Apple has introduced the iPhone 4S, a feature upgrade to its iPhone 4 that failed to deliver on fans' expectations of an all-new iPhone 5.
Apple has introduced its latest iPhone, the 4S, and reduced prices on older models. Credit: Kent German/CNET
The iPhone 4S smartphone, introduced on Tuesday at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, will keep the same aesthetic features as the iPhone 4. On the inside, it has a better processor and graphics than its predecessor, and it comes with Siri, a personal assistant app that uses voice recognition to deliver answers to spoken questions.
Apple unveiled the new smartphone with relatively little fanfare, launching it at its offices rather than at the much larger Moscone Center conference hall in San Francisco, where previous iPhone and iPad announcements have taken place.
Many people were expecting an iPhone 5, a redesigned handset with a significantly updated feature list and a new design. But with the iPhone 4S, Apple is aiming at the middle rather than the top of the market, where ever-increasing numbers of Android devices have been sold.
"The simple fact that what was announced was not called an iPhone 5 will leave many feeling rather empty," Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com, said in a statement. "A phone which talks to you and answers your questions? That's the iPhone 4S. Slightly disappointing from a hardware standpoint."
The handset comes with a dual-core A5, as used in the iPad 2. This brings dual-core graphics, which the company said are up to seven times faster than those in the iPhone 4. It also provides better battery life, according to Apple.
"For the first time in an iPhone, we now have eight hours of talk time on 3G," said Phil Schiller, head of worldwide marketing at Apple. "[It provides] 14 hours of 2G talk time, six hours of browsing in your network, nine hours on Wi-Fi, 10 hours of watching video, 40 hours of listening to music."
Its wireless antenna set-up has been upgraded to improve call quality and data download speeds, Schiller added. Its predecessor suffered from an antenna glitch that resulted in poor cellular reception.
The iPhone 4S "intelligently switches between two antennas to transmit and receive," Schiller said in at the launch event.
Previously, Apple's handsets came in GSM and CDMA variants for the different standards used in the US and elsewhere in the world. The iPhone 4S will support both technologies. "Now the iPhone is a 'world phone'," Schiller said.
In addition, the phone's camera now has an 8-megapixel sensor for better photos, plus a lens with a bigger aperture and an upgraded backside illumination sensor. Video recording is now in 1080p HD.
The handset now comes with Siri. The beta app is a personal assistant that can be asked questions such as what the weather is like, or what a word means. It will speak the answer, as well as bring up any relevant apps, such as a weather app. People can also call on it to do things such as dictate a document, send a text message or get directions.
"Apple's new Siri assistant, unique to the new 4S, is a powerful harbinger of the future use of mobile devices — not just the power of voice but, more importantly, the ability to contextualise a statement or request," Thomas Husson, a European consumer mobile analyst at Forrester, said in a statement.
Apple will begin taking pre-orders for the iPhone 4S in the UK on Friday, for delivery from 14 October. It will start at £499, whereas the iPhone 4 is listed currently at £429 for an 8GB model without a SIM. In the US, a 16GB iPhone 4S will cost $199 on a two-year contract, and increasing storage to 32GB and 64GB takes the price up by $100 each time. In addition, the iPhone 4 has been reduced to $99 on a contract.
A phone which talks to you and answers your questions? That's the iPhone 4S. Slightly disappointing from a hardware standpoint.– Ernest Doku
The prices of earlier 3GS and 4 models are being reduced to a level to match the cost of iPhone's Android rivals, according to analysts.
"The new prices announced to the new iPhone 4S and previous iPhone versions allow Apple to compete in the price segments where Android is fiercely growing, the mid-range," Francisco Jeronimo, a mobile analyst at IDC, said in a statement.
"Apple will attract first-time smartphone users and users from mid-price Symbian devices looking for an upgrade, but will it attract current iPhone users to replace their current iPhones? Definitely not," he added.
During the launch event, Apple confirmed the arrival of iOS 5 on 12 October and introduced a number of new features for the mobile platform. The updated operating system will deliver usability changes such as one-tap access to the camera and native editing of photos. Among the new native apps is iMessage, which lets people send text messages to any iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 5. The update also brings iCloud, Apple's cloud-based back-up and storage service, to the iPhone.
Apple's iCloud will sync music, documents and photos with the iPhone 4S, providing a daily back-up. This will ensure it is easy to restore a device from iCloud, said Eddy Cue, Apple's head of internet software and services.
One of the new native apps, Find My Friends, is intended to make it easier to locate family and other people who use the software. The location sharing in the app can be set to 'temporary', to increase privacy, and there are parental controls to stop children from deactivating it.
Tim Cook, who took over from Steve Jobs as Apple's chief executive in August, revealed that the Apple App Store now holds more than 500,000 apps and receives more than one billion app downloads per month — a total of around 18 billion apps over the store's three years. By comparison, the Android Market has around 300,000 apps.
The iPhone 4 launched in June 2010 at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). To date, it accounts for more than half of all iPhone sales, Cook said. In its latest financial report ending 25 June, Apple said it had sold 20.34 million iPhone handsets during the preceding three months.