Oct. 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM ET
Apple's new hardware introductions showcased the iPhone 4S Tuesday. Though it looks the same as its predecessor on the outside, it has some powerful upgrades under the hood.
The iPhone 4S is the flagship and will be available on Oct. 14 in the U.S. It will be carried by AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — yes, Sprint is finally getting the iPhone. There will be a $199 16GB model, a $299 32GB one and an all-new 64GB version for $399. The iPhone 4 will still sell, for $99, in an 8GB version, and there will be a 3GS for free with carrier contract.
There is a new dual-core A5 processor — the same one that's found in the iPad — but despite the increased power, there's improved battery life, including up to 8 hours of 3G talk time. There is also a redesigned smarter antenna. You will also be able to download data twice as fast, up to 14.4 megabits per second, similar to many "4G" phones on AT&T.
There's an 8-megapixel camera — 3264 x 2448 pixels. But it's not just crammed-in pixels, says Phil Schiller, worldwide marketing VP. The new camera can gather 73 percent more light per pixel than the iPhone 4, using the new kind of CMOS. There are five custom lenses, and lens aperture of f/2.4, which is better for low light.
The same camera is used to take 1080p HD video, with real-time video image stabilization. And with AirPlay, you can do HD wireless or HDMI video mirroring from phone to the TV. Pretty awesome, actually.
The key feature for the iPhone 4S is Siri, an assistant that replaces the not-so-hot Voice Command function. You get to it by holding down the home button. It's true artificial intelligence. You can ask "Do I need a raincoat today?" and Siri replies "It sure looks like rain today," and brings up the weather tile. You can use it to set alarms, read messages, search for restaurants, and other stuff. It may sound conventional, but I'll be honest, it's pretty amazing in the demo.
It knows how many days until Christmas. It knows the exchange rate of Euro to Dollar. Best example: "Remind me to call my wife when I leave work." Siri knows who your wife is, knows the "geo fence" around your work that it needs to monitor, and when you cross the threshold, it tells you to call the right person.
There's a Siri guide so you can figure out all the things you can do, otherwise you would definitely be lost.
When Tuesday's event started, Tim Cook took the stage at Apple HQ for his first product launch since taking over as CEO of Apple. After an introduction where he focused on the explosion of Apple's retail operation, particularly in China, he jumped into an overview of the company's products. Then his deputies came out to share product news.
Scott Forstall, VP of software, showed off a new app called Cards, and announced that the anticipated iOS 5 would be available Oct. 12 for both iPad generations, iPhone 3GS or newer, and the two most recent iPod Touches. It will be free to all. iCloud will launch at the same time.
Schiller also introduced a sorta new iPod family. The new Nano looks the same, but has an improved multi-touch interface and better fitness functionality. You can now go for a run, without adding any extra hardware. There are now 16 new clock faces, "for the people who like to wear it as a watch." New pricing: $149 for 16GB and $129 for 8GB.
There's also a "new" iPod Touch. It's not exactly redesigned, but you can get it in white, and the 8GB starts at $199. It runs iOS5 and will be available Oct. 12 as well.
Health of the company
Not surprisingly, Cook said Apple products are doing well, and that the MacBook Pro and iMac are currently the No. 1 laptop and desktop in the country. Apple's computer market share is 23 percent.
As for iPods, they have sold over 300 million of them worldwide, 45 million alone in June 2010 to June 2011. Many of those are going to first iPod owners. Cook suggests iPod is a gateway drug to more Apple products.
When it comes to iPhone, Cook says it's the No. 1 smartphone worldwide, and has the highest customer satisfaction ratings according to several different surveys. Nevertheless, it's a 5 percent share of phones worldwide. "It's an enormous opportunity for Apple," says Cook, explaining that the phone market is close to 1.5 billion.
He moves on to iPad, talking about how impactful it's been in schools, medical facilities and even on airplanes, where he says iPads make the plane more fuel efficient by replacing a 40-lb. bag of paper manuals. He says 92 percent of Fortune 500 companies are testing or deploying iPads. (A test could be one unit purchased by IT, though.) Still, iPad is "undisputed, top-selling tablet in the world. And despite everybody and their brother trying to compete with iPad, three out of four tablets selling in the U.S. are iPads." (What are the other quarter buying?)
All told, iOS devices have sold 250 million worldwide. Apple is saying that iOS is the No. 1 mobile OS, but that includes iPads and iPod Touches.
After Cook, Forstall took the stage. He started by telling about an app called Cards. You build a card on your iPhone or iPad, order itfor $2.99 ($4.99 worldwide), and have it sent to someone. Best of all, when it arrives, a return receipt can be pushed to your iPhone.
Forstall then discussed many of the features of iOS 5 that we're already looking forward to, including new Safari and Mail, improved Camera, plus new features like PC Free wireless updates, Twitter integration and Reader. iOS 5 will be available free for compatible devices Oct. 12.
Eddie Cue, SVP of Internet services, went over iTunes in the Cloud, Photo Stream and Documents in the Cloud, and then talked about a "whole lot more," such as apps and books syncing across multiple devices. iCloud also does a daily Backup of "most important data" from all your iOS devices, so you can automatically restore it. Calendars are shared across everything. And Cue says Me.com will be an ad-free mail service.
Cue introduced Find My Friends, a new app that lets you locate — any guesses? — family and friends. There are parental controls, and you can give people temporary access, so they know where to find you, but don't get all creepy stalkery.
Cue also showed off iTunes Match, which lets you sync not just music from your computer to iTunes, but playlists and other stuff too. It will cost $29.99 per year.
We're here in suddenly sunny Cupertino, Calif. for Apple's iPhone press event, where a new iPhone is a sure thing. But will it be the iPhone 5 or the iPhone 4S? The result could mean renewed dominance for Apple, or a bit of a falter.
Inside Infinite Loop's Town Hall, people gather to eat breakfast and chat, but there's definitely tension in the air. Apple has kept more under wraps for this launch than any previous launch in recent memory. At least until a few leaks in this past hour.
Mystery abounds, but we're sure we're in for a lot of exciting news on both the hardware and software fronts. Let's not forget iCloud and iOS 5, two big leaps for Apple — and free upgrades for the millions of existing iPhone users.
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