The iPhone 4S Conundrum

Like many bloggers and fanboys, I had anticipated an iPhone 5 announcement — going so far as to itemize the trade in value of my current iPhone 4, despite a hefty $260 early termination fee after only 8 months with Verizon. But then the iPhone 4S was introduced.

Yeah, I’m one of those guys who was somewhat underwhelmed by the announcement. And I fully acknowledge my expectations of a new look were mostly unreasonable for a variety of reasons. First, there’s the time required to design, build, test, and iterate new hardware to Apple’s exacting, although sometiems imperfect, standards. Once that’s wrapped, it’d then take a decent interval to ramp up manufacturing to produce the millions of iPhone 4S handsets necessary to launch with. Not to mention Apple probably wouldn’t want to unduly alienate the large third party accessory iPhone ecosystem. Basically, we shouldn’t assume an updated form on an annual basis.

As to why I’d want a new look, that’s simple. My iPhone 4 has a glass back and requires a bumper to protect it when I set it down and to prevent me from launching it’s slippery form into the ground. I find it just as handsome today as I did pre-launch, yet I’d rather carry my phone caseless… as I did with the original aluminum-backed iPhone. The 3G and 3GS were also too slippery for my tastes, but at least I didn’t have to worry about shattering two sides. Generally speaking, I also am quickly bored with my gadgetry and always ready to flip into something new.

As to the iPhone 4S, there’s no question it’s an amazing device. Apple takes arguably the best smartphone on the planet and makes it better — with a quicker processor, enhanced camera, and next generation voice control (aka Siri). I do find the camera mighty tempting.  Especially since my smartphone has already replaced my simple point & shoot and I’d benefit from any picture quality improvement. But I’m not convinced Siri will do much for me. I’d probably use the dictation feature on occasion, which isn’t hyped like the artificial intelligence and conversational interaction. But neither are compelling enough on their own to make a switch. As far as the upgraded iPhone 4S dual core A5 processor, speed is always appreciated… but the most compelling feature of screen mirroring has been hobbled by app developers.

Overall, I’m a bit tempted to pick up the iPhone 4 S as a gadget aficionado and given the updated camera assembly. To mix it up a bit, I’d probably also trade my black enclosure for a white one. But, despite swinging by the Apple Store this morning, it’s most likely I’ll stay put for the time being. And I am interested to see what Windows Phone 7 Mango devices Nokia brings to market last this fall, along with the HTC Titan… although abandoning the iPhone’s rich app ecosystem would be very, very challenging.

18 thoughts on “The iPhone 4S Conundrum”

  1. I should add that I won’t be entirely without an iPhone 4S… As my wife has her own contract on AT&T. They give her subsidized pricing EVERY year since she’s on a rather lofty unlimited minutes plan (~$120/month). So she’ll probably do what she did last year and walk into the Radio Shack once they have inventory and trade her iPhone 4 for $200 towards the iPhone 4S.

  2. I went ahead and bit. I HAD the 4, but returned it because of the antenna problem that I DID have frequently. We’ll see if it is truly better. I do think this is a pretty SOLID upgrade to the 4, and as you noted (and I’ve noted prior :-) ( I do not think we’ll get a 12 form factor change. TOO much risk for the third party accessories to have to make changes every 9-12 months. Not enough runway to make enough money after R&D, dev, manufacturing, marketing etc., to have a 12 month window of opportunity for sales.

  3. I bought one, waiting for it to be delivered today. For me the killer feature is the camera. I have a young daughter and the amount of time I sit with the “closed shutter” image on the current iPhone 4 is just unbearable. Plus as much as the iPhone 4 camera is so much better than anything before it, there is still a long way to go. Try actually printing some of your pictures instead of looking at them on a screen and you’ll see they’re not really that great. And of course in low light or challenging light situations the thing just sucks. Not certain this will be that big a bump, but even just the speed increase to taking the first picture will be worth it to me.

    Yes I switched to white too. And upgraded to 64GB since that’s now an option. I covered a substantial amount of the upgrade cost by selling my AT&T iPhone 4 (worth more than Verizon iPhones btw) on gazelle. And AT&T offered me an early upgrade as a ‘good customer’ (read: my monthly bill is too high).

    I really don’t care about voice, and AT&T’s data speeds are just so much better than the others it was an easy decision.

    Next year when I presume we’ll see an iPhone 5/4G/4GS I’ll upgrade again though honestly I’m more interested in a larger screen than the 4G part really. Doesn’t have to be a lot larger, even the rumored 3.7 inch screen that keeps the current exterior dimensions would be fine with me.

    I do look at some of those thin profiles on Android phones with gadget lust though. And yes I’ll be watching the Nokia launch with interest. I’m so invested in the iPhone eco-system though it would be hard to switch at this point.

  4. I’m not upgrading yet because I usually do every other release. That and I’m bitter they took my Siri away from me and made it only available on the new hardware. I’ve been on ios5 since the first dev release, and I will say I’m in love with notification center, so I’m happy sticking with the 4.

    My only other open question is – did they fix that antenna problem? I’m left handed and I also prefer the look of the iPhone without a case, but holding my phone in my left hand is a bit of a radio killer.

  5. Glenn, yeah I want a bigger screen too. My phone is my Kindle. Or will be.

    Kimberly, I’ve been oniOS 5 a few months too. I was stoked about notification center until I got it. I find I rarely use it. And I still prefer webOS alerts to Apple and Android. Notification Center, or a branch of it, should get more interesting once they expand the currently limited widget functionality. My favorite feature is probably simply being able to crop or rotate photos. I’m easy like that.

  6. Dave: I’m surprised, I use notification center a lot. But I’m also a bit of a facebook/email addict. I also love the location aware weather in it.

  7. First impressions, siri is very cool and useful, I will use it a lot. The camera is great, CLICK CLICK CLICK, no lag, just fast pictures. I think I can get about 2-2.5/s by just clicking. Works great.

    NO DEATH GRIP!!! yes, I can hold it in my hand, and the call doesn’t DROP!!!

    (there’s no antenna problem – YEAH RIGHT!!)

  8. I’m too big a klutz to not put some sort of rubbery cover on the iphone. They’re cheap enough.

    Notification center is mostly good for not having to actually open the phone when the email ping goes off – the Growl -like function is good like that.

    Siri is a big If: I had it on iPhone and first reaction was “this is the Jetsons!” But it was inaccurate enough times that I finally realized it was wasting time rather than saving it.

    This was a year ago, so I’m not discounting that Apple may have greatly improved it since then.

  9. At the launch what they said about the Antenna problem was that since there were two antenna’s (I assume two different bands) they would switch between them as needed. So presumably if you do the ‘death grip’ in the left hand corner, you’d switch to a band around the right/upper right side. Something like that.

    Myself I always use a case so I don’t care. I actually don’t like the shape of the iPhone 4 in my hand (esp. with the stupid Apple bumpers), and I just can’t deal with having to replace one at $500+ if I happen to drop it wrong. Which we all do every so often.

  10. Got the 4S today. First iPhone, but I’ve the iPad, several touch and wife has the iPhone 4. Here is my thought on why to get the 4S:

    Siri: this thing is really useful and it works very well. The underrated feature is the extremely accurate voice dictation of emails and texts.

    Apple TV Mirroring, I suspect that this will be very usefull once I get my Apple TV next week.

    Upgraded Performance; already there are apps trickling out for the 4S only and the sluggish nature of my ipad1 has made me realize that it’s worth an upgrade for kill that lag.

  11. Glenn, I’ve yet to drop the iPhone 4. Of course, now that I’ve said that it’s bound to bounce off the pavement this weekend.

    But what are some good, rugged cases? I’ve convinced my mom an iPhone would be easier to use and more practical than her 4 year old Nokia flip. But I do expect her to drop it. A lot.

    Alan, I played with Siri when it was originally launched. It was oh so very clever, but still mostly a novelty like the Magic 8ball. As implemented now, it looks much more useful. But how much, I don’t know.

  12. Notice T-Mobiles new prepaid offering?

    $30 for 100 minutes of voice, plus unlimited text/data.

    Of course data is throttled to 2G speeds after the first 5GB, but how many VOIP minutes could you cram in that 5GB?

  13. Pretty happy with the update so far. Certainly snappier in all respects. And the camera has banished all the delays. Haven’t printed any pics from it yet so not sure yet how ‘great’ it is. The red-eye editing and other minor tweaks are nice. Messing around with iCloud backup configuration more than expected, and already upgraded to 15GB from the free 5GB so I could turn on the Photo Stream feature, which was otherwise off by default?

    Siri is cool so far, though I’ve mostly just messed around with the silly stuff. Will mostly just use it in the car to send texts probably, or do party tricks.

    Cases? For the iPhone 4S I like the Speck Fitted Cases, in particular the Burton variants since they have non-black sides (makes it more obvious who’s phone this is in a multi-iPhone family). They fit well, don’t come apart too easily (some pull apart when you extract the phone from a dock) since they split down the seam, have that hand-feel I like given their more rounded shape (good for people who preferred the shape of the 3GS to the iPhone 4), have big holes for the headphone jack/dock etc so you won’t have compatibility issues etc. They are ADEQUATE protection for the occasional spill–front protection in particular. But they aren’t the most bullet-proof things out there certainly.

  14. Dana, amazing engineering and performance amongst mobile phones and other gadgetry – the sort of things we cover here. Unlike say tsunamis, genetic sequencing, etc. We’ve got in perspective.

    Glenn, Photo Stream (1000 pics, up to 30 days) has no impact on your 5GB iCloud cap. Sorry!

  15. If you’re really hooked on the case-free experience, the new AppleCare isn’t a bad deal — two years of accidental damage coverage for $99, with a $49 deductible. At the very least, it should net you a shiny new phone when you’re ready to sell it for the next gadget.

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