Saturday, February 25, 2012

Should You Get the iPhone 4S?

A repost of my Tumblr blog post...

Whenever a new Apple product comes out, I get questions from my friends on my opinion on the new stuff (like my post last year on the iPhone 4 launch, or here with my comments on the first iPad launch)... With last Friday's launch of the new iPhone 4S, here's my take on it.

First, if you have the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 already, make sure you understand that Apple launched two separate things last week: a new operating system for the iPhone called iOS 5, as well as a brand new iPhone--the iPhone 4S. You do not need to get the new iPhone to take advantage of iOS 5, as this new operating system works for older iPhones--not just the new iPhone 4S.

iOS 5

The new iOS 5 operating system is a HUGE software update that is free to existing iPhone users, so make sure you look into all the new operating system has to offer before determining if you should get the iPhone 4S.

Notification Center: iOS 5 brings a new integrated (and awesome) Notification Center--eliminating those annoying and disruptive alerts you previously received on the iPhone interrupting whatever you were doing on your iPhone whenever you received a new text message, email, or other alert. Previously, you had to clear the alert before you could continue whatever you were doing. Now, all alerts come in at the very top of the screen in a smaller, less obtrusive banner that flips in and out, so you could choose to just ignore it and continue with what you were doing. All notifications and alerts can be viewed together by opening the Notification Center by sliding your finger down from the top of the screen. This view is very similar to how Android OS devices handle alerts, and is really the best of way for users to manage/interact with them. You can configure what alerts you want to show up there in the 'Settings', and it comes with a Stocks and Weather widget. After using iOS 5 as a beta tester for the last 3 months, I've found the Notification Center to be the best improvement to the operating system.

iCloud: iOS 5 also brings a breakthrough capability with iCloud, which allows over the air (OTA) backups to be done, as well as OTA synchronization with iTunes for across all of your other iOS devices (like your other iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches) for Photos, Documents, Email, Calendars and Contacts. This capability enables users to realistically never have to plug your iPhone or iPad into a computer to backup and sync your data and media. iTunes music match will also come out soon to iOS 5 devices, enabling you to take CD's you have and digitally convert these to songs into your music library--it'll cost an extra charge a year to do this, but I think it'll be worth it.

Other Stuff: iOS 5 also brings a lot of other smaller functionality that are very snazzy, like Newsstand for managing media subscriptions, special tones to be used for text messaging, Twitter integration into almost all applications, drag and drop email addressing, iMessaging, Tasks/Reminders, camera management improvements (using the volume up button for snapping pictures is a nice minor add), and over 200 other small new features (including a Week-view of your calendar...finally!). Check out an overview here.

iPhone 4S

Now that you understand that you can reap the benefits of iOS 5 on your existing iPhone, let's get into what the new phone brings to the table. It really can be summarized with 3 major differences:

Speed and Storage: The new iPhone 4S uses the A5 dual-core chip also used in the iPad2, and in the iPhone 4S it is blazing fast. The iPhone 4S is 7x faster than the iPhone 4 (which was already faster than the 3GS), and the speed is noticable. What's even more impressive is that the speed improvements do not sacrifice battery life! I've seen that the battery life is pretty much the same as the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4S also is available in a 64GB model, for those of us that wish to store a bunch of movies on our phone to entertain our kids when we need to distract them!

Camera: The camera on the iPhone 4S is an 8 mega-pixel camera that is simply awesome. The shutter speed (the amount of time it takes from the moment you press to take the picture to it actually being captured) is significantly improved... so much so that it's on par with most high-end digital cameras. Video capture is at 1080p HD (versus 720p HD on the iPhone 4), and the iPhone 4S has facial recognition, motion stability control, better camera optics, an additional lense, and many other camera options that I honestly do not know how to take advantage of yet, but I understand serious photographers get excited about them.

Siri: Siri is why I went ahead and bought the new iPhone 4S. Voice recognition has been around for a while with other phones, and even with previous versions of the iPhone with basic Voice Control for making calls and playing songs, and 3rd party apps like Dragon Dictation bringing speech-to-text to the iPhone. However, Siri (named after the company that Apple acquired a year ago and combined with Nuance voice recognition technology--which drives the Dragon product line to make the magic happen) brings all of these capabilties to a new level, with tight integration into the phone and with the most robust execution seen to date on a mobile device. Siri is your personal digital assistant, and you simply hold down the Home button or bring the phone to your ear to bring 'her' up and ask her a question. Siri understands multiple phrases and, most importantly the context in which you are speaking, so there's no need to remember specific phrases to make things happen--you just simply talk to her. Siri understands the many different ways you can ask about the weather (What's the temperature today? Is it going to rain today? Do I need an umbrella? All of these questions Siri understands and can answer!). After using Siri for 3 days now, it is truly game changing. This technology will make its way into other consumer devices like TV's and laptops over time--heck, maybe even to kitchen appliances or cars!

Siri is dependent on an internet connection to work, however, since the voice translation functions depend on a connection to Apple's massive server farm--and Siri had issues connecting at times on Friday. I believe this was simply because millions of new iPhone 4S owners were testing Siri out all at the same time and overloading their network--and I've had zero issues using Siri on Saturday and Sunday.

The best thing about Siri is that she has a personality and even is programmed with witty comebacks for some questions (yes, I say 'she' because Siri is close to being a person since I can have conversations with her). There are many documented question/answers that users have captured already with Siri that are pretty funny, from her answers to 'What is the meaning of life?' to the infamous 'How much wood could a woodchuck...'. Here's a site collecting many of Siri's greatest hits.

Using Siri to manage my calendar, reading and sending text messages, sending email, managing my music playlist, doing web searches, finding restaurants, setting alarms and timers, and creating notes has already proven to be very helpful to me from a productivity standpoint. Siri also brings a new microphone icon into your on-screen keyboard so that, whenever you are prompted to have to type something into your iPhone, you can simply press the microphone and say what you intend to type into that field. This functionality has been present in Android devices for a while, and is nice to finally show up on the iPhone. The accuracy of voice recognition is surprisingly high!

There ARE some limitations to what Siri integrates with on your phone. Her integration into the iPhone is mostly with only the native iPhone applications (phone, music, calendar, email, messages, clock, etc.) and is not integrated into 3rd party applications...yet. I say 'yet' because I have to believe that Apple will open up API's to developers to allow Siri to access their 3rd party applications over time. In the future I expect to be able to ask Siri to find an Evernote entry that I have made, or to put in a delivery order to Jimmy John's through their iPhone app... now that would be sweet! But, even without 3rd party application integration right now, Siri is an outstanding execution of voice recognition and voice control! Don't bother asking her to marry her, though, as she is very clear that her licensing agreement won't allow it!


So, when trying to decide if you should buy the iPhone 4S, it really comes down to whether you want more speed, a better camera, or having your own digital servant. For folks with a 3GS, the speed alone is a massive upgrade. For iPhone 4 users, I think it really comes down to whether you want the Siri assistant.

One last minor note - the iPhone 4S has the exact same dimensions as the iPhone 4, but has a minor difference in the button placement for the mute switch and volume up/down buttons on the left side of the phone. These changes are minor, but folks with iPhone 4 cases MAY be at risk of having that case not be ideal for the iPhone 4S since the cutouts for the buttons may be misaligned.

Net, while I was disappointed that significant form factor change or larger screen was not introduced with the iPhone 5, overall I'm very pleased with my iPhone 4S--as the improved speed, camera improvements and Siri are definitely enough of an improvement to warrant the cost of upgrade for me. But that's just me... hope this helps your own personal decision.

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