Apple iPhone 4S: fast conversation piece

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The new iPhone offers a dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera and Siri, a voice-activated ‘assistant’

The iPhone 4 was a massive upgrade to the iPhone family and it’s fair to say the smartphone market was never the same again. The Retina screen stunned the most cynical of onlookers and the enhanced processing power kick-started the next generation of apps and games. Rivals were left open-mouthed and have been playing catch-up ever since. The fact that iPhone 4 had some problems making actual phone calls proved nothing but a minor headache for Apple, as consumers embraced the immense selection of apps that changed the way we live and work.

While opinion differs on whether Apple scored a dramatic own goal or did precisely the right thing by waiting for Apple design geniuses to come up with the next big thing before christening it ‘iPhone 5’, iPhone 4S pre-orders topped those for the iPhone 4 by almost 40 per cent globally. Apple would suggest that the figures speak for themselves, cynics would say distribution and demand is now higher and some might say that the iPhone 4S would be called iPhone 5 if the casing wasn’t identical to iPhone 4.

The iPhone 4S offers a big processor upgrade that is capable of much more than the ‘S’ name change suggests. The familiar case is (almost) identical to the iPhone 4 design and the only giveaway is two small black strips on the side of the iPhone 4S. This is to combat the antenna problems that plagued the original iPhone 4. Either way, reception through Orange was clear and no calls dropped.

There was no need to use a bumper, case or the variety of add-ons that reduced the iPhone 4’s initial antenna problems.

iOS 5 vs iPhone 4S
In pure tech terms, the iPhone 4S has got double the processor speed thanks to the same dual-core A5 chip that powers the iPad 2. The real question is how much does the iPhone 4S offer someone who has already downloaded iOS 5? A faster processor is great but ultimately it’s the apps (and games) that the processor enables which satisfy and entertain. More than ever before, Apple has focused on its operating system as a unique selling point. Rival manufacturers can always develop faster phones with more features but it’s the user experience of iOS 5 that Apple is banking on alongside the iPhone 4S.

In fact, it’s hard to talk about the features of the iPhone 4S without pointing out the best bits of iOS 5 – the line between software and hardware has become increasingly blurred. Yes, everything is faster, the camera is better and there are more storage options with the 64GB version, but it’s Siri, Apple’s iPhone 4S exclusive voice assistant, that is the extra for iPhone 4S customers, alongside the ability to shoot 1080p video.

Siri – Apple genius?
The idea of using a voice-activated assistant seems both old-fashioned and futuristic, conjuring images of a power-dressing digital personal assistant from the ’80s and a space-age advisor. In reality, Siri isn’t like either of these things. It’s in beta stage at the moment and feels like a fun toy that you know will grow but isn’t really practical at the moment. You hold the home button and ask Siri questions about the weather, restaurants or anything you like. A robotic voice replies. Entertaining, yes. Useful? Maybe. But we found from our tests that it would be quicker just to search yourself.

We got several comical responses and used it for two days before the novelty wore off.

If you’re a business person who is constantly on the road, it’s going to have many uses, but for the majority of iPhone users and Apple fans, it’s an embryonic signpost of things to come.

Full article in Mobile News issue 501 (November 7, 2011).

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