Apple’s New iPhone: A Victim of Its Own Success
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Apple’s New iPhone: A Victim of Its Own Success

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For sale: Apple iPhone 5 prototype cases, cheap.

After months of anticipation, Apple today introduced its newest and “greatest” iPhone yet, a model that is faster, smarter, more powerful, cheaper, and more versatile than its predecessor, the best-selling iPhone 4. But in his first product introduction as chief executive since the resignation of Steve Jobs in August, Apple’s Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S, not the much-rumored iPhone 5 that pundits, analysts and Apple fans had been expecting.

The disappointment about the lack of an iPhone 5 announcement may arise from Apple being a victim of its own success. In order to meet the expected demand for its new phone – more than 100 million units in the next year, some analysts said – Apple was compelled to keep the same physical design as the iPhone 4. Retooling its manufacturing lines to accommodate a larger screen or a new shape would have delayed the phone or cut manufacturing capacity in half, an Apple source said on condition of anonymity.

Although the iPhone 4S has the same exterior features and dimensions as the iPhone 4, nearly everything else inside the new phone is new. In particular, the software system of the iPhone 4S appears to be a full generation ahead of competing smartphones, including the first use of artificial intelligence software that Apple acquired last year from a San Jose, Calif., company called Siri.

The new Siri application, which runs only on the new iPhone 4S, functions as a personal assistant that the user controls through natural language spoken voice commands, like, “What is the weather going to be like today?” or “Schedule a lunch for me on Friday with Phil” or “Read me my messages.” Apple stressed that the Siri software will still be its testing, or “beta” stage, when the iPhone 4S launches later this month. It will be available for pre-order in the United States and Canada on October 7, and on sale a week later. With a standard two-year contract from mobile carriers, including new partner Sprint, the iPhone 4S will cost $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for a model with 64GB.

If the Siri application works as well in real-world situations as it did in today’s product demonstrations, users will be able to compose and dictate email using voice instead of keyboards, issue commands like “Find me a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto” or “Wake me up tomorrow at 6,” or ask questions like “What time is it in Paris?” or “How many dollars is 45 Euros.” (“I’m looking it up,” Siri says before answering a second later, “$59.59 at the current exchange rate.”)

One might ask Siri, “How did Apple stock do today?” And Siri might answer, as it did today after the announcement, “Apple stock is down $17 to $357,” possibly reflecting disappointment that the company did not unveil a phone called the iPhone 5. (Apple stock rebounded in later afternoon trading to close at $372.50, a loss of about 0.6 percent on the day.)

Apple typically reserves integer product numbers, such as iPhone 5, for models that have substantially new architectures. But while the new iPhone 4S is physically indistinguishable from its predecessor, nearly everything inside is new. There is a new mobile operating system, iOS 5, running on a new processor, the Apple-designed A5, which includes a graphics processor that improves gaming performance. A new dual antenna system, which Apple called “a breakthrough” in system design, speeds data downloads and uploads and improves call quality. The 4S has impressive new picture systems that capture images at 8 megapixels (photos) and 1080p high-definition (video). Apple said battery life is improved to eight hours of talk time and 10 hours of video viewing.

The iPhone 4S is also a “world phone,” capable of communicating on both GSM global wireless networks and CDMA networks. Until now, iPhone users had to choose one system or the other. Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of global marketing, said the iPhone 4S will be available in 29 countries by the end of this month and 70 countries by the end of this year, a remarkably fast and broad rollout by Apple standards. Besides Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, Schiller said, the iPhone will have 100 carrier partners worldwide.

In other news, Apple lowered the price of the current iPhone 4 to $99 (with a two-year mobile contract). The earlier-generation iPhone 3GS will now be free with a two-year contract. Of course, neither phone will have the new features of the iPhone 4S, which require the 4S's faster processor and iOS 5 operating system.