iPhone 4S

ios_interface

As Gruber says so memorably, “finally”!

Apple announced the new iPhone – not the iPhone 5 everyone was hoping for, but the mildly disappointing iPhone 4S. But then I wondered, why is this disappointing?

As usual I avoided the interwebs until the video of the presentation had been posted by apple, then watched it into the early hours of the morning. In the process of trying to find the link to the presentation, I couldn’t avoid seeing the moniker “4S” on the site, and realised there was to be no 5 this time round. That, combined with the unfamiliar Tim Cook taking the stage made the event feel a little downbeat for me.

But there were several things that really stood out for me during the event and after.

Firstly, IOS 5 is awesome; I’ve wanted it ever since the keynote when they announced it, and I’m really excited it’s here. But it’s iCloud that is the big headline to take away from all this. iCloud and Lion together will massively change the way we will think about computing. If the technologies that have been put in place this year by Apple become pervasive, we won’t worry about needing to save our documents, struggle with keeping files in sync on different devices, have to handle calls from our relatives who’ve lost data. If they get it right, it will all just work. Utility computing will finally be here; the years old concept of an information appliance for everyone is a reality.

Secondly, I’m actually glad that the iPhone 5 has not shown up. I realised, I’m still pretty ecstatic about my iPhone 4. I got mine the day it shipped and there is not a day that’s gone by since that I have not used it intensively and marvelled at the wonder of design and technology I hold in my hand. It’s the best camera I’ve ever had, and it’s the best computer I’ve ever had. It’s always with me, always on, (almost) always connecting me to a vast world of information.

I didn’t want them to change it. I avoided all talk of the possible new designs religiously, partly because I find spoilers disappointing but mostly because I could tell from the headlines that they were talking about a new one. I’ve kind of waited my whole life for this device (that’s 44 years!) and now it’s here I want it to stick around a bit longer before they “improve” it by releasing something else.

But what did they do? They took the best device ever made and made it better. The new camera and video capabilities are almost enough to make me upgrade on their own.

The faster processor? Nah. Apple themselves have trained me out of worrying about such things; couldn’t give a monkeys what’s inside it. A4, A5, intel, single core, dual core, magical time-travelling elves, who gives a toss? I now switch off whenever anyone starts babbling about technical specs; and this from me, lifelong tech addict and geek to the core. Apple made that stuff not matter. Which rocks. To be honest, none of it has mattered for 99% of the users for a number of years, but it’s taken the computing press a long time to catch up.

The availability of double the storage, though, yeah, that’s a big win. I take loads of video with this thing and I hate deleting stuff from it.

They mentioned the new antenna several times, but not why it mattered. That is very unusual for Apple, who normally excel at explaining features in terms of benefits and the problems they solve. So reading between the lines, I’m hopeful that they’ve found an imaginative way to mitigate the signal attenuation problems that result from enclosing any smartphone’s antenna in a big bag of salt water (i.e. your hand), by making the phone intelligently use whichever antenna surfaces are least affected at that moment. There’s going to be some bit sticking out, right? Presumably you can no longer short-circuit the two antennas on the lower left with your palm as well. I’d love that to be true.

But thirdly, the killer feature that they spent ages on in the presentation is Siri. I remember how interesting this sounded when Apple purchased the eponymous company back in April 2010, and of course we heard nothing more.

I’ve been thinking for ages that we’ve been rapidly approaching the point where the primary bottleneck in utility of the technology and network now at our disposal is us, the user, and that intelligent agents and AI are going to be the focus of the next big leap in computing.

Siri takes another huge piece of science fiction and from the looks of it, makes it real. They said it would be launched as Beta, and only experience will reveal how it copes with the fantastic plethora of regional accents. But if they really have solved a big chunk of the problems of speech recognition and natural language processing, then the other piece is giving the agent stuff it can actually control, and it looks like Apple have gone a massive distance with that already in terms of what’s in the Apple and iOS ecosystem.

What fascinates me is whether they will expand the abilities of Siri to affect things beyond the Apple/iOS ecosystem, in the same manner as If This Then That

So in conclusion, I’m delighted there is no new iPhone 5; I will certainly upgrade to the iPhone 4S at the earliest opportunity because they seem to have performed the incredibly difficult task of making something exceptional even better.

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