor, a better camera, and Siri.
The processor in the iPhone 4S is the A5, which is actually the same processor found in the iPad 2. So when I say it’s exclusive to the iPhone 4S, I mean that in the sense that no other iPhone has it. I would imagine that the performance upgrade between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S is fairly substantial. I have a fourth generation iPod Touch, which has the same A4 processor as the iPhone 4, and an iPad 2, and the iPad 2 is significantly faster than the iPod Touch. Of course, the two iPhones have the same amount of RAM, whereas the iPad 2 has double the RAM of the iPod Touch, so that probably makes a difference. Anyway, it’s a nice processor.
The camera in the iPhone 4S is significantly better than the camera in the iPhone 4, which was already pretty much the best camera you could get in a smartphone. Apple put a lot of effort into making this camera as amazing as possible. I’ve seen pictures taken with the iPhone 4S, and it is mighty impressive. I would buy an iPhone 4S just for the camera, if I could afford one. It’s that spectacular.
I saved the best for last, and that’s Siri. Siri is a little bit difficult to describe, but Apple describes it as a “virtual assistant”. Basically, you can talk to your phone and it’ll do things for you. Of course, there have been other phones and apps that do this sort of thing. (In fact, Siri was originally a third-party iPhone app that Apple bought.) But the trick with Siri is that you can talk to it like you would a person. So instead of saying something robotic and mechanical like “Access weather information for Thursday, October 20 in New York City” if you want to find out if it will rain tomorrow in New York City, you can just say “Is it going to rain tomorrow in New York?” and Siri will pull up the forecast for you. It also remembers context, so you can then say, “What about Boston?” and it will show you the forecast for Boston.
So that’s the iPhone 4S in a nutshell. Is it revolutionary? No. Is it earth-shatteringly amazing? No. Does it blow away the competition and make every Android and Windows Phone device look hopelessly obsolete and worthless? No. But is it the best iPhone yet? Most definitely.
And that’s really what Apple is all about. They’re not trying to win some sort of spec war or feature race. They’re just trying to create the most simple and elegant user experience possible. Both Android and Windows Phone have specific advantages over iOS. For me, however, there’s no question that the overall experience of using iOS is superior to that of Windows Phone or Android. But hey, everybody likes different things for different reasons.