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Weekend Tech Blog: Apple fritters

We assess the subdued introduction this week of the Apple iPhone 4S in view of the passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Apple had one of its Next Insanely Great Apple events this past week to introduce the new iPhone 4S — but the wind was knocked out of everyone’s sails with the passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. 

Still, the company he built, then rebuilt, goes on, and the need to look at the company with less than gauzy eyes does need to continue, despite your — and my — feelings about the passing of this iconic American genius.

Most noticeable about the New York City event was what didn't happen: the highly anticipated iPhone 5 didn’t appear. There was only an improved version of the existing iPhone4, dubbed the iPhone4S. The disappointment throughout the blogosphere was palpable. 

The new Apple CEO, Tim Cook, presided over a press event that was stuffed with all the usual Apple event news — new Apple stores worldwide, new stats on Apple’s lead on apps — but the conference felt overlong, stretched with blather but not content, nearly 90 minutes. And there was no “just one more thing,” the usual payoff of an Apple event where some technological goodie was normally announced. Analysts were lukewarm about the announcement.

In retrospect, I wonder if part of the downer feeling was because those Apple lieutenants all knew that Jobs’ death was imminent; he passed away less than 24 hours after the event.  

Another issue, perhaps, was the over-anticipation for what we all thought would be the debut of the next-generation iPhone 5.  The pre-event buzz seemed so real. “T-Mobile will carry the iPhone5!” “A new phone case is being developed for a larger screen!” "J.P. Morgan and Al Gore both say it’s true." And you wonder why people thought this would be an epic event. Here’s more speculation if you’re interested. Then again, at least one writer on Mashable got it right.

While the introduction was no lollapalooza, the iPhone 4S did break some new ground.  Although the company may have backed away from an iPhone5 — or for all we know, never had one to present — it did offer the upgraded phone with a processor that promised twice the speed, a much improved 8-megapixel camera, and Siri, a new intelligent voice-activated “assistant.” Some found the latter feature exciting. For those of you who want a more detailed report, here’s CNET’s review.

The company also announced the iPhone 4S would be a world phone, with both major worldwide phone standards—CDMA and GSM—accessible from the same phone.  That’s a potential boon to overseas travelers who now can use their iPhone over here and over there—but at a cost.

Perhaps the biggest news is a marketing strategy that puts an Apple cell phone within everyone’s reach. The pricing structure pits the new phone at $199 for a 16 gigabyte (GB) phone, the plainer iPhone4 will cost $99. The big surprise: the iPhone3 GS is free. All these will require a 2-year contract, per usual with phone carriers. Moreover, iOS 5, the latest Apple operating system software for all its mobile devices — iPads, iPhones and iPod Touch —will even work on the 3GS phone model.

And Sprint has joined AT&T and Verizon in offering iPhones.

Apple may have opened a rather large window to Android phone manufacturers and sellers who are coming out with powerful phones well within the speed class — if not all the features — of the iPhone. But there's little doubt that the iPhone 4S will sell well. A late-breaking announcement on Friday from AT&T Wireless said it had received 200,000 iPhone 4S preorders in the first 12 hours after the phone's announcement: "the most successful iPhone launch we’ve ever had," an AT&T spokesperson indicated via email.

There's also a curious development in the race to bring 4G speeds to the iPhone.The iPhone 4S versions being marketed by both Verizon and Sprint will be confined to the older, slower 3G network, but AT&T has scored bragging rights by enabling its iPhone versions to access its HSPA+ network, which runs roughly twice as fast as 3G.  While not as fast as the company's 4G LTE network, also under constructon, it still will give AT&T iPhone 4S users a good speed bump over both older AT&T iPhones and competing iPhones. According to AT&T, local Seattle users should get speedy service from their new iPhones since the Seattle-area HSPA+ network is relatively well implemented. 


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