Apple's disappointments and successes with the iPhone 4S announcement

Apple's disappointments and successes with the iPhone 4S announcement
OK, we've all had some time to breathe, digest and assess. The constant bombardment of Apple iPhone rumors is over for a couple months or so (until the iPad 3 rumors ramp up.) We have seen the first big announcement since Steve Jobs' retirement, we've seen what Tim Cook brings to the table and how he handles things. We know what the iPhone 4S is and isn't. The trouble is the same every year with the iPhone announcement: expectations ruin the moment. Being as deep into the rumor mill as we have to be around here, we'll admit that it affected us and made a rational observation of the announcement almost impossible. But, we've had time to reset, and the bottom line is this: the iPhone 4S may not be everything we wanted, but it still looks like a great phone. 

Managing expectation

The blame on this one has to go both ways. We are obviously in the business of reporting, so the rumor mill comes through us and we have to pass along anything that seems credible (and maybe things that don't seem so credible, so long as they are amusing.) But, a lot of the blame does go to Apple on this. Apple knew what it was building all along, but said nothing as more and more reports came out about the iPhone 5 and major redesigns based on multiple reports of leaked case designs (we had about a dozen reports regarding iPhone cases). We understand that Apple doesn't like to reveal anything before the announcement, but in this case (puns never intended, so don't ask again) Apple was just setting itself up for a fall.

The vast majority of the rumors were focused on a possible redesign, even something as relatively minor (by Apple's standards) of increasing the screen size. Apple has been working on the iPhone 4S for a long time, and knew that there would be no redesign, so by letting these rumors fester, Apple was giving consumers, pundits, and investors a focal point for their disappointment when it turned out that the new iPhone would look identical to the last gen. For Apple to not manage those expectations is a huge failure, because it colors all of the other announcements, and most of those other announcements were actually pretty solid. Although, many of those other announcements had their thunder taken away by being rehashed news from the iOS 5 announcement at WWDC. The entire announcement would have been far more satisfying had we not known all we do about iOS 5. 

On the other side of the coin, we (both those of us in the media, and those of you who follow this type of news) should have done better to manage our expectations. And, we also have to be better at managing our language. People are far too quick to claim that this announcement was a "failure" for Apple, but that is nowhere near correct. Apple didn't "fail", it simply disappointed on some aspects, notably the hardware design, because of the ridiculous hype machine that always surrounds an iPhone event. For example, people seem to be disappointed at the hardware specs on the iPhone 4S, but the only things we can legitimately be disappointed with is the lack of a true 4G radio, and possibly the size of the screen, although that is more a matter of opinion than anything else. Many people have no problems at all with the screen size of the iPhone. However, there is no way that we can be disappointed with the other hardware available in the iPhone 4S. 

Re-evaluating the iPhone 4S

Apple's history to make that happen has been to alternate years to release major features one year, and speed increases the next. The iPhone 3G and iPhone 4 pushed forward features. With the iPhone 3G, the major influence was in setting the $199 price which became the industry standard. With the iPhone 4, the killer feature was the screen resolution, which many competing phone still can't match, although qHD has been picking up steam. Then, on odd years, we get the speed updates with the iPhone 3GS and now 4S. So, on odd years like this one, we can't really expect more than iterative bumps outside of the speed updates. One major thing to keep in mind when evaluating the iPhone 4S is this: for you, this may be a device that has to last 2 years, but for Apple, this is just a device that needs to be competitive for one year. This update is out of the pattern because it took 16 months to come rather than the normal 12, but even so that's not that far off the normal schedule. 

We've been hearing a lot of complaints to the effect of "after a year and a half, all you get is dual-core and an 8MP camera?" Well, yes, because what exactly could you expect? Sure, dual-core CPUs have become fairly ubiquitous, but Apple couldn't really top that from a numbers standpoint because quad-core chipsets simply don't exist in consumer devices yet. The A5 is one of the best available, and by the time quad-core has begun to infiltrate the market, Apple will have the A6 ready to compete on that level. Also, we have to remember that Apple creates unified systems, which means that the OS is more optimized for the hardware than other OSes. Whereas Google has to make sure that the new version of Android runs on tons of different hardware of all levels, Apple doesn't have that issue. Apple has to make sure that the newest OS runs perfectly on the newest hardware, runs well on the last gen hardware, and just runs on hardware from 2 generations back whether or not it runs well. With that system, it may be a dual-core chipset like we've seen in plenty of other devices, but it will be designed specifically to run in tandem with iOS 5, and that often leads to performance on par with competing devices with better specs. 

With the camera, we all should understand by now, MP rating is not the full indicator of camera quality. Even at 5MP, the iPhone 4 camera made a run at it against 8MP competition in our blind photo competition, and while it didn't take the overall title, it was voted the best quality for outdoor shots. This time around, Apple has upped the quality, and added a better lens, so it's likely that once again the iPhone will have one of the better cameras found on a smartphone. Of course, the camera quality isn't the only factor in this either, there is also the camera app, and Apple still has one of the best camera apps around, and iOS 5 adds nice features like crop, rotate, auto-enhance, and red-eye removal. They aren't power user controls, but that's not who the app is designed for, and those options don't exist in Android anyway. The stock Android camera app is nothing special to say the least. Of course, various Android manufacturers have put together more impressive camera apps, but Apple's offering is certainly competitive with the best of those choices. 

Apple may be playing catch up with some features like Twitter integration, WiFi syncing and OTA updates, but at least for a week until we see Ice Cream Sandwich, Apple isn't running behind on everything. We give Android credit on a lot of things that really aren't part of the core OS. Apple's Safari browser is far more feature rich than the stock Android browser, which still doesn't even have tabbed browsing. This is something that's especially likely to change with ICS, but right now, by far the best browsers on Android are 3rd party solutions like Dolphin or XScope, not stock. The same idea applies to the Twitter integration, which again isn't an inherent part of Android, but rather something you get once you install the a Twitter app. The point is that Google leaves a lot of features up to 3rd parties, while Apple tries to do it all alone. That means that Apple has to be more focused on what features make it and what doesn't. 

Apple's Core Competencies

As with any company, Apple has to stick with its core competencies, the things it does better than anyone. For Apple, those things are: design, unified systems, and marketing. While other companies will use time to push forward new features, Apple chooses a limited set of features and makes sure that each feature meets those rigorous design standards, and each fits into the whole ecosystem of Apple products. Then Apple makes sure the right message is filtered out to the media and other marketing paths.

Apple wanted the main takeaways of the announcement to be in the speed increase and in Siri. The speed increase, as we've mentioned, is acceptable and as good as we can expect right now. And looking at what Siri promises to be, it doesn't exactly look like the "world changing" feature that Apple has tried to make it out to be, especially given that both voice dictation and Voice Actions have been in Android for quite a while now. Also, while having a logically-thinking and personified digital assistant in the form of Siri sounds great, its practicality in real-world usage remains to be seen. On the more practical side of things, you'll at least be able to use it as a dictation tool, saving you the need of using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard (when you're alone, at least). The trouble is that Siri will be a great tool for certain uses, but it still may not be the best solution for text input. Text input has always been the number one issue that needs to be tackled with smartphones, because touch typing is cramped, uncomfortable and slow. Out in the real world with cars and trains and other noise, voice input isn't always that practical. Text input is still the default, so although Apple has the best touch typing keyboard around and even now with Siri for voice dictation, the fastest text input on smartphones still belongs to gesture keyboards like Swype and FlexT9 (which also gives you Nuance-powered voice dictation.) There are many times and places where voice dictation isn't practical due to noise, or even just your comfort level in dictating in public, but text input is still the primary input for our digital devices. 

Apple can't do everything. We should know this, but given the time it takes between updates, we often forget that the company still has limited resources. So, when Apple spends a lot of its time and resources on design and unifying various Apple products, this limits what updates can be made available. We tend to focus on the bigger ticket items, but there are a lot of smaller features that all add up to a larger cohesive whole. For example, we focus on iCloud and its similarities to various other products by different companies, but we don't look at how many little hooks Apple has built through so many of its products to insure that iCloud runs seamlessly from iPhone to iPad to Mac. And, that's another thing we tend to forget: Apple rarely releases beta products or products that are known to have major bugs. That's why when it does happen, like with the infamous "grip of death" on the iPhone 4, the news is so huge. In general, Apple products are magic boxes that somehow just work, and that takes a lot of effort on Apple's part. 

Of course, even with these limitations and the general focus that Apple takes with products, that still doesn’t completely explain the odd amount of fumbling of the announcement. The fumbles came with the last of Apple's core competencies that we mentioned: marketing. Apple has always been one of the best companies around at manipulating the media, using the power of its incredibly loyal following, and owning the message of every announcement. Unfortunately, those were the biggest missteps of the announcement. As we mentioned before, Apple failed to manage expectations in the media and in its loyal army of followers, and that led to its complete inability to own the message of the announcement, because everyone was automatically disappointed in seeing the 4S hardware design (or lack thereof). 

How it could have been better

As we see it, there are three ways that Apple could have handled this in a way that could have completely changed how we perceived the announcement:

1) Apple could have foregone the iPhone 4 Verizon edition, and released the iPhone 4S on the normal schedule in June. With less time for the rumor mill to do its work, and keeping to the normal schedule, people likely would have been more accepting of the incremental increase. Given that the A5 chipset was in the iPad 2, which launched in March, the hardware should have been there to make the launch work. The only reasons this couldn't have/didn't happen are because Apple likely wanted to have the iPhone out for the competitive holiday season, and not leave it to Google and the Nexus. And, maybe iOS 5 wasn't ready for release that early. If that was the case...

2) Apple should have withheld the iOS 5 reveal from WWDC as we mentioned, and bundle that announcement with the iPhone 4S announcement. This would have made a more full announcement, and would have precluded the need for silly filler like the Cards app. And, it would have made the entire announcement more interesting to have all of the new features announced at one big event. 

3) The least likely would have been Apple announcing a better killer feature. If instead of Siri, Apple had unveiled a gesture keyboard, that would have been a killer feature that could have made us forget about the non-design of the 4S. An announcement of a big Google Maps update with some of the many features that have had Android pulling away could have helped, but obviously Apple can't be using Google products as killer features any more. Even the addition of widgets, or adding an extra half an inch to the screen size probably would have added that extra spark.

Overall, even though the iPhone 4S is a solid phone and iOS 5 has respectable updates, the announcement fell flat because it just couldn't make good on all of the expectation. Even right to the end, people expected there to be something more to it all, but it just never came. The biggest trouble with the announcement is likely the same problem that exists with every Apple announcement: the people who care the most want to see revolutionary features that blow everything else out of the water, but that's not what Apple is going for. Apple wants to create a great experience for everyone, and the majority of "everyone" are people who don't know much or don't care much about the most hardcore features. Knowing that, Apple needs to do better to manage expectations, and failing that, needs to come up with more compelling features to announce, because although the iPhone 4S should be a great phone near the top of the heap over the next year, it isn't anything especially new. Siri seems to encompass the entire event: Apple wanted to paint it as "world-changing", but it really wasn't. Maybe Apple just didn't handle it properly, or maybe this is the fundamental difference between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook: Steve always gave you that "one more thing" you didn't expect, and Tim gives you exactly what you should expect and nothing more. 

Related phones

iPhone 4s
  • Display 3.5 inches
    960 x 640 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP (Single camera)
    0.3 MP VGA front
  • Hardware Apple A5, 0.5GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB,
  • OS iOS 9.x

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252 Comments

250. clint unregistered

Does anyone else find this blog a little odd? Like the writer is trying to find excuses for Apple while very mildly admonishing them? Apple's new iPhone 4S could have been a lot more. How about this: Upsides (read GOOD): 1. They fixed an antenna issue that appeared in the iPhone 4 orginal design. 2. They cut costs by making one phone design (world phone) rather than 2 separate designs. 3. They added an 8 MP camera. 4. They added a state of the art dual core CPU. 5. They are trying to add state of the art voice command controls. Downsides (read BAD) 1. They refused to acknowledge the antenna issues in the iPhone 4 and only grudingly supplied 'bumpers' for a limited time to save face. "You're holding it wrong." 2. A combination design that saves money means the company SAVES money. Why is none of this passed to the consumer? 3. They added an 8MP camera to at least make it look like they are on the same competitive level as everyone else. Reality is that the iPhone 4 user's thought their 5 MP camera was 'better' than everyone else's to begin with, yet suddenly, pictures surface that make the iPhone 4 look exactly like it was. Overblown, over saturated, mediocre pics. Oh, and costs are now lower for 8MP as everyone else had them in the Android phones for a while and are now moving to 8, 12 and 16MP in the next few months. 4. They simply yanked the best CPU they could, because they NEEDED to, to save face on a competitive level, not because they wanted to. 5. Nothing bad about Voice commands, unless you remember they bought the APP company thereby ensuring they horded it to themselves. App companies tend to release on every phone, not just one. Good thing Google has been pushing voice commands in various forms for a couple of years now. 6. If you think a 3.5" screen is "big enough", maybe you should rememer the low res junk screen that used to be on it and how that was "good enough", now all the Apple junkies can talk about is how fantastic their Retina screen is on a 3.5" display. Why not a Retina screen on a 4.5" display.....oh wait....that would mean Apple has to pay more to make the phone and ....that's bad. Isn't it funny how perception changes. When Android goes to the HD 720p phones with a higher res and 4"+ screens, the Apple fans will be finding reasons why their smaller screen is still better...yet when Apple puts out an iPhone 5 with a larger screen (3.7"+) it will be heralded as a huge breakthrough for the world of smart phones.!!! There is real reason's why Apple is losing market share and they have nothing to do with making 'bad' products and everything to do with greed and control.

249. David CR unregistered

Indeed the spectation for the iPhone 4s or 5 or whatever, where very high even graspping sci-fi, but the real deal here is that it is a very good product (as well as 90% of android phones, the chinesse clones really suck) and a solid market. Beyond 4S I believe Apple should split their iPhone line, so it can do a fair competition against Androids and some possible WP7(not a great deal, but still I want one), because the high end Android are awesome, and also the low end androids are very cheap and give you things like 720p video recording for $300-$400 range unlocked (or contract free). Innovation... well I just will say anyone does something from 0, we all take ideas from others and add something ours, the way something works is what people fight for, take sony ericsson-apple fight as example. Oh and im no fan of anyone, but wanted to say im sad of Steve Jobs death, a great man and pionner has passed away

248. helse unregistered

Apple is a great company, they make nice looking cellphones, they make great promotion, they make good quality cellphones.........however after using my iphone 4 for a year and some months I was expecting a full redesign, a 4 inch screen and some new nice new features.... now i'm not in favor of android or apple since I have owned both types of cellphones, It is really obvious how apple made a horrible move this time and how many were disappointed.... I had been waiting for the new iphone for quite awhile and now the wait is over!!! since I will be getting an android this time...for all of you who support apple you must consider getting an android this time, and maybe next time we will hope for something better from apple.

244. who-care

Posts: 8; Member since: Sep 30, 2011

All glory to the hypno-droid

237. firebo14

Posts: 77; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Steve Jobs died.

223. InDaMiddle

Posts: 2; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Was about to go Android... waiting for Prime. But after reading this article I'm definitely back on iPhone.

220. Iphone4SSSS unregistered

No wonder the guy that found the prototype at the bar sold it on Craigslist for 200, he thought it was a regular Iphone4! Bwahahahahahaha

214. Jam unregistered

I think Apple is not "rethinking" as well as they did years ago. The only good thing was Siri. Samsung, HTC even LG, are going to launch a new and better phones this year and next one. I love Android and iphone phones but this is not a good time for doing an upgrade (iphone)...you'll get the same.

227. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@jam. Samsung, htc, and Lg, releases the same phones every month, just with different names, lol. They would just increase the screen size .1 inch, and it's an all new phone all of a sudden, hahahahaha. And of course android fanboys fall for it. When is a single core iphone and a dual core iphone the same? When is a 512mb RAM iphone and a 1gb RAM iphone the same? When is a 5mp iphone and an 8mp iphone the same? When is an iphone that can shoot 780p video and an iphone that can shoot 1080p video the same? Please explain yourself coz u kinda lost me.

251. clint unregistered

I think Jam's point is that if you're releasing a phone every 18 months, you might want it to be a bit more future proof. Especially when the 'new' features that are being touted as groundbreaking are actually a rehash of what the competitor has had for several months. Here's a thought...why didn't the iPhone get a larger screen? Its not like the phone isn't huge enough. Oh wait...probably the same reason the original iPad dumped the camera...made a bigger iTouch and then realized they didn't have room. Reality says they didn't want to pay for it. Apple has a proven track record of charging way more than a product is worth. Its called gouging the customer and it happens regardless of whether the customer knows it or not.

212. major.crapplefailure unregistered

apple finally release dual core, high five. NOT. the iphone 4s will still not be able to keep up with the functionality of android. and for Joak to say the 4s will out perform even the current dual core phones out, i'm sorry to inform you the iphone will still be 10 times slower with its outdated 3g. hey, atleast their following example from Android and providing a few "new" features, for iPhone users that is.. but all of us android users have been utilizing for over a year.

196. blkpacdrums unregistered

i have to say... i like iphone, but am kinda disappointed it didn't make it to LTE yet.

192. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

wait a minute.. Apple is ruling the world.... still.... it just taking more time than planned... hmmmmm

183. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

I don't see iphone fanboys ever flocking into any android articles when an android device gets launched like android fanboys flock into articles on an iphone launch, hahahahaha. Android fanboys' reactions are so pathetic. Even more so with the launch of the ip4s. Which gives me the impression that android fanboys are worried and once again oozing with insecurity. Yes, there were disappointments. But those disappointments were not caused by Apple. But by expectations from tech blogs and the media. Apple never promised a 4" display or an LTE phone. Expectations are normal. But the media and blog sites went overboard with their expectations and they entertained rumors too much, and that was the problem. The ip4s is one fine phone, that will again outsell the competition. And yes, there are mostly negative comments on here. Negative comments coming from android fanboys who are not getting the ip4s anyway, hahahaha.

186. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

right, because its only android guys in all those SGS2 and Nexus Prime articles.. lol who is worried. if you knew how to read, you would see most everyone is LAUGHING at iOS5 and the i4s. Noone is "worried" about apple at this moment. If peter were here, he would tell u how great this news is, as now apple's downfall will be Bada's uprising. lol Other than your hippocritical fanboy BS, i have noticed one thing. For the most part all of you and your ibot buddies have stopped with your "i4s/i5 will rulz teh worldz" crap. I guess even you crazed ibots can see that apple flopped on this phone. Had it come out in june, it would have been semi relevant. Time has already passed it by. And now you get to wait till probably this time next year to see what apple will bring with the i5 while android is just about to bring out the quad cores and Windows is stepping up their game. Your starting out in last place and only falling farther behind.

194. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@remix. Because we're not insecure like you android fanboys are. We like to know what's new with android, and that's it. We're not out here to attack android users by making their choice like you android fanboys attack us for making our choice. Who's laughing? Android fanboys. The ip4s is not on sale yet. So as to why you guys are laughing, I really don't know why, lol. But haven't you guys been laughing over wrong assumptions and predictions in the past? Lol. Remix. Unlike you, I will not claim that the ip4s will rule the sales charts until I actually see the sales figures. We're not dumb like android fanboys are already having a victory party when the ip4s has not even been released for sale yet. But I guess you android fanboys are already used to making wrong assumptions :) That's why you guys are shameless about making another wrong judgement :) How can you say that time has already passed it? Do you see any quad core phones around? Do you see any phones with retina display around? Do you see any phone with a voice assistant as advanced as Siri? Also, the ip4s camera looks like a true winner. So I think you are making another wrong assumption. Nice try android fanboy :)

219. lolwut unregistered

did you say android fanboy? i think you said android fanboy.

240. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

Yes, actually LG uses the retina display AKA Nova display in other phones The next gen that is about to be released into the wild, of samsung SA+ HD screens carry a higher resolution, better color, and a higher PPI than the retina display. Quad cores are supposed to be dropping by november, mere days or weeks after the ip4s is going to go on sale. Android phones voice assistance is more advanced than siri. it does more, and works with more apps. Siri's only advantage is that it can pick up key words and phrases for natural speech instead of androids current "say the exact phrase" on its voice navigation. We will find out in less than a week if that is going to be updated. the iph4s camera looks nice but its on par with current android offerings that have been out for 6 months. ICS is supposed to be redesigning the camera software, so we will see if that holds true or not. if it does, the ip4s is behind there as well. do you assume that the ip4s wont be a big seller? We all assume it will be. Its just not going to set sales records like the ip4 did. There was a huge uptick in iphone interest after the iOS4/iphone4 announcement last year. This is the first time in history that apple announced an iphone and its stock plummeted. You should take that into concideration. That means people were selling off their shares after they saw what was coming down the pipes. so.. uhh... what assumption was wrong again?? lol quit being such a blind fanboy and actually do some research. I would love to take a side bet that more often than not when the ip4s is placed next to a nexus prime IN STORE on each carrier, the nexus takes more sales.

193. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

I don't doubt that Android fans' reaction is fueled by schadenfreude. Apple has in fact been very successful with a solid product for the last 4 years. This is the first time Apple spectacularly failed to satisfy the market's expectations with a product intro. Is it mature of the other side to gloat? No, but for once there's substance behind the gloating. Yes, the 4S will sell well, better than any single Android device. But it's not likely to win Apple many new fans outside of current Sprint customers.

199. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@rolde. As I have said. The expectations on the next iphone was an overkill. Because of that, everyone started envisioning what the next iphone would be like based on those expectations. The biggest expectation was a redesign with a bigger screen. It was such a big expectation that people actually accepted it to be a fact (me included). And that caused the disappointments. But now that the next iphone has finally been revealed. People will look at it more and see what it offers. Realization will then sink in that this is what the next iphone will be like. Then acceptance will follow. And then another realization will kick in that the ip4s is actually an awesome device :)

215. snowgator

Posts: 3630; Member since: Jan 19, 2011

Reasonable post. I think this update to the iPhone is a nice step up from the group of iPhone users who had the iPhone 3 and 3GS, those that are due from a 2 year commitment. It will be a huge breathe of fresh air to those on Sprint who want a true option other than Android. Most tech sites I have visited just expected more bells and whistles. We will just have to wait and see it performs, and see how it catches fire one it goes on sale.

170. yupyup unregistered

Everyone is talking about google and how they will be on top. Don't forget about windows 7.5. With the new update and new phones headed are way I think people will have a big wake up call.

168. celtichazard unregistered

thisis why apple try to stop the other phonemakers like Htc and Samsgung trow patents sues Apple at this time dont have the innovation, creativity and research development like samsung. Bad for applea and good for the other guys micro, nokia, samsung, htc

162. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

is funny how the Apple non consumer call it a fail... who care you guys are not Apple consumers... I want to heart from people planning to buy the iphone and were dissapointed... like me I could care less about the Prime... and if it lags or comes out with problems like the SGSII ..I dont care,.,

165. lol@S2Lag unregistered

LOL @ the sgii lagging? What?! Ive sold like 20 in the last 2 days at AT&T and everyone has come back saying how amazing the phone is and how its the greatest device ever!

166. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

175. LOLOLOLOLOK unregistered

Yeah look at PA's SOLID Sources "Some Users have reported"... To who? When people had issues with the iPhones Antenna PA said "listen to Jobs and hold your phone different, its not that bad". If you havent noticed, this site is highly biased in MOST articles. You can't quote "Some users" as a credible source. I am an ATT rep, can I be used as a solid source, stating that 80% of phone issues I deal with daily are from iPhones and their users? Does that make that stat worthy of a PA thread?

198. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

bugs get fixes, specs don't.

200. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

specs can be upgraded.. bugs..well they wil be around ..still.... sup thumper... nice to see you around here...

203. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

not on a specific device. hello my friend. thanks, it's good to see you too. (:

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