There we were, waiting for Godot, assuming when he showed up he'd bring along an iPhone 5. Oh well, next year. We go back to waiting.
Like the absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters spend the entire time waiting for the arrival of and talking about Godot, a man they both claim to know, Apple fanatics and tech journalists alike waited expectantly for 16 months for something that never arrived. Instead, the lights went up Oct. 4 and there it was, the ... iPhone ... 4S.
Although I led my pre-announcement column last week with news of the Siri Assistant voice-control technology, and was correct that it would be spotlighted at the iPhone launch event, a few other predictions were wrong. So now I get to explain why.
But first, the winners and losers. It's an interesting, mixed bag.
The delay of an iPhone 5 will give Apple rivals Samsung and HTC several months' lead time to offer still more Android phones with features the iPhone 4S lacks: high-speed 4G long-term evolution (LTE) data capability, bigger displays and near-field communications (NFC) capability for digital credit cards.
Sprint Nextel, the nation's third-largest wireless carrier, now has rights to sell an iPhone 4S of its own, and with its unlimited data plan should win customers away from AT&T and Verizon Wireless. But at the same time The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Sprint will pay Apple dearly for those rights and isn't expected to recover a profit for two years.
And Sprint's ambitious, underfunded plan to handle increased demand, fueled in part by the iPhone, by essentially building an entirely new LTE network over the next two years, abandoning its WiMAX network, was heavily criticized by investors and analysts last week.
AT&T, meanwhile, was tossed a bone when Apple included support for HSPA+, a kind of “4G lite,” that AT&T already offers. Data speeds are much better than the current 3G but much worse than the true 4G LTE networks that all three carriers are building. But AT&T will be able to market its iPhone 4S faster than the other two.
Why does this iPhone qualify as merely a “4S,” rather than a version “5”? After all, it sports an A5 dual-core processor, twice as fast as the iPhone 4, and graphics capabilities up to seven times faster. It has a full gigabyte of RAM, or working memory. It has quite possibly the best camera ever offered in a mobile phone, with eight megapixels, auto-focus, white balance, red-eye removal and more; and 1080p full high-definition video capture with image stabilization.
A radical new dual-antenna system promises to reduce the dropped-signal difficulties that surfaced with the iPhone 4. And a new top-line model is offered with 64 GB of storage.
And then there's Siri Assistant, which if it works as promised likely will change the way we interact with our phones; we're lazy, and talking to a phone is far easier than trying to type on a tiny keyboard. Although the software capability for Siri is embedded in iOS5, which rolls out to all iPhones this week, only the iPhone 4S has the processing horsepower necessary to make it work.
The big reason this isn't an iPhone 5 is no 4G LTE capability, and, bound up with this, no new case and no bigger display screen.
Current mobile LTE data chips are too bulky for the current iPhone size, run too warm and eat battery time. They don't handle voice, so a phone with an LTE chip still has to have a 3G chip to handle voice as well.
San Diego's Qualcomm is gearing up to manufacture a smaller LTE chip that will integrate the 3G functionality and is expected to use less power. The chips are expected to become available in bulk in the second quarter of next year—right around the usual time that new iPhones have been introduced, in June. The smaller chips should allow a case redesign, including a larger display.
In other words, look for Godot next June. He'll have an LTE-capable iPhone 5 using a Qualcomm chip with him, I'm just sure of it.