Apple iPhone 4S

While the iPhone 5 rumour mill focused on brushed aluminium cases, larger displays and teardrop form factors, Apple had other plans for the iPhone 4Photo: Apple

Some Apple devotees worked themselves up into an iPhone 5 feeding frenzy. If they’re now feeling deflated by the iPhone 4S launch, they shouldn’t be, says Seb Janacek.

The iPhone 5 launch has been a long time coming – 16 months to be precise. That’s a lot of pent-up gadget expectation. That Apple didn’t actually announce the iPhone 5 made some people feel like Christmas had been cancelled.

There have been few Apple events that have been subject to as many wild predictions and hopeful speculation as this one. Most debate focused on a new and slightly improbable case redesign.

Many of the other claims were right but talk of a widescreen, teardrop display turned out to be wide of the mark. Most people had expected a full version increment – iPhone 5 rather than iPhone 4S.

As it happened, new Apple CEO Tim Cook and friends unveiled a solid, though not earth-shattering, update to the iPhone 4 with some impressive technical updates and a host of new software features.

I had three predictions for the event. First, most people would be disappointed. Secondly, people would complain that Tim Cook was no Steve Jobs. Thirdly, Apple would go on to sell tens of millions of whatever new phones it announced.

The first one was spot on. If the phone had been in a different enclosure or had been called iPhone 5, it would have been different. Sixteen months is a long time to wait for a .5 increment.

The iPhone 5 rumour mill made promises of brushed aluminium with larger displays and teardrop form factors. Graphic designers with too much time on their hands mocked up what it would look like. News and Mac websites mocked up physical representations of the device. Chinese manufacturers made cases for it.

Instead, Apple chose the .5 increment, just as it did with the shift from 3G to 3GS.’s Natasha Lomas nailed this point earlier this year when she described the iPad 2 improvements as “evolution not revolution”.

The Apple faithful will point out…

…the precedent of an incremental upgrade cycle that began with the 3G to 3GS iteration.

The Apple faithless will claim the 4S is a dead duck, a lame approach. They think Apple is doomed and will shortly be overtaken by HTC, Samsung and other competitors.

New Apple CEO Tim Cook

New Apple CEO Tim Cook inevitably attracted criticism simply for not being Steve JobsPhoto: Kent German/CNET

Apple’s ‘problem’ is that its phones have a branding nomenclature that makes sense and indicates a sense of progression, albeit one limited by letters and liberated by numbers.

So what does the iPhone 4S feature? A dual-core A5 chip, so the speed is the same as the iPad 2, an eight-megapixel camera with a range of new hardware and software features, including 1,080-pixel video. It also features Siri, a voice-enabled digital assistant that supposedly performs a wide range of actions.

Is the iPhone 4 really an outdated slab of a phone? No. Despite not being updated for over a year, Apple still reported record sales of the device last quarter. Personally, the iPhone 4 design still looks new in a way the 3GS never did.

I’ve never understood the need for innovation to be determined by a physical design, especially when technology is so driven by software.

In addition to the new physical features of the 4S, there’s also iOS 5 launching at the same time as the 4S, as well as the ambitious iCloud services. Still gloomy?

Second prediction: Tim Cook would take some criticism for not being Steve Jobs.

As the Weekly Round-Up pointed out last week: “Cook is a much quieter figure than the charismatic Jobs, who’s a very tough act to follow. A bit like the challenge Paul Rodgers had following Freddie Mercury in Queen.”

It was an intimate performance on a small stage. He fluffed a couple of lines.

What did people expect? They know Tim Cook. He’s a softly spoken operations wizard, not a circus ringmaster. Was he meant to fly around the stage on wires, making facts and features explode in 3D in brand-new keynote transitions that Apple so resolutely refuses to deliver in a new version of iWork?

The event followed a format Apple has used for years. He topped and tailed an event with other senior VPs filling in on product announcements. It’s true he didn’t say, “Boom” very much but if he had he’d have sounded silly.

The script remains the same. All that’s changed is the delivery. At one point he was talking about the iPod and said: “It not only revolutionised the way we all listened to music but it revolutionised the whole music industry.”

I’ve heard Jobs use an almost identical statement at a previous event.

The words are the same, the presentation is the same, like some kind of Jobsian template. It’s just not Jobs delivering it. Get used to it.

The iPhone 4S is a solid update to a wildly successful product. Apple’s only problem is that solid is not good enough for some.

For many, it must be revolution every time and not evolution. That Apple has decided not to pander to the masses over its iPhone branding is a credit both to its marketing strategy and its confidence.

All of which leads us on to the third prediction: Apple will sell tens of millions of iPhone 4S units. I’m sticking by this one.