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Some thoughts on the iPhone 4S

tl;dr: Apple does evolution and keeps its old iPhone 4 customers happy

After yesterdays announcement, the blog-/twitter/G+ and most of all the comments to articles “sphere” exploded with disappointment. Disappointment that Apple choose to do an incremental update of their iPhone product instead of boosting its version number to 5.

Of course, most of the disappointment is home-grown. Apple never announced anything, so all the pundits that clamored for an iPhone 5 with (insert favorite feature that the iPhone 4S doesn’t have) were mostly just disappointed that their dreams or desires didn’t come true.

But is the iPhone 4S really the disaster that some people make it out to be?

Of course not. Even though it looks like the iPhone 4 (which I think is the best looking of the iPhone family so far, and one of the best looking phones overall), it’s a different piece of equipment on the inside. From what was said at the presentation, every bit inside was redesigned - and from the specs available, I tend to believe that.

There is a new antenna system, new camera, new processor and GPU, new power management (to keep battery times similar even though the CPU needs more power), Bluetooth 4 etc etc. So in terms of engineering, this is an iPhone 5.

But perception wise, Apple didn’t go that step. Why? Here’s my take:

Apple cares about the millions of iPhone 4 users (many of them have bought their phones in the last few months - my family has for example). Nothing in the iPhone 4S screams “yo - your iPhone 4 just became obsolete”. I’ve had my iPhone 4 since it first came out, and even though I like all bits of the 4S, there is no immediate urgent need for me to go out and buy one. (I had the same feeling with the iPad 2 - I’m still happy with my iPad 1 and looking forward to the iPad 3)

And that’s good! How would you feel, if suddenly the device you had yesterday was crap today? (I’m not looking at you, geeks, I’m looking at the 99% rest of the population). If you want to upgrade - fine. If you have to wait another 12 or 18 months in your current contract - you are still fine, because you get most of the 4S features through iOS5 (you still have a good camera, can take good videos). The only thing you can’t do with your 4 is talk to Siri.

And that’s fine too. Apple has positioned this as Beta software. The market isn’t quite ready yet (and the software probably neither). It’s a fantastic technology demo (and the video with the blind woman using it is pure marketing genius). However, Siri will work even better next year, when the next generation phones from Apple come out.

In the meantime, everybody is happy (except for the nay-sayers) and Apple continues to do what it does really well: Improve their products with every iteration, seemingly in small steps, until suddenly, they are quite a few steps ahead again.

And by slowing down the pace of introducing new products constantly (as their competitors tend to do), they keep the millions of customers happy that they made a great decision by buying an iPhone.

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Jens-Christian Fischer

Maker. Musician