Rest in Peace Steve Jobs.
While the visionary of all things Apple has been laid to rest for a few months now, the visions & products he carried to market will have an impact on the technology world for years, maybe even decades to come. He's showed the world that you don't have to be number one to make the finest hardware, just make it as perfect as an imperfect world will allow. He did just that, he saw, created & they came, bought in droves, and made Apple the darling company it is today.
On the eve of Jobs' death October 4th, 2011, recently promoted Apple CEO Tim Cook was on stage at the Apple Cupertino, CA Headquarters campus introducing the world to the latest & greatest iPhone yet, the iPhone 4S. It looked no different than it's predecessor, the iPhone 4 that was launched 16 months earlier when it was unveiled in June of 2010. While newer version iPhones have been announced/launched almost every June/July since it first launched in June 2007, Apple this year pushed back the launch day to coincide with it's usual iPod announcement that normally happens early Fall every year, just ahead of the holiday buying season. With traditional non-touch iPod sales slowing, and iPhone and iPod Touch sales soaring, it made perfect sense for Apple to push the launch of it's next gen iPhone to fill the gap. Most analysts & rumors anticipated big changes and upgrades to come in the form of an iPhone 5. It wasn't to be. The iPhone 4S became Apple's new iPhone baby. Although initial reaction was muted given the lack of an expected overhaul, it wasn't the disappointment that anyone thought it was either. Given the demand that has followed, the iPhone 4S is another hit for Apple.
The iPhone 4S came with some welcome upgrades, the biggest being the update to iOS 5 which had been announced & introduced many months earlier with features that put it head and shoulders above any previous version. In a nutshell, iOS is a major overhaul to fix most of what users had complained about in previous iOS versions. The iOS update alone is big news in itself and has been made available to previous iPhone users all the way back to the iPhone 3GS.
The iPhone 4S had 3 major upgrades over the iPhone 4. First is it's dual-core processor similar to that found in the iPad2 (vs. single core in the iPhone 4). This processor clearly gives the 4S it's robust and swift interface. But that isn't really where a dual-core processor is needed. Enter Siri, Apple's new voice command & recognition feature is where that dual-core is needed. Siri clearly is a game changer in the smartphone arena, and its clear that Siri is the force driving sales to the iPhone 4S. From it's natural voice recognition to it's human like understanding and voice that responds to natural speech questions in real time, this sends every other smartphone voice command system back to the drawing board. Siri isn't just a big deal, it's a GIANT leap in voice recognition technology. In a word, it WORKS! The last significant update to the iPhone 4S upgrade is it's camera to an 8Megapixel CCD vs. a 5Megapixel camera in the iPhone 4. That in itself is a healthy upgrade, but Apple didn't just stop there. Add to the mix an improvement in the lens systems (added lenses to also improve white balance), and you've got the most powerful smartphone camera on the market. The iPhone 4 had a camera that professionals swore by and used on the go, but the iPhone 4S improves substantially on even that!
I've been using an iPhone 4S on the Sprint network for the past couple months and you can color me impressed. I have been using an iPhone 4 since it launched, and even I am blown away by the much improved quality of the camera. Pictures are sharp, vivid, and detailed. HD video is phenomenal for having been recorded on the iPhone 4. I opted for the new 64Gb capacity (never before offered in 64Gb) for added space to take more videos. I do feel that the new processor does add to the swiftness of the user interface, noticeable when most applications load quicker than on my iPhone 4. But as I said previously, the new dual-core processor gives Siri it's power. Ask Siri a question, and it answers you in plain English. "What's the weather like outside Siri?" and Siri politely shows you the weather on screen and gives you a brief vocal description. "Find me the nearest Hospital" and Siri pin-points it on the Google Map application with address, phone number, and direction from your current location. Tempted to text while you drive? Don't do it kids! Dictate it to Siri, tell her which contact to send it to and Siri will transcribe it and send it off for you hands free. Remarkable! That's not all, Siri in her female friendly voice will remind you of things you need to do, review and read you your calendar, even tell you the meaning of life if you ask. Simply amazing this Siri feature is.
So should you wait till the iPhone 5 is announced/launched later this year. The answer is a resounding--maybe. If you currently are using an iPhone 3GS or earlier, an iPhone 4S is a worthwhile upgrade if your contract is up & your iPhone is getting long in tooth. If you currently have an iPhone 4, then you might do well to wait for the 5, especially if you're not due for an upgrade yet. Yes the new features make this smartphone a no brainer, but the prices are not cheap, but the same as the previous gen iPhone 4. $199-16Gb, $299-32Gb, $399 for the new & never before offered 64Gb capacity, all with a two year agreement with AT&T, Verizon, or newly available Sprint network (sorry T-Mobile not yet there yet) and it comes in your choice of black or white. Without a contract, you can buy the iPhone 4S completely unlocked for $649, $749, or $849 for a 16, 32, or 64Gb model respectively to use on AT&T (or T-Mobile-but only at 2G data speeds) (unlocked units are not available for sale for Verizon or Sprint at this time) if you don't want to sign an agreement.
Overall, the iPhone 4S has been a hit since it began shipping in mid October, with supplies being highly constrained since launch on all carriers. It's shipping in over 40 countries now & there are no signs of sales slowing down. Many believe that the Siri feature is driving the sales of the 4S, as is the improved camera. With an iPhone 5 no doubt going into production soon, with an anticipated October 2012 launch more than nine months away, Apple will have no trouble carrying the momentum into Fall. While the 4S did not come with 4G LTE data speeds, it did double previous theoretical maximum speeds on AT&T, although you'd be hard pressed to recognize any improvement given AT&T's highly crititicized and overtaxed network. LTE 4G (the next generation wireless data system deployed in over 150 cities and growing by Verizon and also being deployed by AT&T ) will most likely find it's way into the iPhone 5, as will a possible larger 4" screen. No doubt T-Mobile will finally get the an iPhone in 2012 as Apple seeks to widen it's reach to all four major US carriers.
The iPhone 4S is pretty much an incremental upgrade from the iPhone 4. But your two year contact isn't up just yet anyway. The iPhone 5 isn't far off and that iPhone should be a dramatic upgrade from the iPhone. For now, all other smartphone makers will have to go back to the drawing board & find a way to give Siri some competition. Until then, Apple will be running away with their lunch.