in Technology

My initial thoughts on the iPhone 4S
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NOTE: This post is written mostly from my perspective as an Apple fanboy. Pretty soon, I’m going to do a more detailed post from my perspective as an Apple investor.

Back in June, I wrote about the WWDC 2011 Keynote and how I was ok with it. The basic idea was that I liked Apple’s focus on software since I felt their hardware was already far and away the best hardware out there. Of course, I was mostly focused on the iPhone and most of that post brings everything back to iPhone. Even after my thumbs-up on iOS 5 and the other software improvements they announced (iCloud, e.g.), I was still holding out hope that we might see an iPhone 5 this year. At the time, I was expecting it in September, and now we know that the new iPhone was announced the first week in October.

So how do I feel about the iPhone 4S? Mostly good and maybe a little bit disappointed.

The software

I think Siri is really, really cool. It’s also sort of necessary for the grand Apple revolution I predicted in 2009. I was starting to get a little worried that Apple took a shot at hands-free interaction with Voice Control, and then gave up when it wasn’t a smash hit. I’m glad they’re launching Siri and I think it’ll be a major feature of most hardware in the future.

I’ve already written about how much I like the stuff they’re doing in iOS 5. I like it a lot so far, and I plan to write a bit more about it in a separate post.

The hardware

Many of the iPhone 4S updates are actually hardware–faster processor, more flash memory, better camera (for still and video), better antenna and potentially faster GSM data speeds–but the phone itself looks the same as the iPhone 4. I’ve said a few times that I am constantly impressed with the look and feel of the iPhone 4 (the phone itself and its screen). Over a year after I got it, I would still occasionally look at it and think, “Man, that’s an incredible looking phone.” It just looks good, and I think it’s the best looking smartphone on the market (even now).

I am constantly surprised at the viewing angle and clarity of the Retina display, and I’m frequently grossed out by the terrible screens on some of the giant Android phones. The other day, I saw someone texting on an iPhone and their screen looked terrible. I thought, “Woah. Why’s that iPhone’s screen so yellow and washed out?!” It turned out it was an Android phone (the texting interface on Android and iPhone are very similar) with a terrible screen. Yes, some phones have a larger screen, but their resolution is often the same as or less than a Retina display, the viewing angle is terrible and the colors are just all wrong. With smartphone screens, I’m just not convinced that bigger is better. I’d still take the iPhone 4’s Retina display over any of the 4″+ Android phones.

Still, I confess I was hoping to see a sexy new iPhone 5 announced last week. A bigger Retina display would be really awesome. But bigger Retina displays are hard to make, and they’re expensive, and nobody else is selling them yet. I understand why Apple chose not to go that route yet.


All in all, I’m almost totally satisfied with the iPhone 4S. I would’ve liked a bigger Retina display, and it would’ve been cool to have NFC for payments and such. But by and large I think the new 4S has pretty much everything I was hoping for: a 64GB option, faster processor, faster data, Siri and iOS 5. I still think iPhone is the best phone out there, and I think Apple is making enough improvements with the iPhone 4S that it will continue to be the best phone for the next year. I think Apple is wisely focused on software this year because that’s where they can make big gains on the competition. By this time next year, the software and hardware on all higher-end smartphones will start to look the same, and then Apple will release the iPhone 5 with a bigger Retina display, more speed, NFC and some other bells and whistles that will once again leave its competitors in the dust. Since the iMac, Apple has been moving slow and steady, consistently beating the competition and out-innovating. That’s what they’re doing with the iPhone 4S, and I think their strategy is the right one.

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  1. I’m curious about this “ahead of the curve” concept.

    Let’s start with Siri. Its pretty much exactly what Vlingo already does on Android. Smart of apple to copy that functionality. Almost all the new “software” updates already are Android options. The new “cards” is already called Postagram on Android… and cheaper per card. Whatsapp Messenger is the same is the new iMessenger. Astrid Tasks does exactly what “Reminder” does. Find My Friends is the same as Google Latitudes. So, Apple software updates all seem to have taken a note from some very popular Android apps.

    Hardware-wise, I think a fair cost/quality comparison is the Samsung Galaxy S2. Processor is slighly faster, battery time is apparently slightly longer, and even the camera… G4 did a review of it a couple of days ago and called it better than the iPhone 4S from their test of the new model. Certainly the 4S has the option for the 64GB drive. This would be more than the Galaxy can offer at 32GB, so there’s a point there, but not sure if people will pay double the price in order to get that much more GBs, especially with the continued rise of “cloud” and streaming-type apps (Spotify, Grooveshark, Netflix, etc). The talk on the Samsung Superamoled screen has always been good. Certainly there are a lot of Android producers that make crap screens, but the SuperAMOLEDs have been good. At 312 dpi, on a 4.3″ screen, the Samsung competes in resolution (and most science will tell you anything above 300 dpi services no purpose past 11″ from your face) and has a larger size (Which I know is a personal preference, and not necessarily a win or loss).

    When it comes to body style, I think that is personal preference as well. I actually liked the previous iPhone bodies. I just don’t love feeling something “glossy” or “glassy,” and like a more matte feel that some Android phones offer. But once again, this is all personal preference.

    I guess my point is I find it hard to see how they are staying “ahead of the curve” right now. The curve seems pretty even, if not slightly reactionary among a few major manufacturers right now.

  2. I never said “ahead of the curve”, so I’m not going to respond to that.

    I never said that everything Apple does is new technology. One of their strengths is creating new technology, but I would say a greater strength is their ability to adapt and assimilate technology seamlessly so the user feels like it was always there. Vlingo is a great example, actually. I had the app on my iPhone (probably two years ago), but deleted it because it just didn’t seem too useful and using it was kind of intrusive to me. The point is not to create some kind of technology and just bolt it onto a device. The point is to make the technology a part of the device in a way that is transparent to the user. Apple tried “Voice Control” and it “worked”, but it wasn’t a smash hit. So they went out and bought Siri and integrated into their OS. I think that’s cool and it shows that they’re trying to get it right, not just trying to put something out there.

    Most of the rest of your comment is “my opinion is that iPhone isn’t better in these respects”. I already know from previous conversations that I can’t change your mind because we’ll just end up at “I don’t like Apple and their ‘do-no-wrong’ culture.” I’m not going to spend time trying to break down that opinion. I’ll say this: I don’t think you can have it both ways claiming that Apple is copying other technology and then cite the Galaxy S2 which is obviously, um, “inspired” by the iPhone. That really goes for 95%+ of smartphones out there right now: they all look a LOT like iPhone. Their OS works a LOT like iOS. They have app stores like iOS. Text messaging on Android was more or less ripped straight from iOS. There’s no reason to get into a tit-for-tat argument over this, but saying, “Apple copied Vlingo!” is just silly. Vlingo exists on smartphones because Apple created the iPhone, then a bunch of companies copied it and started selling apps (just like Apple did) and one of those apps was Vlingo. It’s sort of a chicken and egg situation except we KNOW that iPhone was first and then it was copied by everyone.

    A lot of people obviously disagree with you on the iPhone 4/S style. They sold a million 4Ses on the first day of pre-orders. You have implied that people just buy iPhone because it has an Apple logo on it, but a lot of that implication carries with it the idea that the Apple products are actually inferior and people just buy them because people are sheep. But this is the FIFTH iPhone. If it really was inferior, would people really keep buying it? Why? If you believe in efficient markets at all, then you gotta believe people would have caught onto Apple’s inferior technology by now, right?

    Ultimately, you’re right that competitors are catching up. I think Apple’s phone is still ahead not only because of its own technology, but because of the “Apple ecosystem”, which I really appreciate. You don’t like that ecosystem, which is fine. And to that, I say the same thing I’ve always said in these discussions: “So don’t buy an iPhone.”

    I also think Apple is making calculated moves to stay on top of the heap without expending too much of its resources trying to be WAY ahead of the competition. I want Apple’s competitors to keep trying to emulate the iPhone so that the iPhone continues to get better. Apple isn’t trying to be 20 years ahead of the competition — they only need to be about six months ahead. I think they’re doing that. They’ve shown they CAN be years ahead of the competition (see the first iPhone and the iPad, which is still blowing everything else away), but they don’t NEED to do that every time they release an iteration of an established product that’s setting sales records with every new iteration. Sprint just had its best sales day ever when it got the 4S. AT&T had a record number of activations thanks to the 4S. That’s what they’re trying to do–sell iPhone and make money. It’s working.

  3. I guess I got it from “consistently beating the competition and out-innovating.” That would seem to imply an “ahead of the curve/competition” theme.