Commentary

Apple Does a Low-Keynote, Launches iPhone 4S

Iphone-ABC

Those who were expecting an "iPhone 5" that looked like a major hardware upgrade must have gone away disappointed by today's Apple keynote. Pre-event rumors about the flagship Apple phone getting a larger screen, revised contours and ultra-thin design were dashed by CEO Tim Cook, whose first keynote at the helm of the world's most followed brand was decidedly low-key.

Instead of the anticipated iPhone 5, we got an iPhone 4S. It is all about the internals in this design, the company spins. It is "entirely new" on the inside, said Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing. Cook hyped it as "the most amazing iPhone ever."

The iPhone 4S has the same form factor as iPhone 4 but with an A5 chip that makes the device up to two times faster than the iPhone 4. Dual core graphics with seven times the display speeds are also going to drive overall performance and gaming. The new models will be priced at $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, and a new 64GB configuration for $399. Pre-orders open Friday, Oct 7 with availability on the 14th. The iPhone 4S will also be available on the Sprint network, giving Apple presence now on all three major U.S. carriers.

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The chief addition in the iPhone 4S is the new voice control interface. The "Siri" feature will understand complex voice queries like "Do I need an umbrella today?" You can say, "Give me directions to Hoover Tower" and the system will call up the map and show directions from your present location. Siri is also a text reader and can be commanded to read your SMS messages to you. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Siri is that it will work with third-party apps, so developers and marketers may have a field day with these capabilities.

In featuring the game chops of the upgraded iPhone, Apple appears to be targeting the game market even more aggressively.

The newer model will boast better call quality, generally considered a weak spot in the iPhone. Data speeds are being enhanced to a theoretical maximum of 14.4Mbps, which Apple claims is the speed most are calling 4G. Also it will be a world phone with a dual-mode GSA and CDMA capability.

The iPhone 4S camera will have facial detection and an 8 megapixel resolution of 3264 x 2448. It will also do 1080p HD video recording. Again in an effort to disrupt another hardware market, the company claims it may be the best camera and digital recorder many people own.

Much of the keynote was spent reiterating Apple's success with its iOS platform and reminding users of the upcoming updates to the OS. iPhone sales have seen year over year growth of 125%, said Cook. Apple says 250 million iOS devices are in market, with a 43% mobile OS share now.

Some incremental new apps are being introduced that will work across iOS devices. Available Oct. 12, a cards app will send greeting cards from the phone and can even be printed and mailed for $2.99 each in the U.S. Also new is a "Find My friends" app that will geo-locate people you elect to share your location with.

IOs 5 will be available on Oct. 12 for much of the current phone and tablet family. Key features of the upcoming iOS 5 update of the operating system will include deep Twitter integration for more seamless posting of micro-blog entries. Also the new Newsstand will organize and keep refreshed periodical subscriptions.

The iCloud service will allow iOS users to store and retrieve their apps, music and photos from the cloud. It also will launch on Oct. 12. The iTunes Match service, which will run from the cloud iTunes versions of your non-iTunes tracks, will be available later in the month, perhaps suggesting Apple is still trying to secure rights from the various labels for this feature. When available, iTunes Match will cost $24.99 annually. But overall -- and just minutes after its completion -- the Apple rollout feels underwhelming. The Siri feature is intriguing, to be sure, but not the game-changer a new phone design or dimensions might have been. Otherwise, the upcoming iPhone is an iterative development that seems to be more about catching up with the competition than leading it in new directions.

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