October 5, 2011

∴ Thinking About iPhone 4S

So a lot of people were disappointed about Apple’s iPhone 4S, unveiled yesterday in Cupertino. That disappointment is misplaced. Here are a few thoughts about it.

From a strictly feature set perspective, the 4S is a significant upgrade from last year’s iPhone 4. Faster processor, faster graphics, more memory to keep more web pages and apps in memory, faster Bluetooth, better camera, world-phone capability, a white color option. But feature sets aren’t how Apple or its customers keep score. That’s a chump’s game. So the 4S is, in the Apple realm, a minor update to an existing product. There’s the seed of disappointment, but it’s wrong-headed.

Minor updates have permeated Apple’s year to date. The new iMacs and MacBook Airs were evolutionary, not revolutionary. Processor upgrades, SSD availability, new super-fast data port called Thunderbolt. Great products made one or two ticks better still.

From a software perspective, the value of iOS 5, iCloud and Siri, to be delivered just before the new phone hits the streets, cannot be overestimated. This new OS will provide a seamless way of syncing user content over all iOS and OS X devices, and Siri’s natural language capability frankly looks mind-blowing. There is simply no other device with such deeply embedded capability on the market.

This mirrors what Apple has done with OS X this year, too. Their desktop operating system has been enhanced with some of the mobile OS’s features, and prepared for its connection to the iCloud environment. That establishes a bridgehead from the traditional side of the computing world that will meet the mobile world in the iCloud middle.

Yesterday’s downfall? I think many were disappointed because the mythical teardrop-shaped device with a slightly larger retina display didn’t materialize. The outward appearance of the new phone wasn’t dazzlingly new, it was identical to last year’s model. A device that was widely praised when it appeared, and is still the thinnest, sleekest example of wireless phone industrial design on the market, to be sure. But last year’s design none-the-less.

Apple has raised expectations for their product unveilings by knocking it out of the park with the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air. But only in hindsight sometimes, a la iPad 2. Disappointment with iPhone 4S betrays a fetish for eye candy spawned by those heightened expectations. It’s a false malaise, too. Here’s why:

The brief history of iPhone models:

  • iPhone: a star is born. Many are impressed.
  • iPhone 3G: star gets a speed upgrade with 3G capability. Significant update.
  • iPhone 3GS: star gets a minor update, including faster processor.
  • iPhone 4: a new star is born, crowd goes wild. Significant update.
  • iPhone 4S: star gets a minor update, including a faster processor.
  • iPhone 5: what do you think comes next?

The only difficulty ahead, really, is which wireless provider to choose.