Yes, there’s a good chance that I’ll get an iPhone 4s. And I don’t mean that I’ll probably buy it months down the line, I’ll pre-order it on Friday to get it at launch. The short answer as to why I’ll do this is because I’m a sucker, but there’s a bit of a longer answer if you care to read on.
I guess the first thing to clear up here is why I, like so many other tech nerds, are so disappointed with yesterday’s Apple keynote. There’s a lot that goes into it and on the surface you can say that it was because Apple took four months longer than usual to refresh the iPhone or that it looks exactly the same as the iPhone 4. You’d be right to a certain degree. We’d been expecting a true iPhone 5 all year, one that was radically redesigned and with a larger display. If you’re not interested in tech in any way, this probably doesn’t matter to you, but some of us like shiny new toys. Some of us are basically children.
For me personally, the one thing I really cared about getting was a bigger screen, say 4″. I didn’t care that much if the device looked the same, but over on the left here, you’ll see the design that I was really pulling for. It’s a beautiful design and does away with the excess bezel at the top (which is the only part of the iPhone 4 design I’m not crazy about). Most importantly, it’s got a huge screen that takes up most of the front. It’s slick and a piece of art, just like the iPhone 4 was.
I didn’t care about real 4G (read: LTE) because I didn’t expect it in a million years. Apple wouldn’t put LTE into an iPhone with the current chipsets available and completely kill the battery life (or make the device thicker). That’s fine, I’m an AT&T customer and they barely have an LTE network right now. I wouldn’t even be able to use an LTE iPhone right now. No disappointment here for me.
Finally, throw in NFC and you’ve got everything we thought we might get in an iPhone 5 this year. NFC (mobile payments via your cellphone) would be really nice, but like LTE, the infrastructure to use it isn’t really in place yet so this isn’t a huge surprise either. Hopefully when Apple finally does do NFC, I’d bet on this for next year, they piggyback off what’s currently being deployed. But since we didn’t get it, that’s not important now.
Okay, so a larger display, a new physical design, NFC, and LTE. That’s all that we didn’t get on the hardware side. LTE wasn’t even expected, so we can cut that down to just the first three. That doesn’t really sound like a lot and, of the three, I really cared most about that display, I’d like something bigger for reading and typing on. Still, since we all like shiny new things, a physical redesign would have gone a long way all on its own…for everyone, not just me.
All of that is just the surface of why we’re disappointed though, the real disappointment isn’t really the absence of these three (or four) features. The real disappointment is…
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Apple is one of the biggest names in tech and they’re a leader in the industry. Everyone looks to Apple to see what they’re going to do, the proof is right there in the amount of coverage that they get on tech (and even non-tech) sites. It’s pretty insane how much attention Apple gets just for rumors, let alone actual products. We look to Apple to constantly innovate, wow, and set the bar higher. Apple leapfrogs the competition and sits back and lets everyone catch up until they’ve inched just past them, then they leapfrog again. You can debate this anyway you want, but the iPhone itself is a great example of this. Look at smartphones before the iPhone 2G and look at them now. Every smartphone now is more like the iPhone than it is like any smartphone before the iPhone, at least in terms of how we use and interact with it. You may think Android does it better, and that’s fine, Android is great, but Android wouldn’t be what or where it is today without the iPhone.
So we expect a lot from Apple, usually too much, but they deliver to some level and make the products to beat. If you’re going to make the products to beat, you’ve got to be the best or be damn near close to the top. To date, Apple has done a great job with that.
But, and here’s where the letdown is, the Android competition right now is fierce. The iPhone 4 managed to stay competitive because it provides an amazing user experience and a solid ecosystem, but with the exception of the display, it’s out-specced in almost every way by Android phones that have already been on the market for months. We expected Apple to leapfrog and say “here’s where the bar is now, beat this.” They didn’t. They caught up and stopped. This isn’t like Apple on the mobile front. We had expectations based on the way Apple typically behaves and they didn’t follow through on that. We need to come to terms with that.
The iPhone 4S is a good phone, but it competes with what’s already on the market and Apple has long product cycles. Even assuming that Apple goes back to a 12-month cycle for the iPhone (or even drops the iPhone 5 in June 2012), most Android handset makers will put out two generations of products in that time and that’s on top of the fact that they each make many different models.
Apple doesn’t play the spec war game and only talks about specs when they enhance the user experience. They also only add features when they think they’ve done the right and better than everyone else. Normally, that works fine for them, but in the face of what Android has coming, they should be doing a little more this time around. Even if Android still won’t be able to match the overall user experience with its upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich build of Android, Apple’s “magic” is starting to stretch very thin.
Next week, it is likely that the Nexus Prime (or something with a similar name by Samsung) will be announced. This phone will be the one that sets the bar higher. The same bar that Apple just yesterday reached. And they’ll not just set it higher, they’ll set it much higher. Apple will be left with nothing to match it until at least 2Q 2012, most likely Q3. That’s a long time in the fast-moving smartphone game.
Essentially, the disappointment is that Apple didn’t announce next year’s specs yesterday, they simply delivered this year’s. They chose not to lead the pack this time around.
We can all speculate about why this is, but my true feelings are that Apple had an iPhone 5 in the works, one that was what we wanted (minus LTE). But they went too aggressive and couldn’t get it up to their standards. Rather than releasing a product they weren’t fully happy with, they did a simple update to the iPhone 4 and called it a cycle. I think this is why there was an extra four months before a refresh. Apple was either trying to work it out or they needed time to switch gears to the iPhone 4S. And with all of the software changes and iCloud, they embraced the extra time and decided to make the software the star. The software gave them an out and a way to put spin on this, even if we may see right through it.
Even though our expectations were lowered leading up to the event as more information leaked and there was no sign of an iPhone 5, many of us had a glimmer of hope that Apple would pull out a surprise. That would be very Apple-like. In the end, we got what we knew was coming, but nothing more. That disappointed us like a child Christmas morning when they don’t get that impossible-to-get, must-have toy of the year even after his parents told them not to expect it.
What makes this decision perfectly acceptable to Apple is that they’re still going to sell a ton of these things. The iPhone 4 has been on the market for 15 months and is still the number one selling smartphone. Apple is cleaning up, maybe not in mobile OS market share, but in device market share (no one sells more smartphones than Apple). Apple knows this. And Apple knows that this isn’t going to stop. The kind of people that write blog posts and articles like this aren’t the people Apple cares about for the iPhone. The people they care about are the millions who will actually buy the iPhone 4S. In that regard, the iPhone 4S will be massive success.
Tim Cook stepped out on the stage yesterday with ability to essentially say, “you people keep buying these things and we know you won’t stop even if we let up for a cycle, so we’re going to just give you this iPhone 4S and collect your money.” Those of us that are criticizing Apple for not releasing an iPhone 5 yesterday are wrong and completely missing the point. The iPhone 4S will sell even more than the iPhone 4. As insane as it is, it’s true.
Why I’ll still buy
Despite being this year’s technology and not next year’s, I’m still likely to rush out and buy the iPhone 4S. Yes, I’m a sucker. And yes, next year, I’ll upgrade again. Since I got the iPhone 3G, I’ve upgraded each year. I’m just a gadget nerd like that. I like new toys…even if they look the same.
Also, I’ll state right now that I’m eating the words I posted on Google+ two days ago when I said I wouldn’t upgrade without a larger screen.
I’ve looked online and I can sell my iPhone 4 for around $250 and, if I get the 32GB model, the cost of the iPhone 4S should be $350 according to what AT&T says. That’s $100 out of pocket and I’m stock with AT&T for another 2 years. $100 is practically nothing (in this context) and I’m not leaving AT&T any time soon anyway — not because I love them, but because I’m grandfathered into an unlimited data plan.
So for $100, yeah, I’ll upgrade. For me, the camera improvements alone are worth it. I take a lot of photos, if you haven’t noticed. Starting with my iPhone 4, I’ve stopped carrying my point-and-shoot as often as I used to. I either have my DSLR with me or I use my phone. But the iPhone 4 isn’t a complete point-and-shoot replacement. It’s close and its low-light capabilities are very good for a phone, even by this year’s standards, but it’s not quite enough. The camera improvements (still and video) in the iPhone 4S will be enough to put it over the top to make it enough. My point-and-shoot will go in a drawer and never come out again.
The camera leads into my next point, I screwed up by getting a 16GB iPhone 4. I felt that way from day one. I wish I had more space for photos/video and music. I have an iPod Classic that I keep a large chunk of my music on (less than a third actually fits), but I’m getting sick of carrying that around and having to update that. With iTunes Match and AudioGalaxy, I can ditch the iPod Classic and just stream/download what I need. But since streaming can suck a lot of the time and downloading is annoying, I’ll still find the desire to keep much of the “essentials” on me at all times. A 64GB or 32GB iPhone will provide enough space that I can keep enough of my favorite music on there at all times so I can ditch the iPod Classic. And, I’ll have space to keep more photos and videos. As it is now, I have to delete most videos as soon as I dump them to my computer. On more than one occasion, I’ve had my phone stop recording a video mid-way through because it ran out of space.
In a way, I’m going to be paying for my mistake from last year on this front and I could continue to live with 16Gb with the help of the new iCloud features, but being given an opportunity to upgrade to more space is worth considering. Again, for $100, why not?
The iPhone 4 is no slouch in terms of speed and I don’t play any graphically intense games, but the boost from the A5 processor will be a nice perk to come along with that camera. I wouldn’t upgrade for this alone, but it’ll be nice. We don’t know if the phone has been upgraded to 1GB of memory or not, but with 1080p video recording and iMovie, I’d imagine that it has been. We’ll find out on this one. Again, this would be a nice perk, but I never felt limited by 512MB of RAM in my iPhone 4.
Siri is cool and I might even use it based on the hands on reports from yesterday. It appears to be very good. It won’t be a lot, I still think this kind of thing is gimmicky, but if it’s really that good, I could see using it to pull up directions while driving or for checking the weather while I’m getting ready in the morning. Those kinds of simple things. I definitely can’t see using it in public. We’ll see about this one, but again, not nearly enough on its own.
I’m not putting much weight in the 14.4Mbps data speeds, from what I’ve read, I probably won’t see them much on AT&T (Sprint and Verizon won’t see them at all). But if I see them even a third of the time, that will be yet another perk that I’ll gladly take.
As I’ve said many times, I’m a gadget nerd and I like new toys. Even though the iPhone 4S is mostly just an iPhone 4, I can get it in white and it’ll at least feel like a different gadget to me. Somewhat. Despite being little more than a bunch of minor upgrades to the same thing I already have, the iPhone 4S actually pushes itself up just enough to fully replace two gadgets that I have long since grown tired of carrying around. The added convenience and minor simplification of my life (I’ll come right out and say it’s simplifying first world problems that I have created for myself) is compelling to me. Plus, I’ll get a fresh battery.
I keep saying it, but if I can upgrade for a total cost of $100 (for 32GB), it’s not a bad deal. For simplification, a slightly snappier user experience, and a bunch of perks, it’s worth it…for $100. If I were to drop $400 or $500 out of pocket just for this upgrade, hell no.
PS: I’m not a fanboy
This isn’t a fanboy thing. Really, it isn’t. I’m a big Apple fan, but I’m not a fanboy. I buy Apple products and I love them because I think they’re the best products out there right now. When someone else starts doing better, including design, user experience, and build quality (the three aspects that no one else can yet match all at the same time), I’ll buy their product. For a long time, I wouldn’t touch an Apple product, but that changed when Apple started providing better answers to what I wanted than anyone else could. They won’t be the best answer forever though and when they’re not, I’m going to fair-weather friend the hell out of them and jump ship.