iPhone 4S(ame)
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            I found myself wondering if the “S” in the new iPhone 4S’ name stands for “same” or “similar”. If it does, that’s certainly accurate, given that the iPhone 4S looks exactly like the iPhone 4 models from way back in June of 2010.
            On Tuesday, Apple took the wraps off of its latest iPhone, the iPhone 4S, to the dismay and disappointment of the tech world. The iPhone 4S looks exactly like the iPhone 4 from 2010 and, except for a new camera, processor, and voice control system, is the same feature-wise too.
            Apple was widely expected to release a new, revamped iPhone 5 model, which was rumored to include a larger screen and new chassis (see my “Let’s Talk iPhone” column from the previous week for a lowdown on what I was expecting and hoping to see). Rumors had it that Apple was set to announce two new iPhone models – the 4S which was thought to be aimed at developing markets as well as the lower-end and prepaid markets, and then the 5 which would be the proper, high-end, iPhone 4 successor. Instead, we only got an incremental update.
In reality, it makes sense for Apple to release a slightly updated 4 at this point in time. They did the same thing in 2009, unveiling a slightly updated iPhone 3G, adding the “S” moniker to its name, which, back then stood for “Speed” (I’m making the assumption that the “S” in the iPhone 4S stands for the same thing).
So what’s new with the iPhone 4S?
For starters, the dual-core A5 chip that Apple shipped in the iPad 2 has found its way into the iPhone 4S. That’s said to speed up the phone almost seven times. Better gaming, better graphics, and a speedier overall experience.
The iPhone 4S also gets a new camera module. The resolution has been increased to eight megapixels (up from five). Just like the 4, it uses a backside illuminated CMOS sensor, though its lens now has five elements and is now able to achieve an aperture of f/2.4. Hold up – what the heck does all that mean? In practical application, that means that you’ll get brighter, sharper shots in poorly lit conditions (twilight, indoor, etc.) and even better shots in well-lit conditions. In addition to the improvements to the still-shooting experience, the iPhone 4S also takes HD video recording a step further, now offering full high definition, 1080p at 30 frames per second with digital image stabilization. Translation? The iPhone 4S is truly a pocket camcorder. You might not be able to get silky smooth video, but for a mobile phone, that’s not too shabby. All this is also thanks to Apple’s new A5 processor which features dual-core graphics processing.
            The last new feature Apple unveiled was its new Siri voice command system. Even though I’ve said that the iPhone 4S is a minor update to the iPhone 4, Siri really is a revolutionary service. It’s unlike anything else out there today. Siri takes those awkward voice commands we usually speak to our phones and cars to a whole new level. You can talk naturally to your phone.
“Should I take an umbrella today?”
Siri is able to understand that you’re inquiring about the weather. It will then proceed to pull up the forecast (letting you know that it is pulling it up) and then read it to you.
Got an unread text? Siri will read it to you, giving you the options to dictate a reply then send it off.
Need to schedule an appointment or modify an existing one? Not a problem. Tell Siri what to do and it’ll take over. Then, once it’s made or changed your appointment, you’ll receive audible confirmation. “I’ve changed your appointment to two PM.” or something like that.
We’ll see in the coming weeks how people will use Siri, what they’ll be able to accomplish, and whether or not other companies will need to step up their game to compete with it. I’ll say it again, Siri is a truly revolutionary service that Apple’s taking and pushing out to the world.
            The only catch? It’s only available to iPhone 4S owners.
            That’s total and complete rubbish. Apple may attempt to offer an excuse as to why the iPhone 4 isn’t capable of running Siri (such excuses may include “the single-core A4 processor isn’t capable of handling Siri” or “the microphones on the iPhone 4 aren’t adequate”). My personal take on why Apple decided to keep Siri as a feature exclusive to the 4S? Keep the feature limited to the 4S and some 4 owners may be persuaded to ditch their (perfectly good) 4 and jump to 4S. Knowing that it was an incremental update (and a shabby one at that), Apple knew it needed to reserve something for the iPhone 4S in order to maintain an ounce of desirability in its newest handset. And what better feature to hang in front of iPhone 4 owners than Siri?
            So – iPhone 4S – is it worth the upgrade? Well, it depends who you are and what circumstances you find yourself in.
            If you’re looking for a new smartphone, aren’t currently in a contract, and want to jump onto AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint, then yes. The iPhone 4 was a smashing success, and with good reason. The iPhone 4S only improves on its success. The 4S brings an all new, dual-core processor, higher resolution camera with 1080p full HD video capture, and, of course, the all-new, class leading, Siri voice command system. If you’re in the right place to upgrade and want an iPhone, I’d say to preorder one as soon as Apple opens up its store to preorders.
            However, if you already own an iPhone 4, then no, don’t you dare click that “preorder” button. While my statement about the iPhone 4S improving on the iPhone 4 is true, the differences between the 4 and 4S are nowhere near big enough to warrant breaking your contract (and paying the ETF, or early termination fee), then signing up for another contract (which you’ll probably want to break again when Apple unveils the next iPhone. And remember, if you own an iPhone 4, you’ll still get iOS 5 when it’s unleashed to the public on October 12. The only thing you won’t get is Apple’s new Siri personal assistant.
            All in all, Apple’s announcement was a mixed bag. Many, including myself, felt underwhelmed by the upgrades (or lack thereof) that were announced. I’ll be holding onto my iPhone 4 for a while. While the 4S is nice and certainly a great phone, it’s just not enough to make me want to spend a few hundred dollars to upgrade.
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