For Internet users, Apple's new iPhone 4S is a mixed bag. On the plus side, there's the gee-whiz Siri voice assistant and iCloud integration. But on the minus side, there's the lack of some better hardware for superior Internet browsing.
Announced yesterday during Apple's event, the iPhone 4S may be pre-ordered this Friday, and will be available in the United States and six European countries on October 14. With a two-year contract, it will cost $199 for 16GB of internal memory, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB. In addition to the models for AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, for the first time Sprint Nextel will get the iPhone.
The most exciting new feature of the iPhone 4S is Siri, a voice-based search application with some artificial intelligence that's highly integrated into numerous applications, such as email, calendar, contacts, maps, SMS, clocks, weather, stocks, Wikipedia, and WolframAlpha. Anywhere the on-screen keyboard is used, Siri's voice system can be used instead.
Siri is available only for the iPhone 4S, perhaps because of the phone's new, more powerful dual-core A5 microprocessor.
Voice-based search has been available for other phones for years. But Siri is much more advanced. For example, if you ask Siri to include an appointment on your calendar, it will tell you if there's a conflict and ask if you want to reschedule.
If you ask, "Do I need an umbrella?" Siri will know where you're located and that "umbrella" means you want to know the weather. You may also ask, "Will it be cold in New York?" and it will say something like, "Not too cold, maybe down to 60 degrees." If you then ask, "What about San Francisco?" Siri will say the forecast for that city because it remembers you just asked about the weather for New York.
In other words, Siri not only knows where you are but also keeps track of recent requests and replies to similar requests in context. Watch the Apple video and the CNET video to get a good idea of how it works. This is futuristic stuff, such as what was portrayed in Apple's concept video of a Knowledge Navigator in 1987.
But will Siri work as well as it does in the demonstration? For example, how well will it work in noisy environments? Will people use this extensively, or try it a few times and go back to the keyboard?
Despite the potential challenges, Siri is the first voice-based system that could take off for mainstream use. If it does, other handset vendors will rush to work more closely with existing voice applications, such as Nuance and
Another new Internet capability is the iCloud feature that will be available on the iPhone 4S, older models of iPhones, and other Apple devices. The cloud service backs up photos, contacts, music, videos, and other files on Apple's servers, where they're accessible from any Apple desktop computer, laptop, iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. ICloud offers 5GB of free storage, with more storage beginning at an extra 10GB for $20 a year.
The iPhone 4S incorporates other new features, such as an 8-megapixel camera on the back, and 1080p video recording. But these aren't exciting "Internet" features. Also not exciting is Apple's decision to keep the iPhone 4S's screen at 3.5 inches. It was time for Apple to expand the screen to at least four inches, possibly even larger, to enhance reading Web pages, eBooks, and enterprise data.
Also, the iPhone 4S uses the slower version of HSPA+ for AT&T Mobility. That's 14.4Mbit/s, rather than at least 21Mbits/s. (Real-world speeds are less than half that, though.) Verizon Wireless's iPhone 4S sticks with 3G and doesn't include LTE. Sprint's iPhone 4S also is 3G only, without WiMAX. I understand Apple's decision because LTE chipsets remain relatively large and power-hungry. Also, LTE, not WiMAX, is the future of wireless. But for browsing the Web, nothing beats fast LTE.
The iPhone 4S incorporates numerous new and useful features, has hundreds of thousands of apps, and I'm sure it will be successful. But when you look at the best Android phones with larger, high-resolution screens, 42Mbits/s HSPA+, and LTE, the iPhone 4S might not be the best handset for Internet-savvy users.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing