Thoughts on iPhone 4S

This is the best phone ever made. It will become the fastest-selling consumer electronics device ever. The announcement exceeded my expectations.

Without question, the hardware improvements from 4 to 4S were more substantial than the improvements from 3G to 3GS and arguably more substantial than the 3GS to 4 update. Compared to the 3G to 3GS update, the speed improvements are greater, the camera improvements are comparable, the battery improvements are greater, and the networking improvements are better. But there were three key differences that seemed to put a damper on the 4S announcement this week:

  1. The announcement of the 3GS was accompanied by the unveiling of iOS 3, which brought many new software features to the device as well. This year, the iOS 5 software announcement and iPhone 4S hardware announcement were separate events.  It’s clear there is more potential for mobile software innovation than mobile hardware – and iOS 5 is indubitably the most meaningful iOS update ever.
  2. The form factor remained the same as the iPhone 4.  While some random case manufacturers may have expected otherwise, it should have been clear to the rest of us this would be the case.  And it was the right choice.  Besides incremental speed and camera updates, the iPhone hardware is functionally the same as it was on launch day in 2007.  The form factor has been updated twice – the largest benefit of which is the tangible representation of speed and software improvements that come with it.  Updated form factors drive excitement around product launches, but aren’t necessary to drive sales.  The average consumer is going to buy the iPhone – which ever version is the latest.  Apple geek consumers care about the experience of the device – which relies very little on form factor tweaks.  The 3GS substantially outsold the 3G, and the iPhone 4 is still the best selling phone in the world right now – 16 months after it was released.  There was no need to gratuitously generate extra excitement about improvements to the best-selling phone in the world, especially as there have been no substantial improvements to its competitors.
  3. Tim Cook, Phil Schiller and the other executives presenting clearly, and sadly, knew Steve’s passing was imminent.  Even from watching the event video you could tell something was different.  It wasn’t, as some ridiculous “journalists” wrote, Apple’s demise in the air.  It was Steve Jobs’.  The fate of Steve and Apple are no longer inextricably tied together – which is painful, heavy, and sad, but also encouraging and uplifting.

Most importantly, specific products aren’t intended to be revolutionary.  Apple is helping themselves and helping us by maintaining the same product form factor for two years.  They use this strategy across most of their products, which creates a more sustainable product release schedule for them and a reasonable upgrade schedule for us.

Apple’s updates to the current products won’t show us whether Apple still “has it” without Steve Jobs.  We must wait until next time Apple tries to revolutionize an industry to find that out – and that could still be years away.

UPDATE:
Some are claiming Steve left a four-year product roadmap for Apple.  I’m not convinced that roadmap includes entry into another new industry, but rather contains updates to the current product lines.

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