From all the buzz on the blogosphere and in twitter you’d think that Apple just laid a big egg instead of releasing their new flagship iPhone. There are many complaints about it being disappointing. I hear around the office that it is “just the same thing as before but with new insides.” I guess looks are more important than what it can do.
I admit, after the announcement I felt a bit let down. After all the rumors and hype I guess I let my expectations get raised to an unreasonable level. But when I thought about what I actually want and expected in a next-gen iPhone I’m actually quite pleased with the 4S.
Let’s walk through my list of wants, and see what I did or did not get:
Speed. Got that! The A5 CPU makes the iPhone 4S a little iPad 2 which is quite speedy. 2x as fast as the iPhone 4 with 7x graphics speed. Not bad, especially when coming from a 3GS.
Better Camera. Got that! The camera in the iPhone 4 is pretty good, but the new one looks like I can abandon my point and shoot. Faster speed, face recognition, improved optics, better backlit sensor, 1080p video, all make the camera you always carry around more likely to be the only one you need.
4G. Partially. I had no expectation for the new iPhone to support LTE. Well, maybe I was hoping but I didn’t really think it would happen. LTE chipsets are still too power hungry and I wouldn’t think Apple would release a phone that sacrifices battery life for radio speed. Remember, the first iPhone did not even support 3G – just the pokey EDGE network. So, lack of LTE was not a surprise.
Apple does support HSPA+ on GSM networks (that is, AT&T). They are supporting download speeds of 14.4MBPS which is twice that on the iPhone 4. It could be better (HSPA+ goes up to 42MBPS, but doubling of speed is certainly welcome.) AT&T is calling HSPA+ “4G” (and is even trying to get Apple to change the status bar to reflect that) but it isn’t really 4G. HSPA+ is an enhancement of GSM’s 3G technology. Regardless of the marketing labels, faster is better. This is a big advantage for AT&T over Verizon and Sprint which are stuck on their EV-DO 3G networks which are quite slow.
This is why I am sticking with AT&T for my iPhone 4S. “What?” you ask. “Doesn’t AT&T suck?” Well, it really depends where you live. AT&T’s service is famously bad in San Francisco and Manhattan (which is unfortunate for AT&T because that’s where most of the tech journalists live) and if I lived in such an area I would certainly bail on AT&T for Verizon’s much more reliable service. Speed doesn’t matter if you can’t get a signal. But I live in the Boston area and AT&T service is actually not too bad around here.
Bigger Screen. Nope. This is one that I wanted, but wasn’t sure how they would be able to pull off. The answer is they couldn’t. Now don’t get me wrong – the retina display on the iPhone 4 is an awesome screen. No other device matches its pixel density today, 15 months after its introduction.
For a bigger screen they would either have to keep the same number of pixels and make them bigger or add more pixels. Both methods have problems. Making the pixels bigger means the display won’t be as nice and the ‘retina display’ was a big deal feature of the iPhone 4. Adding pixels to the screen is doable, but would cause developers to have to support another screen size. Probably not worth it for a small screen bump.
I didn’t want a really BIG screen, but a little bigger for two reasons. First, I’ve heard that it is easier to type on larger screen Android phones. Second, my eyes aren’t what they used to be and the tiny fonts used on some apps are hard for me to read.
New Case. Nope. There were enough rumors and images that I did think there would be a new look for the new iPhone. Now, I don’t dislike the look of the iPhone 4, and I really don’t need something different just to say ‘hey I’m cool and have the latest toy’ (well, maybe a little). My real concern is that they kept the glass back. I’ve heard it is more fragile than it should be and can shatter if the phone is dropped resulting in a trip to the Apple store and a $30 repair bill. I was hoping they would have replaced it with an aluminum back like the original iPhone. The wrap-around antenna is still there but supposedly improved. Hopefully it won’t be as controversial as before.
NFC. Nope. Another that I would have liked, but understand why it is missing. While NFC hardware is a well known entity, the standards on how to use it are still in flux. Apple avoided betting on who would win by staying out of the game. Or maybe Apple is working on their own standards that aren’t ready yet. In either case, this will likely hurt the mass adoption of swipe to pay systems as a major player sits out a year.
As a current iPhone 3GS user I’m really looking forward to my iPhone 4S. I’m getting a much faster phone with a kick-ass camera, faster 3G speeds (or Faux-G), a much better screen, as well as the Siri “assistant” technology. All in all, a pretty worthy upgrade.
If I had an iPhone 4, however, I probably wouldn’t upgrade because of the cost. I’d be in the middle of a contract and upgrading then is significantly more expensive. AT&T’s early upgrade price is $449 for the 16GB model which is $200 under the $649 list but still $250 more than the $199 after your contract is up. The iPhone 4 is still a great phone and there isn’t enough new in the 4S to break a contract. That’s fine because when the iPhone 4 owners’ contracts expire next year there will be the next iPhone. I have no idea what that will be (maybe the “real iPhone 5” with a nuclear battery and flux capacitor), but I’m sure it will be a bump up enough to entice iPhone 4 owners to stay with Apple for another two years.