Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

Summary: Does LTE matter to the iPhone over the next six months? How about a year? Apple's bet is that it can move a ton of iPhones and still be 4G free.

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Apple's launch of the iPhone 4S was notable for its new features---better camera, Siri voice activation, iOS 5 and iCloud---but what the device was missing in 4G capability got just as much attention.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has said that new speedy networks such as the ones operated by Verizon and AT&T soon require too many design compromises. That's statement is a diplomatic way to say that Apple wasn't willing to bulk up the iPhone to support the chips required to support 4G. Apple also doesn't want battery life to disappear in a few hours.

Given those 4G drawbacks---combined with the reality that coverage can be spotty---it's no surprise that the iPhone 4S lacked 4G capability.

For Apple, the bet is that design trumps bleeding edge technology. That bet was a no-brainer at the beginning of the year and given current technology Apple's decision will work for now. Apple is also betting that its set-up with the iPhone 4S can deliver 4G speeds over a 3G network.

iSuppli's Francis Sideco noted:

With the speeds the iPhone has attained with the existing 3G standard known as High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), there is no appreciable benefit to adopting LTE, especially given the current spectrum and uplink speed constraints for LTE. Apple declined to offer an LTE-enabled iPhone that would have been more expensive, larger and more power hungry—and instead opted to introduce a device that delivers nearly the same wireless data speed, but with a superior user experience.

CNET News's Brooke Crothers noted that Apple is saving the iPhone 5 for LTE. Apple is apparently waiting for slimmer Qualcomm chips that can handle both 3G and 4G. Without those Qualcomm chips, expected in the second quarter of 2012, Apple would have to design an SUV-sized device. There's a reason that LTE devices like the Motorola Droid Bionic and HTC Thunderbolt are so damn big---they have to pack LTE and 3G chips.

Anand Tech added that LTE chips need to move to 28nm to be viable for the iPhone.

In other words, Apple made a logical design choice by keeping the iPhone 4S LTE free.

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So what's the problem? If you buy into the iPhone 4S it requires a two-year contract with a carrier. At Verizon, you'd have to assume that LTE coverage won't get better over the next 24 months. At AT&T you have a little more wiggle room.

In our Great Debate, Jason Perlow summed the LTE argument up well:

I believe a large portion of Business users that have been in exit mode from BlackBerry will not find any of the current iPhones as attractive as they could have been had they been launched with 4G. There's something to be said for 8+ megabits per second wireless tethering from your hotel on the road from your business laptop or tablet that you can get on a Droid Bionic that you cannot get on an iPhone 4S, a 4 or a 3GS.

It's unclear whether the no-LTE bet pays off 12 months from now should Apple go that long without an iPhone 5.

Will the Motorola Droid Bionic benefit from an LTE-free iPhone 4S?

My buying calculus---I have a contract that's up in November---is already rattled a bit. Here are my moving parts:

  • I have LTE Mi-Fi and the speeds are awesome when there's coverage. On a moving train, the downshift from LTE to 3G is brutal. Overall, I've found LTE to be disappointing relative to my obviously too lofty expectations going in.
  • I fully expect Verizon's LTE coverage to improve over the next 24 months.
  • Android, my current mobile operating system, is wearing thin on my patience. If you're the type of person that loved MS-DOS prompts then Android may be for you. I don't have the time to tinker and just want things to work. My daughter's iPod Touch reveals an OS that's much snappier.
  • I'm not a fan of the LTE handsets on the market today. First, they are pricey at two-year contract rates. And it doesn't help that these devices are huge. It's not like I'm petite or anything, but really don't want a cinderblock in my pocket.
  • Now if I go with an iPhone 4S, it's quite possible I'll be feeling downright slow by time I can upgrade.

Add it up and I'm stuck in smartphone limbo. It's a pretty safe bet that there are other Verizon customers in the same boat. Overall, Verizon customers will have to decide whether the network means more than the design. Apple's bet is that you'll go with the design and a few newfangled voice features. My hunch is that Apple's bet will pay off, but things could get dicey late in 2012.

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Networking, Verizon, Wi-Fi

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97 comments
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  • Android is getting old fast

    It was in the right place at the right time and grabbed market share only because devices were widely available around the world backed by multiple carriers.<br><br>And at the time, Microsoft had nothing compelling to offer either. But today, Android is a tired looking mess. <br><br>I hear my thunderbolt will be getting the gingerbread update..whoo hoo...oh wait, it got pulled again. Oh well, gingerbread is nothing but a service pack anyways...
    otaddy
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @otaddy: Two words: Nexus Prime!
      bradavon
      • This is rapidly becoming the Android mantra: Don't

        have a feature? Buy a new phone!
        baggins_z
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @otaddy

      I'm thinking the Droid Bionic will alleviate any of the concerns you raise.
      UrNotPayingAttention
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @chmod 777, ha Android mantra, want the latest Android OS, Buy a new phone every six months. Nice!
        Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @otaddy
      www.snapcrowd.com
      snapcrowd
  • It probably will

    Many of us are still using a 3GS or older models and are now ready to upgrade. Add to that a growing smartphone market, more carriers worldwide and the formula's set for many millions sold.
    P.S. My order for a white 32GB 4S was just placed. Should receive it some time after oct. 14, not too long I hope.
    MG537-23482538203179240121698430309828
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @MG537

      Hope you like it. I sense LTE will arrive in iPhone 5 which should still be at most one year away. I would hate to lock myself into a 2- or 3- year contract on any non-LTE phones.
      CyberGuerilla
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @MG537
      You must be bowing to the Apple God. LOL!
      ryork272
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @ryork272 Why, because he bought something you don't like? That's the only way you can explain people making choices different from yours?
        non-biased
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @MG537
      4G should not be a deal breaker. I have a Samsung Epic 4 G on Sprint. I also live in a prime 4 G area. I was happy at first until I saw how my battery started dying. I turned the 4G feature off. When I need speed for data I simply use the phone's WiFi connections. Apple has it right.
      vince7@...
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @vince7@...
        +1
        Just remember how long it took before 3G was released (with a lot of hype), until it actually became usable... Sure, some things indicate that the 4G transition will be smoother, but still
        tom4everitt
  • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

    I love Apple products and I think that the new voice feature is really cool. I kept reading all the propaganda about what is the top 10 items users want to see on the new iPhone and the funny thing was, 4G was not one of them. Well to this I say Bull. If and I mean only if you live in area that has 4G like I do. Then the thought of going backwards for a couple cool features, well then Apple and all the people that say it is worth it is kidding themselves. I am lucky enough to work in the industry of technology and specific to phones and the email clients on the phones. I watch the trends closely because of what my users ask for. This being said, did you notice that BlackBerry slipped market share by several points and Apple stayed firm. Well if BB slipped and Apple stayed firm, it doesn't isn't rocket science to figure out Android with it's 4G picked up the loss from BB. So I think the market was really hoping for 4G. Excuses or logical reasons for not having it won't create more market share.
    bethereornot
    • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

      @bethereornot The problem is that 4G comes at a severe cost. You drop half your battery life because the 4G chipsets are not energy-efficient yet. Add the fact that Apple will never give the iPhone a replaceable battery, and you have a heavy phone user's nightmare. On top of that, 4G coverage is horrible. Anyone who travels outside of a few major metro areas will be on 3G, regarless of the 4G label on the phone.

      This is why many of us were relieved to see that the 4S was not 4G. I'd much rather have 10 hours of phone use at 3G than 5 hours at 4G. I don't know any grownup who has a 5 hour work day and the vast majority of us don't want to stop to charge our phones in the middle of the day. When 4G chips mature and the coverage expands, I'd love to have the extra speed, but it's not there yet. Apple knew this.
      BillDem
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @BillDem where I live 4G coverage from Verizon is great in a very large area. I get a solid 50+ mile radius of 4G and that covers most of my needs. Verizon is expanding it 4G aggressivly. Look at their map now, it is pretty good. I have a Bionic. I could not fathom going back "down" to 3G. No way no how. It is easy to get an extra battery and be set for the day. I did and that is no problem. I knew the new iPhone would not be 4G so I went for the Bionic. Plus the iPhone screen is too small now. Once you have the bigger screen the iPhone seems tiny. The new iPhone is a nice phone and will sell well, but it will not get people that already have 4G or wanted 4G.
        tgschmidt
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @BillDem You do realize that we shut the 4G off when we don't need it right? and for most of the power users I run with. We use wireless headset and have a charge cable plugged into our laptop. I do agree it a battery hog, but man when you use it for internet connection, it really rocks over anything else. I do agree with you and would not say anything bad about the Apple. I live where it is 4G and I also like being able to do more with my phone like the wifi. So I hope you enjoy the new iPhone and I will enjoy my 4G android. When, not if Apple comes with 4G, I will get one, but until then. No toy can make for the loss of 4G for me.
        bethereornot
      • Missing the point

        @BillDem
        By signing up for the 4S, you are in almost all cases foregoing 4G for the NEXT 2 YEARS.

        Not the next 12 months.
        rhonin
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @BillDem This 5 hr BS is getting really old. I have a Droid Bionic and leave it in 4G LTE mode all the time. I have corporate email enabled and use the phone for web browsing, a few games and watching an occaisional show on HBO Go/Max Go.

        I get 11 MBits/sec download speed and find the battery lasts from 7 AM to 10 PM with power left at the end of the day.

        Where I think Apple missed the point is how much smoother and more responsive things like voice command (Google's app which takes the place of SIRI) are with 4G vs 3G speeds.

        As to the topic of this blog, my guess is that Apple will do fine with the 4S as most Apple buyers don't seem to look at anything else and therefore don't know what they aren't getting.
        sbf95070
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @BillDem
        Why not have the option? DUH!! Its not like you HAVE to use 4G just because the phone supports it. You Apple lemmings need to see things with your eyes wide open.
        ryork272
      • RE: Can Apple win its iPhone 4S bet that 4G isn't ready for masses?

        @BillDem I agree. I have had an EVO 4G since intro last year and I am in a 4G area but I rarely use 4G. It works great when traveling for the Hotspot service (if you have 4G coverage) but on a daily basis, it is overkill for a phone - and a huge drain on the battery. For the next year to 24 months, I think LTE is best served via a hotspot device but not a phone (or not a phone that is not plugged into a wall).
        bubbatex