A pilgrimage to the local AT&T store Friday night revealed flashy banners and displays for the brand new iPhone 4S. An employee said that there were about 50 people in line that morning and that the store had not sold out, but was close.
This is the first iPhone launch event to take place with three United States carriers. The original carrier partner was, and still is, AT&T. Verizon came after the launch of the iPhone 4 and Sprint is the newest option with the 4S. Sprint announced record-breaking sales on their first day offering the iPhone and AT&T reported a record number of activations.
So why is the country going bananas over the 4S? Cosmetically, the phone looks almost identical to the Verizon version of the 4, with a place for a SIM card, but there are three key changes to the 4S that set it apart. More speed, a better camera and an improved voice control system.
First the speed. The iPhone 4S has a new dual-core A5 processor. You could probably hear the geeky nerd voice in that last sentence but the details are not that important. It is the same processor that is in the iPad 2. It is probably a little slower than the iPad to save the battery life. Apple reports that the 4S is up to twice as fast as before and graphics are up to seven times as fast as on the 4. In a brief real-world test in the store, the 4S was noticeably quicker.
The new camera is eight megapixel instead of five and has five lenses instead of four. There is that nerd voice again. There are other technical improvements to the camera and the image processor part of the A5.
All of this means better looking, more detailed photos in less than ideal lighting. The video recording is higher definition for more detail in videos. There is some built-in stabilization for the video recording now. That should take some the hand shake out of the video recording and make it smoother.
The big new feature in the phone is Siri. Siri is an intelligence assistant you control with your voice. On the iPhone 4, the voice controls are limited to a small set of specific phrases that the system is designed to understand. Siri’s vocabulary is much larger. In real world testing, Siri proves to be imperfect at understanding what is wanted, but is a giant improvement over the previous system.
Siri has a list of functions “she” can do for you. Most of them are tied to the built-in Apple apps. You can make appointments, set alarms and reminders, make calls and have her read your text messages. Also, Apple has partnered with third-party companies for some features. You can get restaurant listings from Yelp, get information from Wikipedia and do calculation with Wolfram Alpha.
Apple has built in a few surprises, too. Siri will get a little frustrated if you ask her to, “Open the pod bay doors,” and she will find you a cab if you tell her, “I’m drunk.” She will politely resist love and marriage proposals and she will tell you she does not do knock-knock jokes. Siri supports English, French and German. Apple says Siri is in “Beta” and will add more languages and services in the future.
The iPhone 4S is a good interim upgrade over the iPhone 4. It is recommended for new iPhone buyers, anyone with an iPhone previous to the 4 and for iPhone 4 owners when their carrier allows them to get the lower new phone price. It is also a good choice for Sprint customers. It is not a revolutionary change, but it was never intended to be. Apple has not disappointed with the iPhone 4S.