iPhone 4SThe more things change, the more they stay the same. Whoever coined that phrase could have had the iPhone 4S in mind! In retrospect, we should not have been surprised that Apple released an updated version of the iPhone 4 instead of a dramatically new iPhone 5. After all, that’s exactly what they did when the iPhone 3G was followed up by the iPhone 3GS, so a precedent has been set. By leveraging the design of the very popular iPhone 4 with some enhancements in the antenna, processor and software departments, Apple can generate economies of scale and extend the lifecycle of the iPhone 4, which is still available for sale. Honestly, with the exception of the glass back instead of aluminum, I always liked the build and design of the iPhone 4, so I was not disappointed when the new phone retained the same form. Plus, given the consistent design, I was able to reuse some of my favorite cases!

So what is indeed different with the iPhone 4S? Obviously iOS 5 brings a whole new set of enhancements, but I covered those features in the previous issue of iPhone Life magazine, and iOS 5 is available for older devices. For this article, I will focus on specific hardware and features unique to the iPhone 4S, like Siri.


I had pre-ordered my new iPhone 4S at Best Buy as soon as it was possible, but when I went to the store to retrieve it, the 16GB model I had reserved was not available. I didn’t want to leave the place empty-handed. After all, I’m an app developer and I need to test my apps on the latest gear, plus I had to write this article!At least that’s what I told my wife, who was very understanding. I ended up up-selling myself to the 32GB model and it was probably a wise move. Previously I had been able to work within the confines of the 16GB storage of my original iPhone 4, but I can see how I will easily need more room on the iPhone 4S. With its 1080p HD video camera, the movies I will be taking will consume even more storage space, as will the 8-megapixel still photos.


4-photo4S-photoSpeaking of photos, check out these shots taken with both the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4. As professional photographers say, the best camera is the one you have with you. There really is little need for a dedicated point-and-shoot camera if you carry your iPhone 4S with you all the time.The 8 megapixel lens in the iPhone 4S is able to find and isolate individual strands of hair, and it creates a more lifelike image. The iPhone 4 is washed out and shows JPEG artifacts. Sites like Flickr are reporting that the iPhone is the single most popular camera used for uploading photos, so even people who don’t use an iPhone will benefit from the improved lens on the iPhone 4S!

iPhone 4 photo (Left), iPhone 4S photo (Right)


realracing2One of the expected and most appreciated updates to the iPhone 4S is the A5 processor, which is also found in the iPhone’s big brother, the iPad 2. This dual-core chip offers up to double the speed and seven times the graphics performance of the A4 found in the iPhone 4. This is evident in apps like Real Racing 2 ($4.99, app2.me/3325), which finally gives console games a run for their money. The faster processor enables both the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S to send video wirelessly via AirPlay to an Apple TV. Depending on the app, you can display either the same screen as the iOS device or an alternative screen. Visit iPhoneLife.com to check out my video of four iOS devices playing Real Racing 2 in Party Play mode! Try that with a Playstation, Xbox, or Wii! Even the upcoming Wii U console will only allow one wireless LCD accessory.To be fair, I did have some annoying stuttering in the display when multiple players were connected wirelessly to my iOS device, which was in turn sending the display wirelessly to my Apple TV. I don’t want to place blame with Apple or Firemint prematurely, as I will have to investigate where the bottleneck is, but both casual and hardcore gamers will not be happy with such interruptions.


The most talked about (no pun intended) new feature of the iPhone 4S is Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. Siri had been available as an app until recently, and Apple acquired the developer last year, so it really wasn’t a surprise. Indeed, competitors like Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone both have voice input technology as a standard. But Siri is more than that. Siri works with natural conversations and remembers key elements. This is what allows you to have a dialogue like, “Create appointment for Thursday,” and then Siri can ask, “What time is your appointment?” and you can respond “2pm to 4pm.” If you’re busy then, Siri can ask if you should reschedule, and you can respond “Yes.” You don’t need to repeat the entire request as Siri is keeping track.

Siri keeps track of a conversation

Siri Photo1

Siri is integrated with your calendar, maps, texting, and music functions, with more integration likely in the future (Siri is still considered a Beta product). We can also expect support for more languages in addition to the current English, French, and German. I would also like Siri to be able to launch apps as requested, but for a beta it’s quite a worthy utility. It cannot do that currently, but at least Siri is polite about it!

Siri can’t open apps for you

Siri Photo 2Siri is not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the Apple Newton’s handwriting recognition, which took so much abuse when it was released (and yes, I had one). The Newton came out under John Sculley’s watch, but I think Apple and the late great Steve Jobs didn’t want to bear the brunt of late night comics and waited until Siri could do a very reasonable job of speech recognition. Now it is Siri telling the jokes, with a built-in “edge” in some of the responses. Check out the conversation I had with Siri below.

Siri has a sense of humor

Siri Photo 3So is Siri a gimmick? Despite the protests from Android and Microsoft fans, I think Siri will be a useful service. I have used Siri to find information that would have been difficult or time consuming to do by keyboard. I am using Siri for real-world uses and expect to use it more and more over time.


I have noticed that I’m getting less battery life on the iPhone 4S than the iPhone 4, both with iOS 5 (Apple is reportedly working on a fix, and it should be out by the time you read this). I used to not have to worry during the day, but I have started carrying a fully charged ZAGGsparq ($99.99, zagg.com) just in case I need a boost. Perhaps my extra use of the Internet to service Siri is putting a bigger burden on the device. The same A5 chip in my iPad 2 delivered comparable battery life to my A4-powered original iPad, so I would have expected the iPhone 4S to match the iPhone 4 in battery life. I am taking the usual precautions like adjusting the brightness and disabling email fetching and Bluetooth when I know I won’t need it, but I never had to do that just to get through the day with my trusty iPhone 4, even with iOS 5.

"The iPhone 4S is what it was supposed to be… a thoroughly refined iPhone"


Apple took the same integrated antenna case design and added some software tweaks to make it work double-duty, resulting in what they refer to as 4G-level speeds. The faster processor on the iPhone 4S and an improved antenna should combine for enhanced performance, both for apps as well as for bandwidth. I ran some speed tests side by side on both my new iPhone 4S and my trusty old iPhone 4, both using the AT&T network, and got these interesting results:

iPhone 4 WiFi


  • 0.71 Mbps


  • 6.56 Mbps

iPhone 4S WiFi


  • 0.69 Mbps


  • 6.57 Mbps

iPhone 4 AT&T


  • 1.09 Mbps


  • 1.76 Mbps

iPhone 4S AT&T


  • 1.02 Mbps


  • 3.15 Mbps

My iPhone 4S on AT&T achieved nearly double the download speed of the older iPhone 4S. Apple’s claims of doubling the speed, at least for downloads, may be legitimate after all! However, these are not what most experts would call 4G speeds. Apple rates the old iPhone 4 at 7.2 Mbps and the iPhone 4S is rated at twice that, or 14.4 Mbps. That would be in the 4G range, but as we see, real world results aren’t likely to match. Still, double the download speed of the iPhone 4 is a great improvement!


The integrated antenna design of the iPhone 4S is based on the post-AntennaGate Verizon version of the iPhone 4, when Apple moved the mute switch ever so slightly. This means your old iPhone 4 case, if built for the original AT&T model, might not work well, as it could obstruct that mute switch. Fortunately, case designers have been designing for the Verizon model so you should be able to find plenty of compatible choices.

Speaking of choices, I went with the white iPhone 4S so I could easily identify my iPhone 4S from my wife’s black iPhone 4, which was really my old iPhone that I handed down to her. If Apple is going to keep this design for another year, more colors might be a good idea. It’ll help my family distinguish between the iPhones of each member of the family. Multiple colors worked for the iPod, and now that the iPhone 4 starts at $49, I would expect more than two iPhones in many households. I’d love to see a Project (RED) option. Otherwise, with just black or white choices, you will just have to get creative and use cases or skins that can help identify your iPhone!


Apple doesn’t publish the decibel ratings of their speakers, but the iPhone 4S seems to have a better speaker than the old iPhone 4. This will be greatly appreciated by users of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) apps. Indeed, users of my own app, AutoVerbal ($9.99, app2.me/2882), have sought out external speakers because of the inadequate volume produced by older iPhones, so this is a welcome enhancement. I even tried the app Blower ($.99, app2.me/151) to see if I could blow out a candle using the built-in speaker, but alas, neither iPhone was able to do so. So, I tried another technological solution; a decibel rating app on my iPad 2, Decibel Ultra (Free, app2.me/4253). I took turns arranging the iPhone 4 and 4S in the same position with the speaker facing the iPad’s microphone and played the same music. It was Daft Punk’s Derezzed from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack, if you must know. Sure enough, the iPhone 4S was louder… not by much, but enough to confirm my suspicions. The iPhone 4S reached a peak of 101 dB and an average of 98 db whereas the iPhone 4 reached 100 dB and averaged 95 dB. It could be that Apple is using different components, or perhaps the speaker in the iPhone 4S is the same model but just newer and built a little better.

In conclusion, the iPhone 4S is what it was supposed to be… a thoroughly refined iPhone, the best yet. And that’s exactly what we should expect from each generation. So what if it builds on the previous model’s design rather than diverging altogether? After all, most automobiles, refrigerators, and even other computers from Apple retain their ‘shell’ year after year, and don’t undergo a major overhaul every twelve months. Last year’s bestselling phone didn’t need to be reinvented, at least not yet. Likewise, you don’t necessarily need to upgrade from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 4S, although if you’re eligible, you can likely sell or trade your old iPhone 4 and come out even.

That’s not to say this new iPhone isn’t revolutionary. Whether Apple prohibited older devices from running Siri out of performance concerns or as a marketing tool to encourage upgrades, the bottom line is that Siri is indeed revolutionary, and not because of the voice recognition. It’s the backend artificial intelligence and the integration with Reminders, Calendar, Contacts, and Wolfram Alpha that places Siri on a different level than what Android and Microsoft offer, at least for now.

Still, by leveraging the iPhone 4 packaging, Apple leaves themselves plenty of wiggle room to wow us in the future. I’m looking forward to new breakthroughs in features and design in the iPhone 5 and beyond!

January-February 2012
iOS Devices
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