After months of the usual hoopla from fan boys in the media and supposedly leaked images of a next great iPhone to take back the lead from Android gizmos, Apple yesterday unveiled a new model that can be best described in a word: underwhelming.
The iPhone 4S comes with improvements like a dual-core chip, a better 8-meg camera, improved notifications with the new iOS5 software and a claimed 200 new features. But an iPhone 5 this is not, and to take back market share from the Android OS is a task it is clearly not up to.
Essentially, this is an iPhone that shows that Apple has become a follower for features that have already been in the market months, even years, ago.
Let’s start with Siri, a voice command feature touted by Apple folks yesterday. Sure, it does cool stuff like making phone calls and scheduling appointments, but what’s new and innovative here when Google has had these functions all this while? Perhaps the fact that it can “understand” human speech and fire up the appropriate tasks, as the ever Apple-friendly New York Times points out. Perhaps.
The same feeling of “been there, done that” can be attributed to the iCloud service that Apple is squarely aiming at Google. But we already have Gmail, Google Docs and YouTube well built into Android phones, so why does anyone but Apple fans need yet another third-party service to complicate things?
Apple has, in the past, brushed aside grouses against its tight control over how you can use your phone or how much leeway developers can have in making iOS apps, but this draconian strategy of making people give up flexibility for great design and usability is surely up for questioning now.
Investors certainly reacted, dumping shares throughout the day until Apple’s stock fell by as much as 5 per cent. The losses were reversed by the end of trading, but the sharp reaction reflected the widespread disappointment felt immediately on social media networks like Twitter and Facebook.
It didn’t help that, for the first time in years, it was not Steve Jobs and his black turtleneck in the spotlight last night, but new man at the helm, Tim Cook, who sold the new product to the masses. This was a show-and-tell that even the most ardent of fan boys will be forced to admit: the iPhone 4S is old wine in new bottles.
Even the case looks the same. The good old 3.5-inch screen, though one of the sharpest in the business, is looking small and dated next to the 4.3-inchers from Android today, like the HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy S II.
And while Android has long allowed for live widgets and other customisations on screen, the same old icon-based menu greets iPhone 4S users when they fire up the new iOS5. Apple is playing catchup and this time, it’s obvious even to non-techie users.
The bad news for Apple is that it is no longer the leader and will find it even tougher to push back the Android advance. It will still sell lots of iPhones 4S phones, but it will likely not haul back the lead that Android-based devices have gained in the past year.
In the second quarter of 2011, Android phones accounted for 43.4 per cent of smartphones in the world, up from just 17.2 per cent a year ago, according to research firm Gartner. Apple, meanwhile, stays third with a 4.1 percentage point gain to grab 18.2 per cent of the share (second is Symbian, despite having its share halved from 40 per cent a year ago). Remember, that slim margin of share gained for Apple was helped by a successful iPhone 4 launch.
How will the “upgrade model”, an iPhone 4S, fare? It won’t be a flop, for sure, because it is still a competent phone that competes well, especially when the basic 16GB model sells for an attractive US$199 in the United States, with a telco contract. In Apple-mad Singapore, you can except long lines of fans queueing up for one when it comes to the three telcos here later this month.
But to many other users, this iPhone 4S will be underwhelming and basically more of the same, after the competition has already moved far ahead. Tellingly, the number of anguished iPhone users asking the question “should I switch to Android” might just pop up on your Facebook updates more often than before.
In the coming weeks, you’ll probably hear how great all the upgrades are under the hood, as the New York Times has already reminded us. Or that things “just work” with Apple products (except its website yesterday, which buckled under the load for long periods during the launch). You might even hear Apple fans bringing up that old nugget – viruses will harm your Android phones, just like Windows.
But the truth is, this is one iPhone to skip. For those who have held out for an iPhone 5 all this while, believing the rumour mill that a world-beating, magical Apple gizmo would replace your current model, it’s time to check out an Android or a Windows Phone 7.5 device.
Say goodbye to the endless restrictions from Apple – an outdated icon-driven menu and a lack of a memory card slot, to name but two – because the trouble is just not worth it any more. Clearly now, there are better alternatives.