We’ve all heard the rumors of what’s coming from Apple over and over for months now, and thanks to the longer wait, the hype and coverage have been even bigger than before. First it was a warmed over iPhone 4S. Then it was a beautiful, redesigned iPhone 5 with a slimmer frame and bigger screen. Then we heard we would be getting both. Since then, we’ve seen case leaks, screenshots, blurry pictures, and all kinds of tenuous evidence for each, at the expense of the other. Either there are even more insider wannabes than usual trying to collect hits for their respective sites, or Apple is the undisputed master of the corporate spin cycle. Well, except for when their employees tie one on and leave a tasty prototype behind. Who knows? Maybe those are planned publicity stunts, as well.
This time around, it isn’t just hardware getting talked about. Even though Verizon is already on-board, there has been a lot of discussion of other carriers this time around. It seems that just about every carrier on the planet has been tied to one iPhone design or the other at some point, even going as far as the small regional T-Mobile MVNO Cincinnati Bell, who accidentally leaked a placeholder site for the iPhone 5 recently. Currently, there seems to be some real traction behind the rumors of a Sprint iPhone, while T-Mobile’s chances look to have come of the rails. Even more intriguing, however, are the recurring rumors of a cheaper 8GB iPhone 4 being made available for less than $350 without a contract. Heck, we’ve even heard that the iPod Touch may be getting into the carrier act with the addition of 3G data. In all honesty, I’m less excited after keeping up with all of it for months, and I’m just ready to get some clarity and find out what we are really getting in the coming weeks, and exactly when we will get it.
I had some real hope last week that I would be getting a beautiful new, redesigned iPhone 5 with a bigger screen with my hard earned money. At that time, there were several seemingly credible rumors floating around the iOS blogosphere, with a couple of analysts chiming in for good measure. Add in the antenna and durability factors of the iPhone 4, the increasing pressure from a constant stream of Android devices that are continuously re-designed and include the latest specs, and the over 2 months of added wait for new iOS hardware, and it just seemed like a brand new iPhone was inevitable.
Unfortunately, as of this weekend, a new device seems more unlikely. Even though the supply chain rumors don’t always paint a complete picture of upcoming devices, they usually do provide insight into details of upgraded processors, cameras, and changes in body and screen size. We saw a good example of this with the iPad 2 this Spring, as those same kinds of rumors crystallized during the week before release to tell us that we would see a thinner, lighter iPad with front and rear cameras, but the same screen as the previous generation. This weekend, several stories made the rounds with reports that there is no supply chain evidence to support a re-designed iPhone 5, but rather that we would be getting an iPhone 4S with the exact same body as last year’s iPhone 4, upgraded components, iOS 5, and added Nuance and Siri powered voice control features.
I understand that this is simply a case of a little history repeating, as we saw the same thing 2 years ago with the iPhone 3GS. I also understand that the 3GS was an even bigger success than its predecessor, the iPhone 3G. However, if you ask a lot of mobile enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, Apple’s previous move to just provide only a modest spec-bump to their flagship device was a crucial mistake. This was the iPhone that was on sale when Android took root and quickly took off, and because of the minimal changes made to it, it was easy for devices like the original Motorola Droid and Nexus One to proclaim their technical superiority. The fact that the iPhone was only available on one carrier just added fuel to the fire, and the rest is history.
This isn’t to say that the 3GS is a bad phone. Not at all. My original 3GS worked great the year that I had it before I traded it in for my iPhone 4. In fact, I actually picked up one of the $9 8GB AT&T refurbished models recently to keep as a backup device after my wife and I upgrade. I have the latest iOS 5 beta loaded on it, and I have been very impressed with how snappy it is running an OS 2 generations past its design. It certainly outshines the 3Gs early performance with iOS 4. However, in the current world of mobile technology, a great device has a shelf life of a year or less in the eyes of tech enthusiasts, and even though the general consumer may not be so well informed, they are often swayed by the newer, better, faster marketing hype that is everywhere these days. If Tim Cook takes the wraps off an iPhone 4S tomorrow, for many consumers who have been waiting for the next big thing, it really won’t matter what he says next. They will yawn and move on to the next Android phone, or maybe take a look at the new crop of Windows Phone devices running the newly released 7.5 Mango OS.
That won’t be me. Whether I’m thrilled with the hardware or not, I am very invested in the Apple ecosystem, and I REALLY need some improved voice control as much time as I spend traveling in my car. If the new Assistant feature is anything close to the hype, then I will definitely own a 4S on launch day. However, I will still be very disappointed in Apple for what, in my mind, seems like a lazy cash in. They know that whatever they put out will sell like crazy, especially now that the iPhone is available on more than one carrier. They will definitely make their money. However, I can guarantee you that a 4S will NOT do anything to stem the tide of Android market share growth in the smartphone sector. A brand new, cutting-edge iPhone 5 and a cheap iPhone 4 variant, both available from all major carriers, would have a chance to stabilize things a bit and gain Apple both new adopters and converts from dying platforms like Blackberry and webOS. However, in today’s light speed smartphone market, which is many times more chaotic than the one the 3GS entered over 2 years ago, rehashed and warmed over isn’t going to hold the attention of the market for over two years, which is how old this chasis will be when it is finally retired.
You need look no further than this site for a great example of this fact. Recently, two of the writers here, Patrick Jordan and Brandon Steili, both picked up HTC HD7s running Windows Phone 7 to try out while they waited for Apple to get it in gear. I have to admit that I did the same just this last Friday, picking up a used Samsung Focus to kick the tires on. I don’t think that any of us are seriously considering abandoning iOS for a new platform that is still finding its legs (you can read Patrick’s thoughts on the subject here and here, and Brandon’s here), but we are all definitely bored and tired of waiting for something new from Apple. All three of us have used iOS 5 for a few months now, and played around with iCloud. However, as good as iOS 5 is, it isn’t groundbreaking in terms of usable features other than notifications. It is a behind-the-scenes overhaul. It just doesn’t hold the attention the way a few previous releases have. Also, with the added delay before new hardware this year, we have had a lot longer to grow weary of waiting.
Whatever the reasons are, to me, this is a problem for Apple. It is one thing for the tech elite to get bored with Apple. Heck, they usually are within a month or two, and back to the latest new Android phone with whatever new feature it offers. However, it’s quite another thing for the “faithful” to lose some interest and excitement. It isn’t just those of us here at iSource, either. I have seen a few other notable iOS bloggers noting that they were resigned to seeing an iPhone 4S tomorrow. Again, we aren’t all jumping off the good ship Apple yet, but there is grumbling among the crew. Maybe some of us are spoiled, but I think many Apple fans expect them to lead the pack, at least in terms of design. The iPhone 4 did this, with a bold, fresh, and very unique look. This, coupled with the introduction of the Retina Display, and multitasking finally making its way to iOS made for a killer, must-have device. It captured even the jaded tech press’ attention. As I said before, if a 4S gets unveiled tomorrow, you will hear a collective yawn from them, and a lot less mainstream coverage of the device unless Assistant is just blow the doors off amazing.
The issue of coverage has to play a role in Apple’s thinking. Considering all of the upheaval over the Summer, I’m actually surprised that Apple would go with a 4S tomorrow. Between the retirement of Steve Jobs and the health rumors that have surrounded him since, and the continuous legal battles between Apple and several Android manufacturers, it seems like Apple would want to make a big positive news splash. This is especially true since tomorrow’s press conference will be Tim Cook’s first time being the leading man in the Apple spotlight. You’d think that if there was any way possible, Jobs and the board would want to make this reveal a slam dunk, and get Mr Cook’s tenure off with a bang. Maybe they think that iOS 5, iCloud, and Assistant will be enough to carry the day, but I’m not totally convinced.
Again, no matter what happens tomorrow, I’ll be buying eventually. I’m heavily invested in iOS apps, and I’ll take my iPad 2 over any tablet ever made. That, and there frankly aren’t any viable alternatives for me at this point. I’ve tried to like Android over the course of owning three different devices, but it just isn’t for me, and I doubt it ever will be. I’ve tried the last three versions of the OS, several apps, widgets, rooting, and hacking, but none of it has swayed me. It continuously gives me flashbacks to Windows Mobile, and not in a good way. Windows Phone actually seems to have a lot of promise, and strikes me as a more palatable middle ground between iOS and Android. However, it just isn’t quite there yet, especially in terms of apps (although, unlike my Android phones, I am going to hang on to my Focus for a while). I’m not going anywhere any time soon, but I would just rather be a little more excited about that fact tonight. I usually am the night before the big reveal, but I’m feeling a little resigned to being underwhelmed tomorrow. I am still holding out a sliver of hope that Apple will surprise us, and that Tim Cook will blow the doors off tomorrow, but that feels like a reach right now.
So, now you know how I and some of the rest of us here at iSource feel about tomorrow. How about you? Will you be perfectly happy with an iPhone 4S, or have you gotten your hopes up for a bigger-screen iPhone 5? Let us know in the comments. Hopefully we will all be happy this time tomorrow.