iPhone 4S: Everything You Need to Know

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Pity Tim Cook: It’s his first keynote as Apple CEO, and he has to be the bearer of bad news.

Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) held its long-awaited iPhone event today, and the big story is that the iPhone 5 – which has been the source of a whole cottage industry of rumors during the past several months – doesn’t actually exist.

Not yet, anyway. For now we only get the iPhone 4S, which is outwardly identical to the iPhone 4 but with significant hardware and software upgrades. While that’s inevitably going to disappoint those expecting another design overhaul and an enlarged screen, there are definitely some real improvements to the smartphone. Here’s what you should know about the new device.

The price: As before, the 16 GB phone will cost $199 and the 32 GB will be $299. For the first time, there will also be a 64GB version for $399. All those prices are with a two-year contract, of course, and all versions come in black and white.

When and where: The iPhone will be available on Verizon, AT&T and, for the first time, Sprint. Pre-orders start Friday on the Apple Store online, and the phone will ship and launch in stores on Oct. 14.

The phone: Sorry, everyone. As stated earlier, the iPhone 4S looks the same as the iPhone 4. But the innards are revamped, with an A5 chip and dual-core graphics, which means that the phone will run faster, especially when you’re playing games. Despite the increased computing power, Apple has also increased the battery life to eight hours talk time. There’s also a new wireless system, which includes two antennae: one for transmitting data and the other for receiving. The result, claims Apple, is that it’s as fast as a phone on a 4G network. Oh, and those two antennae are CDMA and GSM, which means that you can use it anywhere in the world and talk and surf at the same time, regardless of your carrier. Looks like one of AT&T’s big advantages over Verizon just went out the window.

The camera: The iPhone 4’s five-megapixel camera will be replaced with an 8 MP one, and it will be able to take in more light and work faster. It will also be capable of taking 1080p video, an upgrade from the 720p video the iPhone 4 was able to shoot. There will also be a home screen shortcut so you don’t need to go through the process of unlocking the phone to bring the camera up. And as we previously learned, the iOS 5 update will finally give you the ability to use the volume button to actually take a picture instead of the home button.

Siri:
During the past few weeks there have been rumors circulating about a new feature known as the Assistant, a revolutionary new voice interface that will basically allow you to talk back and forth with your phone (like the HAL9000, but hopefully without trying to kill you). It’s called Siri, it’s exclusive to the iPhone 4S, and it looks amazing. You can ask it what the weather is like, and it will read the forecast to you. It will read your texts to you, and then you can dictate a response. You can even ask it to find you a restaurant and it will respond by ranking the restaurants in your target area. And it’s integrated into the phone’s apps, so you can talk instead of type without using a third-party dictation app like Dragon. As far as we’re concerned, this one feature saved this keynote from being a disappointment.

iOS 5: There are no big surprises here – the new operating system has been available to developers for months now so they could tinker with it and write new or updated apps for its eventual widespread release. But now the general release date has finally been announced: Oct. 12. In addition to shipping with the iPhone 4S, it will be available as a free download to users of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad, iPad 2 and the 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touches. Among the features of the new operating system are iMessage, a free Internet-based messaging app that could replace your SMS texting plan if you only want to text people with iOS devices; a revamped notification system; Twitter integration with more apps; and a better camera app, including the aforementioned volume button functionality.

Other new apps: Apple also introduced Find My Friends, a new app intended to let you track your family and friends who also have iOS devices. There are simple privacy controls, as well as an end-of-the-day cutoff of tracking. There’s also Newsstand, a one-stop shop for all magazines and periodicals; basically, it’s the iBooks app for magazines. 

The verdict: Apple didn’t “change everything” today. There’s no one feature that’s going to make us stay up late to pre-order the new device at the earliest possible moment. But it looks like they’ve taken their best phone and made it faster and smarter in every way. We look forward to reading the first reviews once it comes out.