Apple’s press conference in Cupertino today wasn’t the announcement of the iPhone 5 that many were expecting, but the iPhone 4S, coming to stores on October 12th, isn’t just a rehash of the iPhone 4. It might look that way on the surface, but Apple has turned to the inner workings of their hit smartphone for this upgrade, and the results are admirable, at the very least.
There is no new tear-drop form factor, as many were anticipating. In fact, there is no new form factor at all – it’s identical to the iPhone 4. On the technical side, Apple has covered a lot of ground with the iPhone 4S. The new A5 dual-core processor is similar to the processor found in the iPad 2, which Apple promises will make the iPhone 4S twice as fast as the iPhone 4. It also features two internal antennas, which allow outgoing and incoming traffic to be handled on separate channels, increasing speed. That increased speed will be vital to Apple customers, since the iPhone 4S won’t, strictly speaking, be a 4G device. It is not LTE compatible, but is HSPA+ compatible, for AT&T customers.
World travelers’ interest will be piqued by the first iPhone that can claim to be a world phone. The iPhone 4S will be able to run on CDMA, GSM, and HSPA networks, so roaming abroad virtually anywhere is now possible. The outward facing camera has been upgraded to 8 MP, but also contains new optics that include a fifth lens and allow for higher aperture, as well as software improvements from iOS 5, including facial recognition. The new optics allow for 1080p quality video. The front-facing camera is unchanged from the iPhone 4.
Apple set aside the last part of the press conference to introduce Siri, which redefines what a PDA (personal digital assistant) is. Using similar technology to what was used in Watson on Jeopardy, though on a much smaller scale, Apple has created a digital assistant that can understand natural language, and execute commands. The functionality is well integrated and robust. During the live demo, an Apple representative asked Siri naturally about the weather, and whether or not he would need a rain coat. In a voice almost comedically reminiscent of GLaDOS, Siri responded politely that, “It sure looks like rain today.” Siri is also integrated with the clock, calendar, reminders, and Yelp, among other, mostly proprietary, apps. You can ask for what you need without worrying about getting a specific syntax correct.
Siri also works with Bluetooth, which opens up interesting possibilities for text messages. If you get a text, you can verbally ask Siri to read the message aloud. Once you hear it, you can dictate your reply to Siri, which will send the message for you without you needing to touch your phone. The software will be in beta upon release, but the demo on stage was impressively smooth and passed without incident. You can also dictate email messages to Siri.
Siri can help with some web searches – it works with Wikipedia now, but nothing else involving the web was demonstrated. The iPhone 4S will come equipped with a user guide detailing what Siri is and is not capable of, a list that figures to grow in the future. Siri can also intelligently make associations and form context – an example given was Siri remembering the name of the Apple representative’s wife in a later command using the Reminders app.
Like the new line of iPod Touch, the iPhone 4S will retail at about $200 for the 16 GB model, $300 for the 32 GB model, and $400 for the all-new 64 GB model. All models will be available in black and white. Also for the first time, an iOS phone will be available to Sprint customers, in addition to AT&T and Verizon customers. The 16 GB iPhone 4 will receive a price cut to about $100, and the iPhone 3GS will now be free (only with AT&T) with a two year contract.