For many Apple followers, particularly iPhone 4 owners, yesterdays’ iPhone 4S announcement can be summed up using one word: disappointing. The reason is simple: internal changes don’t create the same impact as external ones. The new phone could have had twice the battery life, 10 times the processing power, and new location capabilities that could pinpoint your location to a single square inch, and it would still feel disappointing if it looked the same as the prior phone. We are, for the most part, visual beings. If something looks the same as something else, we think at some fundamental, unshakable level that it must BE the same. In contrast, relatively minor internal changes paired with a dramatic visual overhaul would feel like a new phone.
I don’t think the importance of this should be dismissed. Many would-be upgraders, particularly those with iPhone 4’s who might have traded up for a redesigned phone, will hold off. It’s a real danger for Apple, and I’m sure they know it. No one knows for sure, but I suspect the 4S was a plan B. Apple had hopes to combine the internal changes with a visual overhaul, but it just couldn’t happen in time, and they were already delayed from their usual cycle.
The internal changes, however, are not insignificant. The phone will be dramatically faster. The camera quality appears to be significantly increased, addressing issues with low light performance and video stability; for many the iPhone might now legitimately replace both a point-and-shoot and a camcorder. How can these changes not be significant motivators to upgrade for people like me who use their phone for everything. All. The. Time. Add to this dramatic, and possibly game-changing voice recognition – scratch that – voice COMPREHENSION, and how can existing users not be driven to upgrade?
Because it looks the same. And if it looks the same, it must BE the same.
Some may argue that the 4S is missing some technologic features as well, such as LTE, NFC, and a larger screen. This is true, but in practice, most of these don’t make much of a difference. A larger screen might be nice, but change the ergonomics of the device and potentially power consumption as well. If Apple pushes screen size too far, it either creates a headache for developers who have to retool their apps or drops the resolution to below their much-marketed retina threshold. LTE (or “4G”) has great promise for boosting speeds when WiFi is unavailable, but current chips are seriously detrimental to battery life. Furthermore, LTE coverage in Verizon is limited to a handful of cities, in AT&T to 4 cities, and in Sprint to 0 cities. Worldwide, there’s a similar lack of support. It just doesn’t make sense as a major feature for 2011. NFC? Google is trying to push their wallet, and the technology looks impressive, but there still isn’t an obvious use. Apple doesn’t launch hardware features that have no demonstrable use for their users.
But it still looks the same.