Friday, September 23, 2011

The Merits of the iPhone 4S

05/10/2011 UPDATE: Now, that the "Lets Talk iPhone" event has passed, I cannot be more than happy with this post. I have however touched up the formatting of the article a bit since the original was written on the iPhone Blogger app by Google.

Despite all the teardrop iPhone cases it seams Apple's 5th iPhone will be the iPhone 4S.

As the Apple geek among my friends I get asked each year;

  • Is the next iPhone worth it? 
  • Isn't just an internal hardware refresh going to be a disappointment?

The answers actually come down naturally if we answered the following bigger questions first:

  • How to rate products in a comprehensive way and 
  • How to do so about as yet unreleased product?

I have come up with a new comparison metric that suggest that Apple has increased the pace of iPhone innovation that will surely correspond in comparable increase in adoption.

I call it an Upgrade Rating. 

It's not stars and it's not X/10. It's much more flexible and easy to make sense of. It reduces complex comparison charts down to a single number on the scale of -10/10 (yes, that's -10). But in short, it give you an idea of how better the new iPhone is compared to the last years model.

Here is how all iPhones compare to their immediate predecessor. The baseline is a 2006 smart phone:

  • 2007 iPhone:  5
  • 2008 iPhone 3G: 6
  • 2009 iPhone 3GS: 6
  • 2010 iPhone 4: 7
  • 2011 iPhone 4S: 8

With a rating of 7, it is quite obvious why the iPhone 4 is still the top selling smartphone on any carrier that sells it, 15 month after it started shipping first. Steve Jobs was right when he called it an A+ upgrade in 2010.

But why does the iPhone 4S scores 8, while it allegedly keeps the same design?

Since products can sometimes do worse than their predecessors, I have decided on a rating system that give points from -2 to 2. This system aggregates all meaningful comparison metrics into 5 general categories, giving any device a maximum score of 10.

Here is a bit about the each category.

It matters if the devices looks deferent, unique or if it's made from quality materials. Design will be the first thing people notice and remember about a product. While not immediately invisible how, a design implies how advanced a product is.

While touchscreen smartphones are all about software, having a chip to makes that UI smooth or a sensor to give those apps data is crucial. Not to mention a high dpi quality multitouch screen.

Software is the new hardware. We use to buy different gadgets different tasks but now we just buy apps for the same device. What our phones cab do is now mostly determined by the software it runs and how other it is updated.

Can you afford the phone? It is actually available at all in your country or on your carrier. For all other manufacturers these might be issues of the past but Apple iPhone is still the physically and financially out of reach many for people in the world.

This is iPhone Ace up its sleeve. While other manufacturers will claim device variety, the 2 physically different design Apple is selling since 2008 have created an incredible ecosystem of accessories. The iPhone has become a physical platform too.

Here is how the comparison looks for all iPhone models so far and the 4" and the 4.5" screen teardrop iPhone speculations I have called iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Pro.

Common sense will will tell you why the previous iPhones got the points they did but here's why the iPhone 4S gets 8 points:

Nothing new here. Apple is expected to preserve the extremely cool looks of the iPhone 4.
0 points

Completely new internals. The A5 system on a chip from the iPad 2 with dual core CPU and several time the graphics power. 1GB RAM, 64GB flash storage. 8MP camera with supposedly much better image sensor. 1080p Video. Support for both GSM and CDMA and probably faster WiFi too. Even a possible NFC chip. That's the biggest performance jump of any iPhone model to date.
2 points

iOS 5 is the single most comprehensive update. iCloud integration out of the box will be no less important too. But the new Assistant feature is likely to be the biggest software innovation and exclusive to the new model. Camera app extras around the new sensors are expected too.
2 points

The iPhone 4S will be the first world iPhone. Apple will be able to sell a single antennae configuration everywhere. Also in addition to Sprint in USA, this year iPhone is expected to be available to the two biggest carriers in the world. Both are in China. Expect an even faster launch rollout this time.
2 Points

Unlike last year, the iPhone 4S will start with the largest compatible accessory selection for any new iPhone so far. In addition, pretty much all important app now have Retina display support. On launch day, this is the most supported iPhone ever.
2 Points

With an upgrade rating of 8,  iPhone 4S promises to be have an even bigger impact on the market than the iPhone 4.

Come Tuesday 4th October, there will be many people who will be disappointed if Apple does not release a new "teardrop" design. That's fine. They obviously do not see the big picture.

The teardrop shape floating around will be lighter and score 2 points on Design but it will not fare as well in Reach and Ecosystem categories. I also do not see, how Apple will be able to fit an 8MP camera module into a much slimmer body. How about support for both GSM and CDMA with an aluminum back? It may turn that Apple will be forced to make significant compromises if it tried to fit the iPhone 4S internals into a much slimmer design. If on the other hand the design is much larger, as the cases suggest it boasts a 4.5 screen, the price will likely go up and reduce Reach even further.

At the end of the day I believe Apple has made the right choice to build upon an existing foundation, rather than start fresh with a new design.

P.S. if Apple is to release a new teardrop iPhone along the iPhone 4S, it cannot call it iPhone 5 as it will be the 6th iPhone.