If you are a fan of the iPhone, this is the best week of the year. Yesterday, Apple updated iTunes to version 10.5, which was done to get iTunes ready for iOS 5, which will come out today and will work on the current iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 as well as the iPad and iPad 2. I discussed 18 great new features in iOS 5 this past June when we first saw a preview. For example, there are big improvements to e-mail, the ability to use Apple's new iCloud service, vastly better notifications, a sophisticated Reminders app, a faster Camera app that you can use even when your iPhone is locked and which supports pressing the volume up button to take a picture, Wi-Fi sync so you don't have to physically connect the iPhone to your computer running iTunes, and much more.
Just last week, Apple also announced two new features of iOS 5. Find My Friends is a new app that allows you to let your friends know where you are located for a time period that you select, and likewise you can see where your friends are located. The next time you are at a large festival, a theme park or on vacation with friends or family, it will be easy for everyone to keep track of each other. Apple's new Cards app let's you create a greeting card on your iPhone or iPad and have it sent in the U.S. Mail with notifications on the day that your card is being delivered.
iOS 5 will be a major upgrade to the iPhone and iPad, and yet that is not the biggest iPhone news this week. This Friday, the 2011 version of the iPhone — the iPhone 4S — officially goes on sale. If you pre-ordered one (like I did from AT&T), you should receive it on Friday. Otherwise, you'll need to wait in line at an Apple Store or another store that sells the iPhone 4S (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Sam's, and Radio Shack). These two people have been waiting in line at the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York for two weeks. Yikes! Last year, I showed up at the downtown New Orleans AT&T store two hours before it opened with a cup of coffee and some briefs I needed to review, and that was enough for me to be first in line, plus get in some billable hours before my day normally starts.
And just to add to the excitement now that we are in the middle of "iPhone week," last night we started to see reviews of the iPhone 4S from the select members of the press who were provided with an iPhone 4S last week. The reviews have been glowing, with people raving about the new camera and Siri. Reviews of the improved antenna have been mixed, with some people finding only slightly better improvement over the iPhone 4, whereas Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal reported that in Washington DC he saw average download speeds of nearly 7 megabits per second, even better than he has ever seen on 4G phones. (Note that while the iPhone 4S has faster download speeds on both Verizon and AT&T, you need to be an AT&T customer to take advantage of the substantially faster 3G speeds.)
Here are the reviews that I have read so far:
- Jason Snell of Macworld. "The iPhone 4S has speed, a great camera, some cool voice-recognition features, and the same beautiful industrial design that was introduced in the iPhone 4. It’s destined to be immensely popular. The S, in this case, seems to stand for 'sure thing.'"
- Brian X. Chen of Wired. "I’ve spent a week with an iPhone 4S loaned to me from Apple, and I got hooked on Siri quickly. Creating Reminders with Siri was the most useful."
- MG Siegler of TechCrunch. "First of all, the iPhone 4S blows away the iPhone 4 when it comes to speed. ... I would switch back to my iPhone 4 and get frustrated by the lag. ... You really have to use it yourself to see just how great Siri actually is. Using it for the past week, I’ve done everything from getting directions, to sending emails, to sending text messages, to looking up information on WolframAlpha, to getting restaurant recommendations on Yelp, to taking notes, to setting reminders, to setting calendar appointments, to setting alarms, to searching the web. The amount of times Siri hasn’t been able to understand and execute my request is astonishingly low. I’ll say something that I’m sure Siri won’t be able to understand, and it gets it."
- Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. "There is now an 8-megapixel rear camera, with a greatly improved sensor, a new five-element lens and a wider aperture. Other phones boast 8-megapixel cameras, but the 4S takes the best pictures and high-definition videos I have seen on a phone. The colors were gorgeous, everything was sharp and the camera can detect up to 10 faces. Plus, it’s fast, both in taking the first shot and subsequent pictures."
- David Pogue of the New York Times. "Apple says Siri will improve with time — both because she adapts to you, and because Apple itself will periodically upgrade her brain. But already, Siri saves time, fumbling and distraction, and profoundly changes the definition of 'phone.' I find myself using certain commands constantly, especially 'Wake me at,' 'Call,' 'Send a message to,' 'Give me directions to,' and 'Remind me.'"
- Vincent Nguyen of SlashGear. "Does it all work? You bet it does. There are two noticeable [camera] improvements – quality and speed – and the best thing is that they’re clearly evident from the start. Sharpness and detail are significantly boosted in the iPhone 4S when compared to what the iPhone 4 can achieve; there’s less noise and less color bleed evident. Aberrations such as fringing around the edges of the frame are cut right back, a benefit of that five-lens array. In brightly lit environments there’s less over-exposure; in darker scenes the iPhone 4S is less prone to crunchiness in shadow areas. We’ve been able to shoot low-light images without resorting to the single LED flash, and still make out detail thanks to the boosted sensitivity. Apple says colors are 26-percent more accurate now, thanks to the work that’s been done on the processing algorithms, and while we can’t exactly put a number on it ourselves there’s certainly a more natural feel to images taken with the iPhone 4S."
- Ed Baig of USA Today. "Apple concedes that Siri isn't a finished product; she is in beta. But even with her blemishes, Siri is pretty darn cool. And she helps make the iPhone 4S pretty darn cool, too."
- Shane Richmond of The Telegraph: "Overall, the iPhone 4S is a good upgrade to a very good phone. It retains the stylish design of the iPhone 4 and gives it a substantial boost. It's certainly not cheap when you consider some of the alternatives but it feels like a luxury product and it's an absolute joy to use."
- Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg. "The 4S isn’t a '4G' device, but my tests showed it to be as fast or faster on AT&T’s network as phones being sold as '4G.'"
- Stephen Fry of The Guardian. "Siri, the high quality and ultra-fast camera, 30 fps 1080p HD video, globally available voice recognition and the introduction of two antennae (the phone seamlessly switches between whichever is getting the strongest signal) are features that make the 4S irresistible; what is more, the unchanged form means that a whole new range of covers and accessories won't be required."
- John Gruber of Daring Fireball: "The iPhone 4S is exactly what Apple says it is: just like the iPhone 4, but noticeably faster, with a significantly improved camera, and an impressive new voice-driven feature called Siri. ... On a whim, I asked Siri, with no other context, 'When is my next haircut?' Siri answered with my appointment scheduled for later this month. I asked, 'When was my last haircut?', and it found that appointment from a month ago."
- Joshua Topolsky of This Is My Next. "The iPhone 4S is an astoundingly good phone. Between the hardware (both inside and out) and the software (iOS 5 as well as third party offerings), it’s just kind of an awesome package."
- Jim Dalrymple of The Loop. "You can look at each of the items that Apple will release in conjunction with the iPhone and be amazed with how innovative each one of them are. When you put them all together in one product like the iPhone 4S, you have an incredibly successful product that other companies just can’t compete with."
Last year, Apple had 600,000 pre-orders for the iPhone 4 on the first day you could do so, and Apple raved that this was unprecedented. Last week, Apple saw over one million pre-orders in the first 24 hours that one could order an iPhone 4S. And those were from people who didn't have the benefit of the rave reviews that came out last night, let alone the benefit of trying out the latest iPhone in the store or looking over the shoulder of a friend that has one. But again, you don't have to buy a new iPhone 4S to join in the fun. Your existing iPhone is going to get tremendously better later today when you have the ability to upgrade to iOS 5.
It's a great week to be an iPhone-using J.D.
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