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" 640 x 960 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 0.3 MP VGA front
  • Processor Apple A5, Dual-core, 800 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB



1. Teller unregistered

apple failed.... iPhone 4 was the climax of Apple and now the fall has started...

3. bobfreking55

Posts: 866; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

Apple lost it's momentum. I think their only focus now is to sue and fool people into getting more and more money! GREEDY CRAPPLE. THEY WILL BOW TO GOOGLE SOON.

187. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@bob. And how did Apple lose their momentum? Do you have some sales figures of the ip4s already that no one has seen yet? How can you say that they lost their momentum when all blog sites are all about the ip4s? Count how many comments are posted on here versus the next article about an android device, lol. The ip4s is the most talked about device. It hasn't lost its momentum at all. It's actually gaining momentum. The more people look at what the ip4s can do, the more they're forgetting about those rumored expectations. And when reality sinks in, people would learn to accept what the ip4s really is and would realize that it's actually an awesome phone :)

217. wassup

Posts: 565; Member since: Jun 23, 2011

umm.... apple's stock has fallen... and more people are going to yeah, it HAS lost its momentum. the more people look at the iP4S, they realise that android can already do that, and so much more. People don't HAVE to learn it's an awesome phone, either it's awesome as soon as you see it (which the i4 was, but the i4S isn't) or it isn't( aka i4S) kapishe? don't worry though 530, next year you can finally enjoy android 2.0, i'm sure apple will steal more features.

224. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@wassup. It was stated several times that the fall on Apple's stock was normal. You didn't read that part huh? Or are you playing blind perhaps :) Not all of us share the same sentiments obviously. But there are plenty of people who do not favor android or who regretted getting an android device. As I have said, and also several articles. There were blown out expectations about the next iphone, and yes, that makes a lot of difference, and that affects ones impression when they expect something and get something else. Apple stealing from android? Don't forget that the iphone came out in 2007, and android phones in 2008. Everything on your android device is taken from the iphone :) Who's coming up with a Siri-like assistant in q1 of 2012 again? Oh yes, it's android :)


Posts: 78; Member since: Sep 28, 2011

actually if you must know wassup.......If you actually work for a carrier, there are more and more android users everyday that want to switch to iphone. In fact I haven't had anyone with an iphone want to switch to an android. Especially the ones that have came from androids to the iphone. I gues people that switch from droid's to iphones realize how unstable the androids are and don't want to download any third party apps to utilize all the features

238. yeah right unregistered

I have had android for a year and can't wait to go back to iphone. Can't wait. Android sux juevos.

246. iggy unregistered

OK apple lover

243. who-care

Posts: 8; Member since: Sep 30, 2011

All glory to the hypno-droid

41. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

not really… look at how many articles were just published for this single phone… it may not be the most technical phone ever, but i bet you anything it will sell like madness and apple will again make tons of money… no joke-- apple understands their market and although i am disappointed, i am not gonna say apple failed… especially since i will be buying one myself…

53. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

Fandroids are laughing now, but they will cry starting October 7th. Then they'll go back to their same lame sheep arguments.

61. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

i'm guessing October 7th is when something will supposedly fail am i right? like that's going to happen and even if it did there's a fat chance keeping "Fandroids" down with just one failed announcement. we'll have like 2 more in the next few months to make up for it and then some, see unlike what Apple makes you go through, we get nice announcements year round instead of twiddling our thumbs waiting for Apple and their one chance to woo us with 1 new iPhone.

163. Joak unregistered

Android phones have more impressive phones when it comes to specs, in other words in theory. But iPhones (with their outdated specs) will out perform android phones. Of course if u do not believe this wait for the iPhone 4s vs galaxy s2, Droid prime...any android phone tht comes out this year, videos on YouTube. Then make ur comments about how android phones are better than iPhones...if the iPhone 4s is beaten by any android phone tht comes out this year or in the past I will formally apologize to all of u android fanboys...and go and get an android phone

181. lolwut unregistered

outdated specs but will out perform android? nice contradiction there buddy. The iPhone is just an icon the liberal media had brainwashed you into thinking its better

208. joak unregistered

dude just make sure you watch the iphone 4s vs all other android phones on youtube...when they come out. after you watch those videos then you can talk. To all you guys out there dont know which you prefer (ignore all that we have said) go to a verizon, att and sprint store and compare the iphone 4s to any other android phone for yourself and come to your own conclusion...which ever one you choose its cool

195. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

how do you think the iPhone will be better? (legit question)

213. joak unregistered

dude that is one question i would like to know the answer does a phone with lower specs compete with another phone with top of the line specs and actually beat it...i mean its like it should be illegal for the iphone to have the same specs as its android phone counterpart. I ask myself this question everytime an android phone comes out. There is no doubt that android has drastically grown over the years, there is no doubt that under the hood android phones have higher specs than the iphone, and its true that the galaxy s2 rocks...(like seriously, go check it out if you dont believe it) but nevertheless the iphone 4s will out perform the galaxy s2... (whether it would out sell the galaxy s2 or anyother latest android phone, i have no clue, actually with all this negativity against the iphone i doubt that it would), and like i said if you do not believe this you dont have to take my word for it...go and watch iphone 4s vs any other android phone videos that will most likely soon start pooping up on youtube in like the next couple of weeks

239. Paxmoos unregistered

Then you should be apologizing right now....No need to buy an Android...Stick with your iPhone.

247. joak unregistered

Lol...dude...your beyond help

190. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

@thump. Well based on the iphone's successful track record, and based on android fanboys' failed track record on iphone sales predictions. The ip4s will be another bestseller. We heard this same tune with the ip3gs. Android fanboys saying that the ip3gs will not sell because it's just another ip3g. But look at what happened. The ip3gs easily beat the competition and went on sale even now. Same thing will happen with the ip4s. It's not an iphone redesign, but a level up from the ip4, just like the ip3gs was with the ip3g. And of course, android fanboys will be proven wrong once again, but then they will come back SHAMELESSLY attacking Apple again and iphone users again. What a dumb group of fanboys :)

84. Iphone 4S unregistered

Hi Taco..... Whats special about October 7th? Any more announcement coming?

103. saiki4116

Posts: 413; Member since: Mar 31, 2011

wait for october 11th prime will kick iphone4s(dumbest upgrade.....)

115. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

taco, at this point i would be holding your "fanboys will cry" comments until after the ICS announcement next week. Apple fumbled the ball and now its totally on Google to see if it can pick it and run for the touchdown. The 4s will sell well, but your in delusion land if u think its going to set records like the last ones did. Never before has Apple's stock DROPPED after an announcemet. Normally it jumps as everyone wants in on the gravy train. It dropped because investers were selling it off. That should be a big clue to you. Poll after poll showed apple's big sales would have been with an i5 announcement and less than 25% of those same people that wanted the i5 were going to buy a 4s.

169. MehItswhatever unregistered

The Apple stock dropping argument is dumb. The stock normally does drop afterproduct announcements. I love my 2 Android phones, but I was an iPhone user for over 2 years and I can honestly say that I miss the app store and the stability. I have an upgrade available and I'm planning on using it on the Prime for 4G access, but the iPhone is a solid device and I'm considering it. This was a very well written article about why the iPhone 4S should not be overlooked.

159. Hizzo unregistered

I used the Galaxy SII (July-Sept through Amazon) after being disappointed by an iPhone no show this summer. The so called "best" Android phone out there is not all it's hyped up to be either. The screen is nice, mostly because of the size, and so was the ATT HSPA+ connection, but everything else wasn't up to par compared to my year old iPhone 4. Yes it had more features, but everything it did that iOS could do felt beta-like: from the internet browsing to the mailbox (Google Maps/Navigation is a definite exemption). The most glaring example is the quality of Apps. The ones I used (Pulse, WatchESPN, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Words with Friends, Chase Mobile, Skype...etc.) did not exhibit the same smoothness found in the single core iPhone 4. I tried rooting and installing ROMs a couple weeks after my purchase to make the experience better only to find that it was more of the same. Android owners bash on the iPhone for the things it can't do, but don't seem to realize that choosing to do few things really well, can be better than doing more things half assed. Like everyone else, I was disappointed by the lack of redesign, but I'm still excited for the iPhone 4S. Just because it looks the same doesn't mean it's not an upgrade. The GSI to GSII had the same "incremental" upgrade the iPhone 4 to 4S sans the .3 in. increase in screen size. Apple is moving forward. Do "you" want to fall behind? Get a Galaxy SII and get disappointed for a third time this year.

164. bobnnate

Posts: 25; Member since: Aug 28, 2011

how will we cry October 7th. we'll just wail till Samsungs tech event when they reveal the nexus prime. and wouldn't we be crying already since the iphone 4 was already released. so apple just released the iphone 4 twice to have isheep graze on the simple.

252. cnwwyo

Posts: 126; Member since: May 26, 2011

which are?

55. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

okay so how do you benefit from this other than the signature iFan pride of fitting in with the majority by having the same unimpressive phone?

71. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

Hey dumb fanboy don't you always scream about android having more marketshare? So hat would make you the follower not me.

90. Thump3rDX17

Posts: 2160; Member since: May 10, 2010

i've never said that. i know i'm in the minority but why does that matter when i have a superior phone? don't mistake the iPhone's popularity for superiority.

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