So the iPhone 4S has been announced, and the big question is: is it worth upgrading if you're already an iPhone owner? Gizmodo's editor Alex Kidman is an Apple enthusiast; Lifehacker's editor Angus Kidman less so. But when it comes to this upgrade, they're surprisingly in agreement on the main points.
Lifehacker: Alex, you're a long-term iPhone user. Leaving aside your professional need to play with the latest hardware, would you be tempted to upgrade to the iPhone 4S?
Gizmodo: It's an interesting question, although it should be noted that we're something of an odd couple to discuss it; it seems unlikely you'd ever use an iPhone, and my day to day phone is a Samsung Galaxy S II right now. But then, I never moved up to the iPhone 4 from the 3GS; my 3GS is now my wife's phone, and I've been pondering for a while whether it'd be worth jumping back to iOS when the next phone came out. There is some stuff to like in that arrangement; clearly there's less to be wowed about if you're already an iPhone 4 user.
LH: Yes, that's the nub of it. If you're one of the many, many people I know who were on a two-year contract for the 3GS and were waiting for that to run out before jumping on the upgrade bandwagon, then there's no particular reason not to move to the 4S. But if you're only halfway through a two-year contract, it hardly seems worth paying it out purely to get access to an improved camera and the ability to issue commands in an American accent to your phone. (Yes, I know the claim is that it's Australian "voice ready" but the same claim was made about Android; I'll believe it when I see it.)
To be fair, the other big hardware change is the switch to some kind of multiple antenna/frequency approach. I didn't watch the whole launch presentation; what's your take on that aspect for upgraders?
G: What, you need sleep, or something? That's what coffee abuse is for. That aside, the 'world phone' aspect of the iPhone 4S is arguably of minimal impact for most Australian users, unless you do a lot of travelling and plan to do a lot of swapping out of MicroSIMs. There simply isn't a CDMA network in Australia for users to hook into, and frankly if you are someone who's going to need that CDMA access (predominantly those who travel to the US a lot and for some reason want to use the CDMA networks there), I'd say (without access to the carrier pricing, which we'll presumably get in fairly short order) that buying outright would be your better bet anyway; less stuffing around with either roaming or unlocking issues.
The outright pricing is pretty much in line with what Apple's charged for iPhones in the past; I paid slightly more outright for a 3GS some years ago. My accountant still weeps openly about that.
Voice commands? I've got to be honest here; I don't want to shout at my phone (any phone — be it Android, Windows Phone, whatever) in a public place per se, and I always tend to file voice commands in the same slot as handwriting recognition, simply because it so rarely works.
The other big hardware shift is the camera phone and inclusion of HSDPA for faster data access. Those are the hardware features I'd buy an iPhone for — or to keep my accountant happy, go onto a contract for. Perhaps.
I wrote yesterday that the iPhone launch should matter to Android users, and copped a LOT of flak for it. That's fine (I've got a thick skin), but oddly in retrospect, I still reckon that's right. But for slightly different reasons; Apple has brought itself up to speed with its competition, and that opens up a window of opportunity for the next big thing, if Android, Blackberry or Windows Mobile can pull it off. Do you reckon iPhone users (leaving the fanatics aside) might shift platforms?
LH: I'll note in passing that a footnote on the Apple site says that "CDMA only available if iPhone 4S is sold and activated for use on a CDMA network", so I'm not sure that option will work well even for the world traveller scenario.
I have encountered quite a few people this year who switched from iPhone 3GS to Android because they couldn't see sufficient difference with the iPhone 4, and I guess that thinking will persist for some of them. One thing Apple hasn't done is make any serious push towards the price-conscious end of the market ($449 for a 3GS is still too much for a lot of people), which is one area where Android has made some major inroads. So I wouldn't be surprised if the uptake for 4S isn't quite as broad as we've seen in the past. But don't get me wrong; this thing is still going to sell bucketloads.
On reflection, it also makes sense for Apple to ease up a little on the "here's a brand new phone every year" schtick, if only because of the 24-month contract requirement. If the iPhone 5 hits in 2012, a lot of people will jump straight across from their existing iPhone 4 contract. Happy carriers, happy Apple. But it definitely leaves a gap for 3GS owners who came in late and haven't yet shifted, and that (I guess) is where other manufacturers will take aim.
G: Absolutely. I suspect the survival of the 3GS in the local market has a lot more to do with the 'free' status it's going to enjoy in the US than any desire to sell new 3GS models; it'll quickly be shuffled to the side in most Apple stores, the same way that the iPod Classic is. It's feasible, I guess, that one of the low-cost carriers might grab it as a real bargain basement model, but the profit margins would have to be quite slim there.
Clearly there's a market for the diehard fans who want the latest and greatest, and it's also worth noting that people are very good at losing and breaking smartphones of every stripe; Apple may do well there. It's not quite Apple's fault that the iPhone 4S didn't live up to the rumour hype — Apple itself never promised an iPhone 5 — and it's clear that the company is on a softly-softly approach with this particular generation of iPhone. We still don't know the carrier plan pricing, although it's a fair guess it won't change much to speak of, given Apple's outright pricing. That'll shift opinions one way or another — my own included.