Measuring Apple’s iPhone 4S Rollout

| Editorial

There’s always a gap between our starry-eyed hopes and what’s practical for Apple to deliver. However, Apple knows that, so it’s important for us to be as practical about our reaction as Apple was in its preparation.

Amidst expectations for a mythical iPhone 5, Apple did a lot of things right today, but in a low-key, subtle way. Sometimes that confuses investors, and it takes awhile to digest the impact of Apple’s decisions. For example, I get the feeling many people were hoping for a blockbuster iPhone 5 that would have 4G, a bigger display, and an ice cream dispenser.

Here’s what Apple did right.

1. Tim Cook. Mr. Cook distributed the presentation, utilizing the strengths of various speakers. He didn’t try to grandstand, pretending to be the next great orator. By bringing in Scott Forstall, Eddie Cue and Phil Schiller, Mr. Cook demonstrated wisdom, respect for his team, leadership and teamwork. And Apple’s Town Hall was the right size facility for the scope of the event.

2. 4G isn’t nearly ready. 4G is a mess of terminology. Does 4G mean Wi-Max (Sprint), LTE or something else? Like a bridge technology of HSPA+, the so-called 3.5G. The fact is, AT&T just rolled out 4G/LTE in only five cities in September: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. We’re a long way from ubiquitous 4G in the U.S. that merits an iPhone dedicated to that service.

I surmise the iPhone 5, next summer or autumn will be a 4G phone. In addition, the current 4S is going to make it a lot easier and more cost effective for Apple and its carriers to sell the iPhone. That’s more financial leverage for Apple.

3. Siri is important, and we haven’t yet begun to understand it’s potential impact. Because of that, investors seemed confused about Apple’s prospects today. However, as we start using it, we’ll start to have a better feeling for how Apple’s push to this technology will change our lives. It’s a true Star Trekian future of conversing with our devices instead of staring at them with eyes glazed over. I’m beting it’s a game changer, but it’ll also be an intangible for awhile longer.

4. Apple knew better than to disappoint or alarm customers with any announcements of iPod cancellations. The sand charts that I’ve shown in my Particle Debris blog show that Apple still makes good money from all kinds of iPods. When it’s time for some of them to die, the sales numbers will tell the story, not false expectations. Not every teenager can afford a two year iPhone contract, and I expect the new, white, iPod touches will sell like hotcakes.

It would be easy to be disgruntled. It’s a lot harder to digest how Apple sizes up the marketplace and just keeps on delivering products that customers want. As we move into the holiday season, it’ll become clear, for the umpteenth time, that that customers continue to have an appetite for Apple’s product line and that sensationalism and slam-dunk victories are more appropriate for video games and movies than they are for Apple in a rough and tumble smartphone competition.

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Comments

jfbiii

Siri looks like a win, I just hope it works as well as it does in the video. I’m wary.

ilikeimac

Why does Apple put “beta” next to Siri on their website?

http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/siri.html

Is it not going to be in iOS 5.0.0 but some update instead (iOS 5.1?) Or are they just pulling a Google and trying to keep expectations low?

Nemo

John:  I am in accord with what you say here, but Apple did make a big mistake in introducing the iPhone 4S today.  Because Apple has so little opportunity to control expectations before its events, it certainly needs to do so, I think, during its event, if not at the beginning of its events.  Someone, Tim Cook or someone else, needed to clearly state what Apple was bringing to market with the iPhone 4S and why it will significantly and, perhaps, greatly enhance its user’s experience.  And that statement needs to be reinforced with demos that back it up.  But we got neither the statement or the demos.  In fact, today’s event was nearly blacked-out:  small venue, limited list of invitees, no online streaming.  So even if the iPhone 4S is an excellent upgrade or even a great product, it would be hard for us to know it, or even why Apple decided to bring it to market.

The iPhone 4S appears to be an excellent evolution of the iPhone.  The A5 processor offer a seven fold increase in graphics performance, and as you say, supra, Siri is important, better than any competing product, and may yet prove to be revolutionary.  And I think the dual mode capability of the iPhone 4S is unique and will be useful for those who do a lot of international travel.  But even a very good product, a product that is best in its class, can use a bit of show about why we should give a damn.

Now, after introducing the iPhone 4S, what appears at least to be a significant improvement of a best in class product, Apple still needs to introduce the iPhone 4S.

Nemo

The video for the launch even is now available on line.  I hope that the video will be more impressive than the real-time reporting about it.

Lee Dronick

Why does Apple put ?beta? next to Siri on their website?

Maybe it is pre-damage control. If there are problems with it, garbles, then they could claim that it is still beta.

Yes, it “sounds” interesting. Great for true hands-off phone use while driving, operating machinery, and so on.

Terrin

I was utterly disappointed. I acknowledge the 4GS is a significant improvement over the last generation phone. However, I have a bit of vanity in me. I am not locking myself into another two year contract for a phone that looks exactly like the model it replaces. I want people to be as excited about my purchase as myself. “Hey is that the new iPhone.” If I buy this phone, nobody will even know I have the next and greatest device. Again, I am vain, I know it.

Moreover, the hardware shares many of the same components as the iPad, which was released six months ago. So, in my mind, Apple could have added these improvements a long time ago. When you have to wait six months for an update you were expecting months before, you want to feel the wait was worth it. Yet, once the iPad was released, you expected these components to be added to the iPhone. There was no need to wait six months. There are some camera enthusiast sites out there that point out Apple’s current 5 Meg is better then the 8 Meg camera’s on the market in many ways because the 8 Meg cameras do not perform as well low light.

In addition, I understand Apple has to be cautious about making radical hardware changes, as it is selling the number one phone. However, some of those Android Phones with larger screens resembling iPhones look great. I am not jumping ship, but I am a bit envious because I think the iPhone screen should be slightly larger, and was excited by the rumor mill suggesting this change was coming.

I respect Apple’s desires for secrecy, but it should manage expectations better. With the exception of Siri, which I probably would not use much, I can gain all the enhancements for the OS for free. As the current iPhone 4 performs great, I see no compelling need to upgrade.

webjprgm

Why does Apple put ?beta? next to Siri on their website?

They said (if I understood the presentation right) that it was because it only has 3 languages right now.  Presumably the “beta” tag goes away when they have more.

But of course it could also be an expectations thing.

ilikeimac

I am not locking myself into another two year contract for a phone that looks exactly like the model it replaces.

I think a lot of people will feel the same, but it’s no coincidence that Apple kept the basic look of the 3G in the 3GS and now the 4 in the 4S. Most phones come with 2 year contracts, so most people only upgrade every 2 years and wouldn’t be enticed to upgrade sooner by a new look. But when their contract is up they’re more likely to stick with an iPhone if it has a new look. I still have a 3GS so I am definitely upgrading.

Lee Dronick

I think a lot of people will feel the same, but it?s no coincidence that Apple kept the basic look of the 3G in the 3GS and now the 4 in the 4S. Most phones come with 2 year contracts, so most people only upgrade every 2 years and wouldn?t be enticed to upgrade sooner by a new look. But when their contract is up they?re more likely to stick with an iPhone if it has a new look. I still have a 3GS so I am definitely upgrading.

A plus, for my needs, with the iPhone 4S having the same dimensions is that the accessories for the iPhone4 should fit. When I bought my iPad2 there weren’t too many cases/covers for it.

My wife and I both have an iPhone 3GS so yes we too will be upgrading. The question is what size. Our phones are 16GB and it has been enough, but I need to think about the future so the 32GB is not out of consideration.

Terrin

I get this, however, Apple waited closer to a year and a half so the two year mark is approaching rather soon.

Also, I suspect many people do as my friend does. Every year he upgrades because it doesn’t cost him anything. He sells his old model to people who use them unlocked.

I think a lot of people will feel the same, but it?s no coincidence that Apple kept the basic look of the 3G in the 3GS and now the 4 in the 4S. Most phones come with 2 year contracts, so most people only upgrade every 2 years and wouldn?t be enticed to upgrade sooner by a new look. But when their contract is up they?re more likely to stick with an iPhone if it has a new look. I still have a 3GS so I am definitely upgrading.

Terrin

That is a good point that I haven’t heard anybody bring up yet.

A plus, for my needs, with the iPhone 4S having the same dimensions is that the accessories for the iPhone4 should fit. When I bought my iPad2 there weren?t too many cases/covers for it.

greatgazoo192

Moreover, the hardware shares many of the same components as the iPad, which was released six months ago. So, in my mind, Apple could have added these improvements a long time ago. When you have to wait six months for an update you were expecting months before, you want to feel the wait was worth it. Yet, once the iPad was released, you expected these components to be added to the iPhone. There was no need to wait six months.

Terrin:  Your statements overlook two fundamental facts of integrated circuits:
1) Just because someone can make something doesn’t mean they can immediately make an infinite number of them.  It would have taken the fabs building the A5 processor time to ramp up production sufficiently to support both iPad 2 demand and a new iPhone rollout.  I’d be willing to bet until recently every A5 coming out of the fabs was immediately going into iPads and being sold to customers.
2) The iPad 2 has a much larger battery capacity (25 watt-hour compared to a phone’s ~1.5watt-hour) and better heat dissipation characteristics than a phone.  Taking the performance that works in an iPad and squeezing it into a phone is NOT a trivial task.  It surely took time and engineering to optimize the A5 (reduce power consumption and heat generation) before they could release an A5 based phone.

Nemo

Terrin:  You are talking through you hat.  Siri alone would have taken 18 months to do.  Siri is AI on a smartphone.  That Apple got it done in 18 months, if it lives up to its billing, is rather remarkable, and Siri itself promises to be quite a treat.  So if you need to show something off to your friends, Siri alone may do the trick.

Then there is the dual-mode chips, which I think is from Qualcomm.  That too is quite an achievement.  Apple started working on that chip with Qualcomm more than two years ago.  The trick was reducing the size and power requirement of the dual-mode chip.  Now, I don’t know whether the dual-mode chip is going to be exclusive to Apple or whether Qualcomm is free to sell it to others, but the work that it took to get that chip to fit into the iPhone 4S, with 8 hours of talk time, is also another remarkable engineering achievement and one that I don’t think any other smartphone has today.

Of course, getting the A5 chip down to size and power consumption requirements for an iPhone is no mean feat.

And the new iPhone 4S also promise another major advance in antenna technology which should not only improve reception but reduce power consumption, and I think that is a patented Apple technology.

Of course, the iPhone 4S’s form factor has not changed, but that is probably because the form factor is optimal for the iPhone 4S’s function.  Of course, Apple could have made something that looked new and maybe even cooler at the expense of working less well, but that has never been Apple’s philosophy of design, at least not under Jony Ive and Steve Jobs.  Ive’s philosophy has always been the idea that form follows function to create a great user’s experience, and dose so, so perfectly that design melts away as a conspicuous ornament.  And I doubt that Tim Cook will change that philosophy of design.

So, for those of us who buy our tech because it impresses us rather than our friends, the iPhone 4S seems to have more than enough to deserve our patronage.  However, even for those who buy their technology to impress others, the iPhone 4S’s subtle and less conspicuous virtues, once revealed, will both still be best in class and should sufficiently impress.

And if the iPhone 4S does not impress someone, you can content yourself with the fact that it does its work better than any other smartphone and does that work with some unique capabilities that make using the iPhone 4S quicker, easier, and more intuitively.

geoduck

I found the presentation to be a big disappointment. (See my comments on Ted’s article Keynote Disappoints, iPhone 4S Does Not). The 4S is a great unit but I’m not interested in one. The rest was very lacking

Siri looks incredible. However it won’t run on my iPod Touch, or any older iPhones. If you want to have a revolutionary technology you have to get it out there. Siri could very well end up like FaceTime, great technology that few use. Within six months Google will have a rip off copy while most Apple customers will look longingly at Siri but can’t use it.

Seriously, the iPhone 4S uses much the same hardware as the iPad2. Why won’t Siri run on the iPad2?

wab95

John:

I agree with your assessment, both with respect to strategy and specs (notably 4G).

I also share many of the sentiments voiced by Nemo above, specifically those related to managing expectations. This is always going to be one of Apple’s greatest challenges.

Just a quick response before attending to my duties. At a gut level, I had felt the 4S rollout more likely than the 5, for several reasons (happy to post those later, if anyone’s curious), although I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised with an iPhone 5 release. I use the word ‘pleasantly’ with caution, however, as I think for many Apple clients, the initial euphoria around the device’s release would have given way to dissatisfaction in certain areas where the supportive technologies are simply not quite ready.

In my view, most of the upgrade features sought for an iPhone 5 are in the 4S, with the notable exception of form factor change and larger screen size (if that is going to happen). Siri took many by surprise, and most likely do not suspect how much this technology can potentially evolve over time. Thus, this release is as notable and instructive for what it did not do as for what it did.

Apple will need to give more thought about managing popular expectations by retaining tight control over their message and explaining both what they have done and what they have not. If they do not, they risk a de facto surrender of their message to critics who will cast absent features as failures and missed deadlines, despite Apple, then as now, having never committed to specific features in an anticipated refresh.

As for this release, I plan to swap my ageing 3GS for the 4S, max out the storage and get to know Siri.

Patients are now inbound.

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