In the aftermath of the iPhone 4S announcement, the general feeling was one of underwhelming enthusiasm. People were happy that Apple finally released a new phone, but what they saw appeared to be nothing more than another iPhone 4. People expected some radically new form factor, another game changing handset. Instead, the iPhone 4S’ enhancements are all internal. Outwardly, there is no way to tell the device from its predecessor. So, should you drop the $200 to $400 on this new phone, given that it’s not the groundbreaking phone we were expecting?
It is important to first consider what people were expecting from this iPhone. Believed to be the iPhone 5, the phone would sport the A5 processor, a larger screen, better cameras, a redesigned radio system, and a new aluminum unibody design meant to be impeccably thin. A lot of this did not come to pass. To be fair, I was always skeptical of the rumored design just because it seemed so ridiculously thin. It would be hard to squeeze in the electronics and a decent battery. A lack of significant 4G was also depressing. However, we did get a large amount of these desired improvements. The 4S has the A5, better cameras, and new radio gear. So really, the only thing not delivered on was a wholly new package for all these features.
Many critics feel that Apple has been lazy in this choice. The reality of the situation is that Apple invested a lot in the design of the iPhone 4, and it is today still one of the most precise and well-built phones on the market. After a year it may seem old news, but you’d be hard pressed to find another handset on the market that is built with the same level of quality materials and precision design. Much of the design choices also centers around the display. Screen size is important because that is what determined form factor for this iPhone.
If we compared the iPhone 4S to a high-profile phone like the Samsung Galaxy S II, we find that the iPhone “loses” on screen size. The GSII has a larger 4.3″ S-AMOLED+ display – arguably the best display technology available today in terms of color accuracy and vibrancy. However, the resolution is 800×480, compared to the iPhone’s 960×640 resolution in the retina display. Display size is the big question regarding the 4S. A lot of people (including myself) were hoping for a larger 4″ screen, better for watching movies or typing. However, this decreases the ppi of the retina display unless Apple boosted the display resolution again. That’s a difficult thing for developers to cope with as they have to re-tune apps for the higher resolution. So Apple believes having retina display sharpness is more important than actual screen size. I’m not saying that this gives Apple a pass, but it does offers some explanation as to their choice. Next year Apple can boost the screen size and resolution as new displays reach the market in affordable amounts.
Since we are comparing the iPhone 4S to the Galaxy S II in screen size, let’s go ahead and size up the rest of their specs. Both are dual core, both have 8MP cameras and a front camera, and both are impeccably thin (the GSII wins by a sliver). In many ways, the iPhone 4S goes toe-to-toe with the best of Android. Really, the only place I see logical complaint about the iPhone 4S is in that people are disappointed that it looks too much like the last generation. Has Apple become lazy? I don’t think so. But even Apple can’t be expected to consistently, year over year, revolutionize the industry. Apple’s great leaps come in waves, but there have to be lulls between these surges.
Honestly, I have a growing problem with comparing iPhones to Android competitors or Windows Phone etc. The mobile phone market is not, and should not be, like the PC market, where we feel compelled to compare products together at whim. The PC market, even Apple’s hallowed corner of it, is commoditized and homogenous. Every PC uses an Intel processor or an AMD processor and an AMD graphics chip or Nvidia. There’s very little room for great innovations in form factor or performance. The smart phone market is approaching that existence but still has a few tricks up its sleeve. OEMs can still push great innovations out with new phones. Software is rapidly evolving and differentiating. I have an issue comparing an iPhone to an Android phone because their software is different. Yes, they can often run similar applications but I doubt anyone is complaining about the performance of Foursquare on either platform. I only see the benefit in comparing devices of the same OS. Mac OS X and Windows are far closer in design and application than iOS and Android. With that in mind, the iPhone 4S is the best iOS phone ever released. If you want to remain in the iOS ecosystem, this the the phone to get.
That said, should you get one? This question needs to be answered for three types of people. Person 1: the consumer with an iPhone 3GS or earlier. Yes, you should get this. The 4S is better than the 3GS in every possible way. Person 2: the iPhone 4 owner. Probably not, unless you are a huge user of camera phones or a major gamer that will take advantage of the extra hardware. The iPhone 4 has a lot of the same end-user features of the iPhone 4S (minus the possibly game changing Siri). The retina display, front camera, a form factor remain the same and that’s what will matter for most consumers. Plus, the iPhone 4’s A4 chip still seems to hold its own on most tasks. So if you have that extra year or 6 months of a contract left, let it run out and wait for the iPhone 6. Person 3: the Android user wanting to switch. Maybe. Android and iOS are fundamentally different in many ways, from application accessibility to basic UI design. Android has become quite good over the year (remember, Ice Cream Sandwich is coming up) but if iOS 5 and Siri have you excited, this might be the time to switch. You can’t lose either way.
As a closing, AT&T announced that the iPhone 4S has just set a record of 1 million pre orders. This thing will do just fine.