Apple, Inc., announced its new iPhone today -- a powerful updated model called the iPhone 4S, but a disappointment to investors and the tech world because it wasn't a completely-new iPhone 5 people had come to expect.
Apple stock, which had been up on a down day, dropped more than 4 percent as the product rollout went on at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. -- never mind that the 4S had many of the features widely expected in an iPhone 5.
On the outside, the 4S is similar to the phone Apple has been selling for more than a year. But with an A5 processor (the same that runs the iPad 2) and dual-core graphics, Apple said it would be up to seven times faster than its predecessor. With both GSM and CDMA transmitters, it will be a phone that can be used in most countries around the world.
Perhaps the most striking new feature was called Assistant -- software that allows an iPhone user to work the apps in the phone by talking to it. As demonstrated by Apple, it can give you voice directions to the most highly-rated restaurants near you, help you exchange money if you're abroad, or set an alarm to wake you in the morning, all without the user having to enter any information manually.
This kind of intelligence is something that has been hard to package in a consumer device. The software, developed by an Apple subsidiary called Siri, understands spoken nuances -- so that if one asks it, "What is the weather like today?" or "Do I need a raincoat?" it will come back with the same, correct, answer.
Apple's Phil Schiller showed how it could take dictation, read one's text messages aloud, and accept verbal requests to search the Web. When asked, "Tell me about Neil Armstrong," the phone's screen showed Armstrong's Wikipedia page.
The company said the phone has a powerful camera, capable of shooting still pictures in dim light with an f/2.4 lens, and 1080p high-definition video with automatic stabilization.
Prices for the iPhone 4S ranged from $199 with 16 GB of memory to $399 with 64 GB. It will come in a black or white case. An earlier model, the iPhone 3GS, will now be free with a cellphone contract. The new lineup, Apple said, will be available in the U.S. on Oct. 14. The iPhone 4S will be offered by Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and -- for the first time, Sprint Nextel.
Presiding over the announcement was Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO and Steve Jobs' chosen sucessor. "I love Apple," he said. "I am very excited about this new role."
Apple knocked down speculation that the iPod music player, which revolutionized the recording industry when it was introduced a decade ago, would disappear. "We're still making iPods," said Apple's Phil Schiller, before showing off enhancements to the iPod Nano, including an option that turns the little mp3 player into a Mickey Mouse watch.
Some other products included:
iOS5, a new operating system for iPads and iPhones. It has 200 new features, Cook said. He highlighted 10 updated apps, such as Camera, which allows one to zoom in on a subject in a picture by pinching the picture on one's touch screen.
Twitter will integrate into the operating system. Once you log onto your Apple device, Cook said, you'll have logged onto Twitter as well, so users can tweet photos, videos and locations seamlessly.
A new app called Find My Friends shows you if your kids, carrying iPhones, made it to school or exactly where your buddies are at the beach. It comes with privacy and parental controls, just one of the features of iCloud. iCloud stores music, photos, books and apps and syncs them across all your Apple devices automatically and wirelessly. The free service comes with 5GB of free storage.
Cards, a new mobile app for an iPhone or iPad allows users to write messages to friends or loved ones, transmit the wirelessly and have them printed on high-quality paper for delivery through old-fashioned mail. Price: $2.99 per card in the United States. The app itself, for download after Oct. 12, will be free.
It was the first major product announcement Apple has made since Jobs, its co-founder and one of the great technological innovators of recent decades, stepped down as Apple's CEO. Jobs announced in August that his health would force him to hand off day-to-day leadership. He remains a the company's chairman.
People who watch the company said Jobs' hand was clearly in the design of the new phone. Jobs has famously resisted market research in the development of Apple's lineup. "We just want to make great products," he has said more than once.
The iPhone has been America's iconic smartphone since the first version was released in 2007, though phones running on Google's Android software now outsell it by a 2-to-1 ratio. Cook said Apple has 5 percent of the overall market in cellphone handsets, though it certainly has enjoyed more media coverage and attention from consumers.
Cook cited surveys showing that 96 percent of users of existing iPhone models said they were "very satisfied" or better with their purchases.
Cook pointed out that 23 percent of personal computers sold today are made by Apple. He called it a stunning accomplishment given their premium niche status just a few years ago.
Cook said the iPod continues its dominance of the music player market, with over 300 million sold since 2002 and 45 million sold in just the last year. Over 16 billion songs have been sold through the iTunes store.
"I am so proud," said Cook as he wrapped up the announcement.
Users on Twitter were less kind. As one put it, "It's like expecting George Clooney and getting your old boyfriend in a new car."