On Oct. 4 Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, announced the iPhone 4S — successor to the iPhone 4 — at a media event at Apple headquarters. The phone was available for pre-order on Oct. 7, and will go on sale Oct. 14.
The new device looks almost identical to the iPhone 4 it replaces, with some changes to the metal band that surrounds the phone, but while the 4S’s screen supports the same 960×640 pixel resolution, almost everything else has been upgraded.
Leading the charge is the dual-core A5 processor, a significant upgrade over the the iPhone 4’s single-core A4. While the exact speed of this chip has not been announced, it is generally accepted that the A5 processor in the iPad 2 was twice as fast as the A4 in the first iPad, and we can likely expect the same kind of gains for the iPhone 4S.
Indeed, during the phone’s announcement Apple claimed that the new chip was 2x faster, and up to 7x better at processing graphics .
Apple says the new A5 chip is required to run one of the 4S’s party pieces, Siri: a voice activated interface that can do everything from shuffle your calendar to read your text messages.
During the keynote demonstration, Scott Forstall, the chief of Apple’s iOS operating system, showed the assembled press how Siri could understand conversational questions, such as knowing that the input “Siri: Will I need a raincoat today?” is asking if it is going to rain. According to Apple, Siri is integrated completely into iOS 5 and will be able to control almost every feature of the new iPhone.
Siri is even integrated into the phone’s GPS system, so if you ask Siri to “remind me to call the office when I get home,” the program will recognize when you’re home and give you the reminder.
One of the most welcome advances for the iPhone 4S will be the camera, which has gone from a four-element lens with a five-megapixel sensor to a five-element lens and eight-megapixel sensor, with improved backside illumination and a larger f/2.4 aperture.
Apple says the five-element lens will improve sharpness, while the larger aperture will increase the shooter’s ability to use depth of field in their photographs. Furthermore, the larger aperture will allow for faster shutter speeds and an improved ability to shoot in low-light conditions.
Will the 4S allow you to leave your camera at home? Apple has published several photographs on its website attributed to the iPhone 4S, and while they most likely represent what a professional photographer can achieve with the phone’s camera, they are certainly impressive.
Adding to the phone’s capabilities is the ability to use the camera directly from the lock screen, the volume button functioning as a hardware shutter button, and the phone’s quick recovery time after taking a picture. During the announcement senior Apple VP, Phil Schiller, compared the iPhone 4S’s camera start-up time (1.1 seconds) and time between shots (0.5 seconds) to that of Motorola’s Droid Bionic (3.7 and 1.6 seconds respectively); he quipped: “I don’t know what Droid Bionic customers have to do between taking pictures . . . like, go get coffee.”
In addition to the improved photographs, the iPhone 4S can now shoot 1080p video at 30 frames per second, a significant upgrade over the 720p capabilities of the iPhone 4. The 4S also includes built-in video stabilization, reducing the amount of apparent camera shake in videos.
When you’re done shooting your video, the footage can be edited on the phone and uploaded directly to YouTube with the iMovie app.
The ability to do many things a la carte on the 4S foreshadows one of the most interesting advances in the phone’s new operating system, iOS 5: the ability to use the phone completely independent of a computer.
Previously iOS devices (iPods, iPads and iPhones) needed to be connected to a computer in order to be set-up and updated. With iOS 5 Apple has included the ability to set-up an iOS device and update it directly from the Internet over Wi-Fi.
This addresses a criticism of iOS devices: that they were unavailable to people who didn’t already own expensive and relatively new computers. This could potentially open up a new market to Apple.
While the iPhone 4S represents a significant upgrade over the iPhone 4 it replaces, some people have criticized Apple for not going far enough — especially by those who had been expecting an all-new iPhone 5. Others have speculated that the iPhone 4S, — which is pretty evenly matched against current competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy SII — might feel outdated when Samsung’s Nexus Prime handset and the latest version of the Android OS are launched later this month.
It is generally accepted that previous iPhones had the hardware and software market pretty much to themselves; it now appears the iPhone 4S will have some genuine competition in Samsung, Android and even Windows Mobile 7 phones. Will the iPhone 4S be able to stand up to the competition?
If the pre-orders — which American carrier AT&T described as “the most successful iPhone launch we’ve ever had” — are anything to go by, it’s apparent that the public has given the iPhone 4S its overwhelming approval.