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iPhone 4S unveiled ...so what?

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Do you feel a little underwhelmed that Apple has officially announced the latest version of the iPhone...and it's not an 'iPhone 5', but 'iPhone 4S'? I do, for one simple reason: I have to break my contract with Vodafone and pay a penalty to change phones, and an iPhone 4S just isn't going to do it for me.

The new iPhone looks exactly like the existing model of iPhone, in either black or white. Well, that's not such a bad thing - it's a good design. I definitely prefer it over the iPhone 3's more rounded case.

In its favour, it has a completely revamped interior and packs a lot extra into that form, compared to the iPhone 4.

When the iPhone 3 was replaced by the iPhone 3S, it showed a speed improvement more than anything else. But the 4S, by comparison, does a lot more than the 4.

For a start, and completely as expected, it has the A5 dual-core processor as per the iPad 2, doubling possible processor speed and dramatically increasing graphics performance to up to 7x that of the iPhone 4. But we're not all kids out here in Consumerville, Apple, playing games all day on a device we have to squint at.

It has a new battery, so the 4S should be capable of up to eight hours talk time on 3G, and can continuously play up to 40 hours of music. The external antenna has two aerials and does intelligent antenna switching between them, for increased download speeds of up to twice as fast as the previous model: theoretically 14.4mbs compared to 7.2 in the 4 (and up to 5.8Mbps upload).

The new iPhone is both GSM and CDMA compatible.

Leaving the screen at the same resolution must, at least, be a godsend to developers - actually, why get any better anyway? I can't see the pixels in the 4 anyway.

Also as expected, the camera is better - 8 megapixels for 3264×2448 pixel images. It has a revamped sensor system and 33 per cent faster capture rate. The iPhone 4S rear camera sensor offers 60 per cent more pixels than the iPhone 4 camera sensor. It has a state-of-the-art CMOS backside illumination sensor, offering 73 per cent more light per pixel. The iPhone 4S also takes pictures 33 per cent faster than the iPhone 4: the iPhone 4S can take its first picture in 1.1 seconds, and takes just half-a-second longer to take a second.

The iPhone 4S can capture 1080p video and offers image stabilisation and better colour accuracy, thanks to a hybrid IR filter.

You can now get a whopping 64GB model alongside the 16 and 32GB versions.

The new iPhone 4S also does offer impressive voice control, via Siri technology. That means you can ask it questions - 'what's the weather like?' And it can turn speech into text. You can ask Siri to read messages from the Notification queue, hands-free, so that you're not glancing at your phone when you shouldn't be. You can even use Siri to reply to messages. You can tell Siri to check your calendar and then schedule a meeting. It will be interesting to see how this fares with the New Zild accent.

Beam me up, indeed.

Apple's Phil Schiller announced that the iPhone 4S, like the iPad 2, can do AirPlay mirroring, which lets everything on your screen get streamed wirelessly to the Apple TV. If you don't have an Apple TV, you can use an HDMI cable to mirror that way.

No word on NZ availability, and whether Telecom has scored it or not, but Apple does seem to be adding networks that carry iPhone: as well as being offered on AT&T and Verizon in the US, the iPhone is also now coming to Sprint, which had a million iPhone users already despite not being an official carrier.

No word, either, on what NZ prices might be and when it might show up. I imagine here there will be at least three plans: Expensive, More Expensive and Completely Unaffordable.

Actually, that may be a little unfair - in the US anyway, the unit prices actually dropped a little, and the original iPhone 4 itself has been dropped to US$99, making it a good option for those who don't need faster gaming and a better camera. As the 4 is a damn good smartphone, anyway.

But in the States, pre-orders for the new device start October 7th, with the launch taking place October 14th. It will be priced at US$199, $299 and $399 for 16GB, 32GB and 64GB respectively.

In other announcements, Apple's free iCloud service has received an official debut date (October 12, the same as the free update to iOS, iOS5). iCloud replaces the company's rather maligned NZ$144 MobileMe service. It gives Apple users a central online repository for mail; contacts; calendars; music, TV, app and book purchases; photos; documents; and 5GB backup, and even an email address (you)@me.com - all for free.

Macworld has a lot more about iCloud.

In addition, Apple introduced a new app called Find My Friends, for connecting with friends and family using locations. This is configurable.

In addition, Apple announced that iOS is the number one mobile operating system, with 61 per cent of the market. More than 100,000 developers are already using the iOS 5 developer betas. Apple has sold more than 250 million iOS devices and the App Store now offers more than 500,000 apps, including 140,000 apps optimised for iPad.

Apple has paid out more than US$3 billion to developers from App Store sales.

So, all in all, today's was hardly a whizz-bang, Jobs-style presentation, but under analysis, it heralded some changes that will be welcome to a very many people.

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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