Digesting the iPhone 4S News – What Did and Didn’t Make Sense

Four months ago, if you’d asked me what to expect from the next iPhone (and quite a few people did), I would have described pretty much what we saw yesterday with the iPhone 4S. Of course four months can be such a long time in the Apple world.
Between then and now there’d been so much speculation and rumor from “trusted sources” that I had no idea what to expect yesterday and that helped me avoid the disappointment that’s struck so many pundits today. Still, while the iPhone 4S meets realistic expectations, not everything from yesterday made sense.

What’s in a name?

It was delayed a few months, but Apple stuck to their pattern of releasing an under-the-hood update every other year, as they did with the upgrade from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS. By maintaining the same numeric part of the name, they allow consumers to easily identify the iPhone design by sight, making it easier to shop for cases and other fitted accessories.

That said, given the effort they put into matching up the numbers on the processor (A5) and software release (iOS 5), it was reasonable to expect they’d stick with it for the name. Perhaps Apple felt the sequential naming scheme they’d established with the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 was too predictable.

No new sensor, but Bluetooth 4.0

As it begins to emerge as a standard for payment by phone, NFC was anticipated as being the new sensor for this year’s iPhone, just as other sensors, like the magnetometer and gyroscope, were added in previous models. But not only was there no NFC, but there was no new sensor this year.

Unannounced, however, was the upgrade to Bluetooth 4.0, a low energy version of the wireless technology that is often seen as a competitor to NFC. Personally, I don’t see this as a replacement for NFC. NFC as a payment method makes sense because of its extremely close range. The range on Bluetooth 4.0 (up to 50 m) would make it too easy to set up a skimmer near a legitimate point of sale.

The real utility of Bluetooth 4.0 will be for connecting to low-powered remote devices and sensors, like smart watches and blood pressure monitors. This makes real sense for the iPhone with its army of accessory partners. Apple, having already snuck Bluetooth 4.0 into the new Macbook Air, undoubtedly plans to tie this wireless standard into their ecosystem.

Why no iPod updates?

Speaking of Apple’s ecosystem, while no iPods got the axe that had been expected, there were no substantial updates either. The iPod nano got some watch faces, which makes it look more like it could be Apple’s smart watch, but it didn’t get Bluetooth, which would have made such functionality possible. That may yet come, but as of now, the iPod nano cannot function as a smart watch (or connect to wireless headphones).

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An iPod nano with Bluetooth is a little optimistic, but an iPod touch optimized for gaming performance is completely realistic, yet that didn’t happen either. Update was price and color only. No A5 processor in the “new” iPod touch, which they tout as a gaming machine.

It is possible Apple is saving real iPod updates for a later date, so as not to overlap with their iPhone update. Traditionally, the iPod touch does not get the new iPhone processor until months later. Furthermore, the first game to require the A5′s power, Infinity Blade 2, won’t be released until December. But there’s only a month window left to release an updated iPod touch in time for the holiday shopping season.

They’re still supporting the 3GS?

Between the free on contract pricing and outdated specs, the 3GS has become the equivalent of Apple’s feature phone. That makes sense. What I’m wondering is how much longer Apple plans on supporting this two-year old model.

When Apple announced that iOS 5.0 would run on the 3GS, everyone expected it would be its last update. But actually selling the 3GS with iOS 5.0 pre-loaded implies that it will continue to get updates, potentially through the next two iOS versions. I wouldn’t bet on it going that far, but it is reasonable to expect a phone bought new from the manufacturer will get the next available software update.

Where’s Sprint?

While Sprint got a minor shout-out at the iPhone 4S event, we’ve noticed that they’ve been surprisingly low-key about the news, instead asking folks to “stay tuned” for their upcoming announcements.

Further adding to the oddity is that they’re listed as on Apple’s site as “coming soon”, implying they might not be onboard for the iPhone 4S launch. That seems like a pretty major problem for a carrier that reportedly “bet the company” on this phone.

Sprint has an event scheduled for October 7th to talk strategy. Adding the iPhone 4S to their line is surely part of that strategy, especially if they’ve committed to as many as has been reported. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also the day that iPhone 4S pre-orders begin. I’m not going to hold my breath for that Sprint-exclusive iPhone 5, but they need something to either explain or disprove the reported iPhone commitment.

Overall, while I don’t think anyone is wrong to be disappointed, it seems to me the real problem with the iPhone 4S event is that everything is later than expected. The iPhone 4S is the iPhone I expected in summer. iPod updates are yet to come. Sprint seems to be late for the launch. Delays equal disappointment.

Maybe the Japan tsunami is to blame. Maybe there was internal friction due to the CEO transition. Maybe it was all iOS 5.0. Whatever. The expectations got ahead of Apple and they could not catch up this time. Of course, this will hardly matter to their target audience. They’re still iPhones and they now have a wider range of entry prices and carriers, which is key on most people’s wishlists. Late or not, the iPhone will continue to be a gold mine for Apple.

  

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