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iPhone 4S: Too little, Too late

Posted by Mario Stylianou Categories: Technology

I had big hopes for this little phone. A bigger screen (edge-to-edge anyone?), better battery life, a new design. That extra Apple “something else” bell or whistle.

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

I knew certain things were out of the question. 4G? Too new. Removable battery? Don’t hold your breath. Something revolutionary? Not this time. It felt a little like a concert where the band walks off without doing an encore.

Still, the phone has been updated to compete with today’s phones … well, this past summer’s phones. This would have been a great May or June phone — currently, mid-high end Android phones leave this phone the dust — certainly my Motorola Atrix from February.

The Specs:

It’s got Apple’s A5 dual-core 1GHz processor, a dual-core GPU, and 1 GB of RAM (Update: turns out you only get a paltry 512 MB of RAM). That’s enough to keep it plugging along until the iPhone 5 next year. Also, while I did complain about the unchanged battery life, staying at the same longevity with this additional hardware is a plus. Motorola decided to address the battery/energy issue in my Atrix by giving me a 1,920 mAh battery. Sure, there is no real back cover because the battery makes up the entire thickness of the phone (which is still thinner than an iPhone 4, mind you!) but it does last me 10 hours with decent use. That’s the most meaningful long-term improvement they’ve made with the 4S. The closest whiz-bang FaceTime-style feature they have is Siri. I’m not convinced Voice Control on steroids equals the native language ease of use found on Star Trek: Enterprise (come on Apple, I expect great things) but if they can integrate this well with cars and/or Bluetooth, this could become a bigger selling point. The camera has gotten a pretty major upgrade with 8 megapixels, a wider 2.4 aperture, and the backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that allows more light in for those low-light scenarios (aka better pictures from drunk people at parties and bars); face detection, white balance, and 1080p video are also part of the package. The 4S is also a world-phone so you can pretty much use it with any carrier you please (including Sprint, now, who still has unlimited data plans. No love for you T-Mobile). As mentioned before, no 4G but it does have HSUPA (HSPA+ 14.4 Mbps). We’ll see if anything in iOS 5 is a big hit since software is Apple’s forte. Interestingly, Apple did steal two of Google Android’s ideas: the pull-down notification system and the Latitude-style Find My Friends real-time location of people on a map.

So, yes, this has pushed the iPhone forward enough to still stay relevant. The GPU means way better games (and graphics in apps) are on the horizon. The processor means current apps will be zippier, website browsing will be faster (let’s be serious, you don’t need 4G for that), and HD videos will play without skipping. All things considered, if I had an iPhone 4, I don’t think I’d run out to get the 4S at full price.

But I’m also a technie, not a businessman. From a business perspective, this brings in enough new customers or upgrades existing customers to keep the Apple train moving along. Moreover, by keeping hardware on pace with what’s generally available in the market, newer apps can continue to work well on the phone and there is the horsepower to power new features added in via iOS upgrades moving forward. This approach worked well for the 3GS and the iPad 2.

I read that the iPhone is single-handedly responsible for the majority of Apple’s revenues and profits. I wasn’t sure how that was possible since most handsets manufacturers have one cash cow phone a year at best when they produce so many. Then I read that Apple spends $203 to make each 32GB iPhone 4S without the carrier subsidy.

Apple will sell its new 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB iPhone 4S models for $649, $749, and $849, respectively, according to CNET sister site ZDNet. Those are the prices subscribers not eligible for a new phone would have to pony up. But people who are able to start new contracts or renew their existing ones will pay $199, $299, and $399 for each respective iPhone 4S model.

(This preliminary projection includes expenses of $26 for the new A5 processor and $31 for the Retina display.)

That’s a major price difference, even after considering things like marketing/advertising, store costs, employees, etc. I also think Apple is realizing they can get better market penetration by offering the 3GS for free and the 4 for $99. It used to be buying an iPhone meant probably you paid a lot of money for your phone. Now it will be available to the masses year-round (instead of just when they’re liquidating stock before a new product comes out). End result is more competition in the lower-priced market sector with Android phones and even feature phones. Unless you couldn’t afford the data plan or learn how to use an iPhone, I don’t see why anyone would get a regular “free” phone instead of a 3GS. And quite frankly, the iPhone 4 is a big upgrade for $99 from the 3GS.

By continuing down the hardware evolution path, more powerful and useful software such as natural voice-recognition, highly-rendered gameplay, wireless video mirroring, and complex image processing all become possible. The software experience–enabled by ‘good-enough’ hardware–is arguably what customers care about most in the end.

Mario Stylianou

One Response so far.

  1. […] date. That’s the third iPhone to be released, not to be confused with the fifth iPhone released a week ago. My second phone from 2002, the rotary Nokia 3650, had this feature.) And those in the other camp, […]


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