The Apple iPhone 4S is officially here and it will be landing Oct. 14 but this one hasn’t seemed to have generated as much excitement as previous versions. Maybe it’s the delay or maybe it’s the competition but many of you have expressed a sense of disappointment with the latest Apple smartphone.
Before I dive into what we didn’t get, I want to say that I’m confident the Apple iPhone 4S will be a great smartphone. How do I know? Well, I’m using the iPhone 4S and using that same form factor with a much-better camera, added horsepower and the final version of iOS 5 would be great. I’m not completely sold on Siri yet (when’s the last time Apple introduced something as a beta?) but this has the potential to change the way we interact with our phones.
So, the iPhone 4S is going to be a really good device but what is it missing?
Larger screen, redesign
The rumor mill was shouting that the next iPhone could have a “radical” redesign with a much larger screen but the iPhone 4S essentially has the exact same design as the iPhone 4, with some slight changes to the antenna. We had seen multiple cases leak out for what was supposed to be from the next iPhone and this sported a teardrop design and a bigger display.
What happened? Well, probably nothing, as it’s not difficult to believe that the iPhone 4S was the plan all along for 2011. The fact that it came out later than usual may be due to the release of the Verizon iPhone in February, as Apple may not have wanted to burn new Verizon users who just bought in. Additionally, only die-hard Apple or mobile fans really update every year to the latest iPhone, as mainstream users will likely wait out their contracts before upgrading. For users ending their iPhone 3GS contract, the iPhone 4GS would be a massive upgrade.
That teardrop, thinner design can sort of be seen with the existing iPod touch devices and I’m sure Apple is working on the iPhone 5 with a larger screen for next year. These products don’t just come together in six months, so there are bound to be prototypes around of the iPhone 5 and even the iPhone 6. The Retina Display is still one of the best on the market but I am starting to yearn for a larger screen. I used to think that a 4-inch display was the sweet spot but devices like the Epic 4G Touch have shown me how amazing a much larger display can be if the device is still thin and has a small bezel.
NFC = Not from Cupertino
In our iPhone 4S preview, Stefan said that the one deal-breaker to upgrading would be if the next iPhone didn’t have NFC, so I guess he’s not getting it. Many in the mobile payment space believed that Apple was the one major company which could really push NFC mobile payments to the masses but that’s not going to happen and it may never happen.
A small new feature of the iPhone 4S is that it will pack Bluetooth 4.0, which enables a higher data transmission speed. Apple may look at this as its way of doing mobile payments and this should be a big boon for app developers like Bump. I wouldn’t rule NFC out of future Apple products though, as we’ve seen some very interesting patents coming out of Cupertino.
The reality is that the lack of NFC in the iPhone 4S isn’t really that big of a deal yet, particularly in the United States. The mobile payment services are just getting off the ground, as Google Wallet is only available on one device with one carrier and ISIS is just kicking off field trials. Mobile payments with NFC is still a 5-year-out process in the United States, so Apple could afford to wait on this one.
I understand completely why the iPhone 4S doesn’t have U.S. “4G” but that doesn’t have to mean I like it. The HSDPA iPhone 4S will be capable of up to 14.4 Mbps down on GSM networks and Apple even took a few shots at its “4G” competitors on AT&T during the introduction.
Part of the reason this isn’t the iPhone 4G is that the “4G” situation in the United States is kind of a mess. Sprint’s 4G uses WiMax but it will probably switch to LTE next year, although we don’t know if it will be interoperable with competitors. Verizon’s 4G LTE is pretty awesome but the first-generation modem technology has caused a massive hit in the battery. AT&T is using HSPA+ and 4G LTE concurrently and T-Mobile is maximizing HSPA+ for its 4G.
With that variety of technologies, it’s no wonder that the iPhone 4S doesn’t have 4G, as Apple making the device a dual-more world phone makes it cheaper to produce and creates higher profit margins for Apple. Still, devices with 4G do have a demonstrable advantage over the Apple iPhone 4S and we’re already seeing competitors tout that. I expect Apple to wait until the technologies are more mature – remember, the first iPhone didn’t even have 3G – and an LTE-capable iPhone should hopefully land by next year.