Reading the coverage of the announcement of the iPhone 4S, you’d probably think the new model dud. You could sum up many of the reports from the Apple event, where it and the final version of iOS 5 were formally introduced to the world, in three words: is that it?
Yet pre-orders topped one million of the first day, easily beating the previous record of 600,00 set by the iPhone 4. And, unsurprisingly to everyone who isn’t a technology pundit, the lines snaked around Apple stores as incredibly eager people queued for hours to het hold of one. We eventually learned that the iPhone4S sold four million in its first few days.
The pundits, as usual with Apple products, were wrong. Far from being a dud, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that at some point in this year. Apple will issue a press release that calls the iPhone 4S the biggest selling iPhone ever.
But the tech press’s disappointment with the iPhone 4S wasn’t entirely irrational, even if it was misplaced/ The iPhone 4S is a solid upgrade in hardware terms and in particular fixes the one big weakness of the iPhone 4S, in shape of the camera. The biggest and most exciting new feature was Siri, the voice command software that borders on artificial intelligence and it’s something that’s really hard to understand the value of without trying it for yourself.
Those expecting Apple to truly push the envelope in terms of hardware design, though, were forgetting their history. Apple has rarely made products that adopt bleeding edge technology with more radical software changes.
Take, for example the original iPhone. At a time when it was hard to buy anything other than a 3G phone, the iPhone used EDGE instead. The camera was barley worthy of the name. It wasn’t particularly thin or light and lets not forget you couldn’t even write native software for it. But what it did have was excellent usability, thanks to its software and large touchscreen and with decent battery life thanks to the lower powered EDGE radio.
Likewise, the iPhone 4S forsakes 4G in favour of having a battery designed to last longer than its predecessor and improves the camera not simple by piling on megapixels but by clever use of software along with solid hardware.
It’s an object lesson of the apple way, the method of incremental improvement that the company has adopted to create great products. Where other companies would simple have out in a 12 pr 16 megapixel camera and a 4G radio, so they could add a couple of extra line items to their product description, Apple focuses on improving the experience for the user. It combines software and hardware to achieve that goal. The question isn’t how many megapixels does this camera have? Its: does this phone take a great pictures? And the answer is yes. Yes. It does of course having delivered what the technology press regard as an incremental upgrade, speculation will immediately start that an iPhone 5 is on its way.
And, of course, the speculation is correct: at some point, there will be another model iPhone and unless something goes very wrong. It will be a big improvement over the 4S. But obsessing about what it is and wheather to hold off on buying a 4S is something best left to the pundits. Regular people those who’ve pre-ordered the iPhone 4S in droves aren’t really playing that game.