Yesterday, Apple announced the 2011 version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, selling for $199 to $399 depending upon which model you get (16GB, 32GB or 64GB). Pre-orders start this Friday, October 7, and the new iPhone will be available starting the following Friday, October 14. This is a very impressive phone that lawyers are going to love. Here is why.
We need to talk
I think that the most popular feature of the iPhone 4S will be Siri, a combination of excellent voice-recognition with advanced artificial intelligence that understands what you mean and responds in kind. With the iPhone 4S, you will literally be able to have a conversation with your iPhone to tell it what to do. You can say something like "Send my wife a text message and tell her that I am running late" and the iPhone will comply. You can tell the iPhone 4S "Remind me to make a dentist appointment when I get to my office" and the iPhone will understand what you are saying and put an entry in the new Reminders app — an app that knows where you are so it knows when you get to your office and then gives you that reminder.
Moreover, Siri is more than just understanding and executing commands; it allows you to have a conversation with your iPhone. By that I mean that once you start talking to Siri, when you say something else as a follow up, Siri understands the context of your conversation and reacts accordingly. Siri appears to be a powerful and incredibly helpful personal assistant. Here is a video showing Siri in action:
If you want to read more about why Siri could be such a revolutionary technology for the iPhone, check out this post by Paul Miller of This Is My Next.
The artificial intelligence is great, but even just the pure speech recognition part of Siri will be useful for when composing e-mails. I already love to use the Dragon Dictation app to do this, but it will be even more useful to have the function built-in to the iPhone. Indeed, when I talk to lawyers who are still using a BlackBerry, they almost always ask me how hard it is to get used to the iPhone's virtual keyboard. I think that after a few weeks you get the hang of it, and it is much better to have a full screen to use all of the time instead of having half of the surface of your phone taken up by a tiny keyboard that you only need some of the time. But with Siri, people who move to the iPhone won't have to worry about the virtual keyboard as much because they can just talk to the iPhone 4S to compose an e-mail.
Speed and reception
Every iPhone is faster than the generation before it, and the iPhone 4S is no exception. The new dual-core A5 chip is twice as fast as the chip in the iPhone 4, plus an improved graphics processor delivers sever times faster graphics. Why does this matter in a smartphone, considering that you are not trying to use an iPhone to decode the human genome? Because it makes the phone much more responsive and it allows apps to do even more and look even better.
But the iPhone 4S doesn't just have faster chips, it also has a new antenna that provides faster and better reception. Although the antenna on the iPhone 4S (the silver band that wraps around the edges) looks very similar to the antenna on the iPhone 4, inside the iPhone it has been re-engineered to automatically switch between two antennas to transmit and receive. This means that call quality is supposed to be much better than other 3G phones (hopefully we'll see even fewer dropped calls), and it also means that the maximum data speed is doubled from 7.2 Mbps to 14.4 Mbps. Of course these are just theoretical maximums. In the real world on my iPhone 4, I can often get over 10 Mbps on Wi-Fi but on AT&T 3G in New Orleans I typically see around 3 Mbps. If I could double that to 6 Mbps, I'd be thrilled; it would make 3G feel a lot more like Wi-Fi. [UPDATE: Note that I believe, but I'm not positive, that the improved antenna uses something called HSDPA+ to double the speed. If I'm correct, I think that this means that the improved antenna will, in the U.S, work only on the AT&T network. I haven't yet seen a report of whether the iPhone 4S antenna is better than the iPhone 4 antenna on Verizon.]
And even though the iPhone 4S is a 3G phone, whereas some other smartphones sold today use the newer 4G networks, Apple claims that in practice, there is not much difference in download speed. For example, Apple showed this slide, showing that the theoretical maximum download speed of the iPhone 4S is the same as phones advertised as being 4G phones:
Again, we'll have to see how all of this works out in real life, but it would certainly be nice if the download speeds on the iPhone 4S are indeed similar to the download speeds on 4G smartphones.
I am far from a professional photographer, but I enjoy taking good photographs with my Nikon DSLR camera and I often have little tolerance for poor quality photographs taken with a cameraphone or an inexpensive digital camera — and yet I frequently use the camera on my iPhone 4 because I don't always have my big Nikon camera with me, whereas the iPhone is always in my pocket. Moreover, the quality of the iPhone's video is decent enough that I rarely take the effort to carry my Cannon HD videocamera. When I want to take a short video of my son riding a bicycle or my daughter playing in the park, the iPhone does a fine job.
The iPhone 4 camera is already decent, but the iPhone 4S looks to be a vast improvement. The 8 megapixel camera (up from 5 on the iPhone 4) is in itself an improvement, but the new optics on the camera capture much more light, and getting more light is often the key to a better and sharper photograph. The iPhone 4S also takes 1080p video (up from 720p on the iPhone 4) and includes built-in image stabilization — a welcome new feature considering how easy it is for your hand to shake while holding an iPhone and taking a video.
The iPhone 4S also has a faster camera. The Camera app is ready to take a picture in only 1.1 seconds, and you can take a second picture only .5 seconds after that. And because iOS 5 allows you to launch the camera app without needing to swipe to unlock the iPhone, you can pull your iPhone 4S out of your pocket and snap a great picture much faster than you used to be able to do so with an iPhone 4 running iOS 4 and much faster than you can do so with any other smartphone camera.
The new camera on the iPhone 4S looks to be a great improvement on what was already a good camera.
One useful upcoming feature of iOS 5 (which will be out next Wednesday) is that if you are using an iPad 2, and if you have an Apple TV connected to your television, you can wirelessly mirror everything on your iPad's screen to the TV. (If you don't have an Apple TV, you can also use an HDMI cable to mirror using a wired connection to the TV.) Thus, if you want to show off and mark-up a document on a large screen, you can easily do so; just use your iPad and other people can see what you are doing by watching the TV screen.
The iPhone 4 only supports AirPlay streaming, meaning that if you are playing a video on your iPhone 4 you can send just that video to an Apple TV. But with the iPhone 4S, like the iPad 2, you can also use AirPlay Mirroring send everything on your iPhone screen to the TV, just as if the TV was a second monitor to the iPhone's screen. I suspect that there will be more circumstances in which I want to share with others the image on my iPad screen than on my iPhone screen, but it is nice that with the iPhone 4S you have the ability to mirror if and when you want to do so.
Around the world
Are you looking for an iPhone that you can use as a phone when you travel internationally? The AT&T version of the iPhone has always been a GSM phone that works around the world. However, the Verizon version of the iPhone has been a CDMA phone that works in the U.S. but works in very few other countries. The new iPhone 4S is a world phone that can use both GSM and CDMA, so if you get the Verizon version of the iPhone 4S you can also use it abroad.
To be honest, international calling rates are so expensive that I have always kept my 3G turned off when I travel outside of the U.S. When I have needed to make or receive a call, I would find a Wi-Fi hotspot (which would often be in my hotel) and would use the Skype app to make phone calls for only two cents a minute, as I described in this post. But if you don't mind spending the money for roaming and calls in other countries, and if you are a Verizon customer, then the world phone capability is another useful feature of the iPhone 4S.
What's in a name?
I know that some people expected Apple to announce an "iPhone 5" instead of an "iPhone 4S" yesterday, and I've already heard some lawyers tell me that they are disappointed as a result. They shouldn't be.
Apple appears to change the number only when the exterior design of the iPhone changes. Thus, Apple released the iPhone 3G in 2008, and then in 2009 released the iPhone 3GS with the exact same exterior but lots of improvements under the hood. Then in 2010 Apple released the iPhone 4, and because the 2011 version shares the same external design, Apple just added the "S" to the name this year. But that doesn't mean that the iPhone 4S is any less important of an upgrade, for all of the reasons that I noted above.
The physical design of the iPhone 4 is already great — a small, light phone with a fantastic Retina Display and a rock solid feel. I suppose Apple could have designed a new phone that is even thinner (just like the iPod touch is thinner than an iPhone), but I'd rather have a new model that has better processors and battery life in the same size versus a thinner and less capable iPhone. Perhaps the only design feature of the iPhone 4 to receive some complaints was the antenna, and the iPhone 4S includes improvements in that area.
And let's not forget that there are TONS of iPhone accessories on the market that work with the iPhone 4: cases, docks, speakers, etc. All of those items will also work with the iPhone 4S, and if you already bought any of those to use with your iPhone 4 you can now use them with the iPhone 4S. That is a huge advantage to not changing the exterior of the iPhone.
So don't get hung up on the name. If you find yourself sad that this is a "4S" and not a "5" just tell yourself that this could have been a "4C" and think about how much higher in the alphabet "S" is than "C". As Shakespeare teaches us in Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Of course, he also had that line in Henry VI about "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" so perhaps we shouldn't listen to that crackpot. Just listen to me instead. The name doesn't matter; this is a great upgrade to the iPhone.
Should you buy an iPhone 4S?
If you don't currently own an iPhone, or if you currently use an iPhone older than the iPhone 4, than my answer is a strong YES. The features added in the iPhone 4 such as the amazing Retina Display plus the new features of the iPhone 4S make this a must-have device for you. Get it.
If you currently own an iPhone 4, the answer is not as easy — in part because I suspect that you are somewhere in the middle of your two-year contract and thus AT&T and Verizon may not give you the subsidized price for the iPhone. On AT&T, for example, it appears that you have to pay $250 on top of the subsidized price if you are not close to the end of your contract — so $449 instead of $199 for the 16GB model. That's a lot to pay if you already have an iPhone 4. The features noted above, especially Siri, are incredibly neat, but may not be worth the cost of the upgrade.
On the other hand, there are ways to make an upgrade more affordable if you want to do so. For example, Gazelle is a company that buys used electronics, and that company is currently offering $249 for a iPhone 4 in flawless condition or around $200 for an iPhone in good condition. Similarly, Apple itself has a Reuse and Recycling program that will offer you money towards a future Apple purchase if you trade in an old iPhone, and according to Brad McCarty of The Next Web, Apple will now give you up to $200 for an iPhone 4. Using one of these options can help soften the blow of the additional $250 fee. On the other hand, if you wait until you can use the subsidized price, you may be able to cover most of the cost of the subsidized price by using one of these services.
Also, if you and your spouse are on a shared plan, and if your spouse is eligible to upgrade with a subsidized price but you are not, AT&T typically allows you to take advantage of your spouse's eligibility if he or she doesn't plan to get a new phone.
If you do decide to get the iPhone 4S, you now have an additional carrier choice: AT&T, Verizon or Sprint. That just leaves T-Mobile as the only major U.S. carrier to not have the iPhone, although of course AT&T is trying to purchase T-Mobile right now.
The iPhone 4 has been out for 16 months and it is still one of the best-selling smartphones in the world. The iPhone 4S adds great new features, and I'm sure will be even more of a success. If you are a lawyer, you are going to love using the iPhone 4S as a sophisticated personal assistant and the better antenna is a great improvement. The improved camera may not have much impact on your professional life, but is likely to be very useful when you are out of the office, especially if you have kids.
On the other hand, if you decide not to upgrade to the new iPhone 4S, you'll be happy to know that in just a few days, you can upgrade your current iPhone to iOS 5, so even your "old" iPhone is about to get a lot better. In tomorrow's post, I'll discuss iOS 5 and some of the other announcements from Apple's event on October 4th.