It's not what you would expect: Apple just announced the next iPhone and its legions of fans are acting... well, disappointed. Today's debut of the iPhone 4S comes as a bit of a surprise. Most of us were waiting with bated breath for the iPhone 5 — Apple's true next-generation smartphone — but here we are with routine upgrade instead. So what's missing in the iPhone 4S that makes it such a letdown? Is it still worth upgrading? Or are those missing features enough to have you holding out for the next generation of Apple's wonder phone?
No Design Upgrades
The iPhone 4S doesn't improve upon the look of its predecessor — in fact, the two phones are essentially identical. While early rumors had pointed to a slimmer, rounded, and maybe even teardrop-shaped iPhone, the iPhone 4S has the same squared-off design we've come to know since Apple unveiled it in 2010. It will come in black and white. The 16GB model starts at $199 with a contract, 32GB costs $299 and a new 64 GB model will be a whopping $399.
Worth Upgrading for Design? No-brainer, not worth it!
While the iPhone 4S may not have a flashy new look, its real changes can be found under the hood. The phone's biggest upgrade is its new dual-core A5 processor. With the A5, the iPhone 4S joins the lightning-fast ranks of the iPad 2 — the other Apple device that runs on the powerful new chip. Processing power may not sound all that exciting, but this performance boost means the iPhone 4S will be blazing fast, with speeds that can double those of the iPhone 4.
Since the iPhone is all about apps, the A5 will make running them a smoother process than ever — a change mobile gamers are sure to celebrate. Apple demonstrated this graphical prowess with Infinity Blade 2, the upcoming sequel to the original iOS role-playing game known for its good looks and lifelike in-game visual effects.
Beyond the processor, the iPhone 4S has a neat trick: it can switch between GSM and CDMA cellular networks. The addition should make toting your iPhone on international trips much less of a hassle, since the phone is built to run on the two major flavors of mobile network around the world. Speaking of networks, Apple announced that Sprint will be the newest carrier for the iPhone, but unfortunately T-Mobile users are left out in the cold again. Sprint's unlimited data plans could make the carrier an very attractive choice for heavy data users.
Worth upgrading for Hardware? Yes. If you have an iPhone 3GS (or even older model), the speed of the new chipset will make navigating your daily tasks on the phone a breeze. iPhone 4 owners could still appreciate the boost, but it isn't a wholly necessary upgrade.
The iPhone 4's camera is widely regarded as the best around, but the iPhone 4S will put the already great camera to shame. In fact, the 4S camera improvements could be Apple's biggest selling point for the 4S.
* 8 mp camera sensor
* 3264 x 2448 maximum resolution
* f/2.4 aperture lets more light in for low-light shooting conditions
* High performance in very bright and very dark conditions (Backside illuminated CMOS)
* Zero shutter lag lets you snap images in quick succession
* Hybrid IR filter allows better color accuracy, more color uniformity.
* Refined LED flash
* 5 element lens assembly that's 30% sharper
* Improved multi-face detection
* Camera app accessible from the lock screen for fast shooting
* 1080p video recording
Worth upgrading for the Camera? For budding mobile photographers and anyone with a 3Gs or older iPhone: Yes. For iPhone 4 owners who only casually use the camera: No.
Hardware That's Missing
What you won't see in the iPhone 4S is NFC (Near Field Communication), a technology that many thought would be included in the update. NFC lets you make mobile payments by using your cell phone as a credit card — just wave the phone over a special sensor to pay.
Something else the iPhone 4S is missing is "true" 4G. The new iPhone offers support for HSPA+, which theoretically doubles the speed of data on AT&T's network — but it's arguably not real 4G. Unfortunately, the 4S can't connect to Verizon's LTE 4G network or Sprint's WiMax 4G network.
Beyond the camera, the iPhone 4S has one more unique selling point: Siri. Siri is a voice command and dictation app that Apple has deeply integrated it into the fabric of the new phone. We knew some interesting voice-to-text features were in the works after Apple acquired Siri last year. For now the app's advanced voice features will be exclusive to the 4S.
Beyond normal dictation in text and email, Siri lets you issue verbal commands that trigger an action on your phone. Android has a similar feature with Google's Voice Actions app, but Siri takes it to the next level: Not only do you speak into your phone, but Siri will talk back with the information you need. As your personal voice guide, Siri can execute many different tasks, but here's a sampling:
* Set a reminder
* Set your alarm
* Send a text
* Check the weather
* Set a meeting
* Send an email
* Look up directions
* Find a phone number
* Conduct a web search
Worth upgrading for Siri? Until it's fully tested, you should hold off if this is your only motivation to upgrade. Then again, Apple doesn't bet the farm on flaky products and they are all in on this one.
The iPhone 4S will run Apple's newest operating system, iOS 5. The new software, which debuts on October 12 for most new iOS devices, features a host of improvements, and the 4S will be the first Apple device to run on the new mobile operating system out of the gate. Some of the new features:
* Drop-down notification menu rather than pop-up alerts
* Improved Safari browser
* Location-triggered reminders (for example, through GPS, your phone could remind you to mail a letter before you leave home)
* iCloud, Apple's new media syncing service for music, photos, videos, and apps
* "PC free" wireless updates that don't require you to plug your device into a computer
* Newsstand for keeping your digital magazine and newspaper subscriptions in one place
* iMessage, a messaging app for communicating with other iOS 5 users
Worth Upgrading for IOS 5? No. You can download a free upgrade to iOS 5 if you have an iPhone 4 or an iPhone 3GS (original iPhone, iPhone 3G, and early iPod touch models will not be upgradable to iOS 5).
More about the new iPhone:
Everything you need to know about the iPhone 4S
iPhone 4S Photo Gallery: 8 fantastic pictures show off the new camera
Apple Showdown: iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4 vs. iPhone 3GS
How to get started with your iPhone: The ultimate guide