Though the announcement was relatively meaty in terms of hardware, Apple has been a victim of the hype that surrounds all of its announcements. With so many false rumors about what it would announce, it was almost inevitable that the announcement itself would disappoint.
The hardware upgrades should improve performance considerably and keep the phone competitive with the latest Android and Windows Phone devices, but none will blow users away. This represents a significant upgrade for 3GS owners, but many iPhone 4 owners will be content to stick with what they’ve got until something less incremental comes along, especially as many will not yet be eligible for subsidized upgrades from their carriers.
In some ways, the more interesting announcement was the continuation of the iPhone 3GS, which is now available for free on contract with many carriers, and which now represents Apple’s low-cost strategy for emerging markets and smartphone laggards. Rather than making a new lower-functionality, lower cost device for such markets, Apple simply continues to sell a more than two-year old device which was market-leading at the time it launched.
For a company which prides itself on the quality of its products, this strategy has always made more sense than producing a new, sub-standard device for such markets. The strategy should also keep iPhone shipment numbers growing as ever more first-time iPhone users join the back of the ranks while the vanguard upgrades to the latest and greatest.
Lastly, Apple introduced a new “personal assistant” feature on the iPhone 4s, which is based on its acquisition of Siri. While similar to other voice recognition apps in the market such as Vlingo, Siri differentiates itself by being baked into the fabric of the OS, and by its use of natural language processing.
The demo of the feature certainly gave the announcement event a wow factor it was otherwise lacking, but it feels like another Facetime in that regard – something that makes for good demos, but which few people will actually use in practice.
Jan Dawson is a chief telecoms analyst at Ovum