[By Craig Wilson]
One look at the wild speculation that preceded Apple’s announcement on Tuesday of the iPhone 4S and the latest incarnation of its mobile operating system, iOS 5, is enough to tell you that everyone was expecting more.
And with Apple’s share price falling by more than 4% in intraday trading – it clawed back some ground on a general late rebound in US markets – it seems investors were expecting a lot more.
The Apple presentation was perceived as disappointing because of the enormous hype that preceded it. Pundits and “experts” expected an iPhone 5, a dedicated Facebook application for the iPad and possibly a budget iPhone. They got none of these.
What they did get was a faster, more flexible iPhone 4 with a better camera and the option of more storage. Apple could have easily named the iPhone 4S the iPhone 5, and suddenly the improved processor, graphics capabilities, camera and the voice-recognition solution called Siri — punted as the primary talking point of the 4S — would have been deemed more impressive.
Instead, the 4S is (rightly) seen as an incremental update. In this sense, Apple did the right thing. To call it the iPhone 5 would have been disingenuous. It’s also the right thing because many people around the world will have reached the end of their two-year contract cycle and be looking to upgrade from the iPhone 3GS.
The problem with having produced genuinely revolutionary products like the iPod and the iPad — neither of which were the first devices of their sort, but both of which were the first to capture the popular imagination, and the bulk of the market share in the process — is that everyone expects anything you do subsequently to be just as gob smacking.
Apple would have us believe Siri is the iPhone 4S revolution. If they got it right, it just might be. Google has been working on voice recognition and voice-activated services for years, but it’s run into the same problem Apple faced when it introduced voice commands on the 3GS – unless the integration is seamless, and unless it works consistently, no one cares.
If the demonstration video for the iPhone 4S is to be believed, Siri is like having your own personal assistant that can intelligently respond to your every command, deal with different phrasing, return intelligent results and act on them. If it actually works like that, the Apple faithful will love it and evangelise accordingly, and why wouldn’t they?
Arguably, the most interesting things to come out of Apple’s keynote weren’t the iPhone 4S or iOS 5 – the latter having been available to developers for months. Rather, what’s most compelling is that Apple has chosen to keep both the iPhone 4 and the 3GS on the market. Traditionally, Apple keeps its most recent handset in the market, but discontinues all of those before it. With this move, Apple is effectively offering the “cheaper iPhone” that rumour mongers were so sure was coming. It just happens to be both cheaper and older. For those making their first foray into iPhone Land, this may not be that much of a turn-off.
Apple will offer the 3GS for free on 24-month contracts in the US – the first time it’s offered any of its handsets for no initial outlay – and the iPhone 4 for just $99 upfront on contract.
Apple couldn’t control the hype before the iPhone 4S launch, which is why it seems like a letdown. But it can, and does, control what it takes to market and when. The 4S looks like a fine device, even if it’s not the phone critics were hoping for.
The iPhone 4 is 15 months old, but it still sells like beer and hotdogs at a music festival, despite being just as overpriced. There’s no reason to believe the 4S won’t continue that trend until such time as Apple is ready with its successor.
And imagine the excitement next year when Apple simultaneously debuts the iPhone 5 and iPad 3, complete with new displays, support for “4G” networks, six months of battery life and the ability to predict the future.
But now I’m speculating, and as fun as much fun as that is, it tends to lead to disappointment, however misplaced.
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