Oct 5, 2011

“Let’s Talk iPhone” Keynote: Full of Fluff & Hyperbole

Not going to lie — I’m slightly disappointed by Apple’s “Let’s Talk iPhone” keynote yesterday.  After keeping us waiting since June of last year, I expected more out of the latest iPhone.  For the last three generations of iPhones, they came out with a new one about every 12 months and the successors were all very impressive compared to the former model.  So if they’re make people wait an extra four months, it was likely going to be amazing.  Out of this world.  Game-changing.  All that good stuff.  Unfortunately, the announcement left many feeling underwhelmed.

iPhone 4S

Like many devoted Apple and iPhone fans, I’ve been (not so) patiently waiting for news of the fifth generation iPhone.  I’ve been so ready to upgrade.  When Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO two months ago, however, I thought it would be a long while before the next iPhone would be released.  My thought was that if there was an iPhone to be unveiled, surely Steve Jobs would at least announce that as a parting gift his fans.  So when it was announced that Apple would be having their “Let’s Talk iPhone” keynote yesterday, I set aside my morning to watch the announcement unfold on Engadget’s live blog (they didn’t allow video streaming this time).

The keynote started off with a lot of build up about how awesome Apple is.  There was talk of how successful they’ve been and they threw out a ton of stats while discussing the success and adoption of iPod, iPod Nano, Lion iOS, iPad, iOS 5, etc, etc.  They also threw around a lot of words like, “fast” and “amazing” and “gorgeous”, etc.  They spoke about that for an entire hour before finally getting to the iPhone.  The good stuff, and what we’ve all been waiting for.

Here are the most significant updates that were announced for the iPhone 4S (yup — a 4S, not a 5), and you can see the phone in action in this video:

A5 Chip
This is also the chip that’s inside of the iPad 2.  This hardware will make the iPhone run much, much faster all around than the iPhone 4, whether it’s pulling up apps, taking pictures, or surfing the web on Safari.  To be more exact, twice as a fast, and graphics load 7x as fast, making activities like game play amazing.


As a photography enthusiast, this one had me mega juiced when they announced it.  Here are the stats:

  • 8 megapixel and can take 3264 x 2448 photos — 60% more pixels
  • Backside illumination — brings in 73% more light
  • Takes the first photo in just 1.1 seconds and the second in half a second — 33% faster
  • IR filter — for better color accuracy and uniformity
  • Five element lens — that’s an extra lens compared to iPhone 4 — 30% more sharpness
  • f/2.4 — larger aperture to allow more light in
  • Face detection
  • Photo editing — now allows users to crop, enhance and edit photos in several other ways
  • 1080p HD video recording
  • Video image stabilization

Here’s one example of how amazing the new camera is, to which Phil Schiller remarks, “Do you know how hard it is to make a squirrel stand still?”


My favorite part of the whole camera talk though, was when they compared the speed in which various smartphones capture photos:


Phil quips, “I don’t know what Droid Bionic users need to do between pictures. Maybe go get coffee?”  Oh snap!

They also mention that the camera could now be accessed even when the phone is locked with a double click of the home button, which is very convenient.  Once the camera is pulled up, photos can also be snapped with one of the volume buttons.  Also very convenient.

When they announced this, I was a bit confused because I had already downloaded the Siri app in January of 2010.  I tested it once and though it’s a cool concept for an app, I had only ever opened it once and never bothered with it again.  During the announcement, I tried to pull up the Siri app again and found that it no longer worked.  Apparently, Apple acquired Siri in April of 2010 and is now set to be fully integrated into the iPhone 4S.  Here it is in action:

It looks pretty neat.  During the keynote, some examples included using voice control to ask the phone various questions, such as, “What is the hourly forecast?” and “Do I need a raincoat today?”.  You can also set an alarm, put something on your calendar, ask for international time and even ask for restaurant recommendations and definition of words.  These all sound like cool features, but the one that I think that I’m going to find the most useful is the fact that I can text through voice control.  I can finally reply to text messages while driving.

Here’s one thing that I couldn’t help but think about, though — how accurate and useful voice control will be.  My current iPhone has voice control as well, only it’s less functional.  Though it comes with a set of features, I find that I only end up using it when I’m driving and need to call someone, but even then, it only accurately calls who I tell it to call 25% of the time.  Furthermore, the few times that it does work, I’m practically screaming into the speaker, and enunciating slowly and clearly.

They do make a point to point out that it gets better as it learns your voice.  If that’s the case and I don’t have to mega enunciate and practically scream into my phone every time I use it, I may be taking advantage of it more.

One thing’s for certain though: apparently Siri will never cross me:



Sounds great, right?  Now what else is there?  And what does it look like?!

Then the keynote ended.

Yup, that was it.  All those rumors of them rolling out a larger screen and thinner body?  Nada.  It appears that they didn’t give the body any tweaks at all.  Not even a little.  I’m not saying that the new iPhone has to live up to rumors, but if I’m getting a new, hyped up phone, I want it to be new and shiny both on the inside AND the outside.  Even if just a slight aesthetic tweak.  There was also rumor that there’d be a budget iPhone, which would be the iPhone 4, plus another souped out iPhone.  Clearly didn’t happen.

So after I got off my high of the event, my take away was this: the iPhone 4S is basically a phone with the same exact body as the 15 month old iPhone 4, with 7 month old hardware, and I can tell it to do things with my voice.  The A5 processor sounds great, and the voice control does sound cool.  Though as I mentioned earlier, I probably wouldn’t be using it much.  Plus, it’s kind of awkward telling your phone to do things in public.

But on the upside, I’ll be taking some amazing photos.

I wasn’t the only one underwhelmed; Apple stock took a 5% nosedive immediately after yesterday’s announcement.  Investors were clearly not impressed either:


I didn’t think that I’d be asking myself this, but is the ability to take clearer photos and to be able to text with my voice while I’m driving or jogging really worth the hassle and money to get a new phone for?  Not to mention that I’d be tied down to AT&T for another two years.  Meanwhile, Apple would release the iPhone 5 in the middle of that contractual period and I’m stuck with an old model for another year.

Before yesterday’s talk, it was x’s on my calendar until the 5th gen iPhone came out and I was 100% sure that I was going to get it.  Now that it’s been announced though, I’m really on the fence and almost tempted to just wait a year for iPhone 5 to come out, or even get a non-iPhone phone.  I’m sure installing iOS 5 into my current phone will tide me over for at least a bit.

Though when I step back and think about all of its new features again… Twice as fast.  Sick new camera.  Voice activated texting.

Okay, who am I kidding?  I’ll probably still be getting it.  Though just not with as much enthusiasm as I’d thought.

Update: @beaudotgiles read this post and forwarded me to this article by Jason Kottke, “Unicorns and wheels: Apple’s two types of products” breaking it down for naysayers like myself.  It’s a fantastic post. …But I still want a unicorn!

Update 2: I got the 4S, and I love it.


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