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October 4, 2011

Apple Announcements Analyzed: iPhone 4s x 3, iOS 5 & iCloud Get a Date, Cards App, Getting Siri-us With Voice & Sprint to the Finish Line (At Last)

Tech Thoughts by Don Rose


Well, a lot of words went by today, from Apple CEO Tim Cook and a cast of other players, and here are the main highlights, as I see it.


First, the iPhone. As usual, this was what the attendees in Cupertino were salivating for, the meat of the presentation - perhaps a bit leaner meat than in the recent past, but the upshot is this new pricing structure:

iPhone 4s (new generation): 16 GB, $199 ; 32 GB, $299 ; 64 GB, $399.

iPhone 4 (old 2010 model): 8 GB, $99.

iPhone 3Gs (old old model, gen -2): 8 GB, FREE!

The above pricing assumes 2 year contract, natch.

Among other improvements, the new iPhone 4s sports a faster dual-core A5 chip, with up to 7 times faster graphics, and features a cool new assistant named Siri, who I will get to in a minute.


Other news: Sprint is finally getting in on the action; the nation's third largest cell provider will offer the iPhone to its customers for the first time, something widely rumored - but still no Tmo. The "Joy iPhone Club" is now up to 3: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.


Meanwhile, iCloud and iOS 5 officially have a date. Don't get excited, it's not love, just a drop date. iOS 5, the next generation of the operating system powering Apple's mobile must-haves (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), will be a free update available October 12 for download. Apple promises over 200 new features. iCloud will be available the same day.


CARDS is a new free Apple app that lets you create and send cards (real not virtual) right from the palm of your hand. Yep, snap a photo and create a beautiful letterpress card, then mail it anywhere from your iPhone or iPod touch. The cost: $2.99 for mailing that card anywhere in the USA, $4.99 to the rest of the world. Not a bad deal when you consider it includes the card, the envelope, the postage, the effort of delivering the card, and a push notification on your phone to tell you when the card is delivered! Expect this to be a huge holiday helper (hell yeah!).


SIRI voice control for the iPhone was arguably the biggest announcement today. Siri is a new virtual assistant you talk to, enabling you to do a ton of tasks via your iPhone, using voice dialogue. Set up appointments, convert currency, search websites, dictate email and more — just by talking to your phone. Fast, easy. Kinda like dealing with a female HAL 9000, but thankfully much much smaller (and, I assume, more benevolent). The voice itself is not perfect, but does sound decent enough to not get annoyed.


These are just a few highlights from today's announcements, but perhaps the most interesting Apple after-effect was the emotional reaction when it ended. Several tech pundits put down today's event as less than stellar, less than groundbreaking, and perhaps it was a bit of a letdown after so many home runs in a row. For example, many people expected an iPhone 5 along with the 4s we got, which led to disappointment among some. But perhaps the prevalent putdowning of the presentation is more a testament to the 800 pound gorilla who was not in the room. This was, after all, the first Apple announcement in a long long time without Steve Jobs at the helm, and it showed. Perhaps the "reality distortion field" was gone. Perhaps new CEO Cook just doesn't have the charm and charisma of Jobs. 

But let's get real, folks: the new iPhone 4s will sell millions of units, the 4s is the best iPhone ever made (maybe not a quantum leap beyond last year's model, but still a leap), and the iPhone 5 will eventually come. We just come to expect so much from Apple that, when they deliver an A instead of an A+, everyone cries failure. If only we all could fail so successfully.