Wait, Isn’t the iPhone 4S Supposed to Be a Disappointment?

By  |  Monday, October 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Boy, does Apple’s iPhone 4S event feel like it happened a long time ago. In fact, it was less than a week ago, and as you may recall, many observers declared the new phone to be a disappointment. But now Apple has released pre-order data, and it seems to suggest that real folks are excited about the 4S. A million people pre-ordered in the first 24 hours, breaking the iPhone 4’s record of 600,000 in the same period.

Why the disparity in reactions? I can think of a few reasons.

1. It all depends on what you’re upgrading from. True, the 4S isn’t a radical upgrade from the 4–even its name tells you that. But in a country of two-year phone contracts, the most important upgrade market for the iPhone 4S isn’t iPhone 4 owners–it’s iPhone 3GS ones. And the 4S is a major improvement over the 3GS in multiple respects. (The iPhone 3GS owner in our household can’t wait until she moves on up to the 4S.)

2. Lots of Verizon customers who wanted iPhones skipped the iPhone 4. Along with the rest of us, they thought there would be an even newer iPhone in the summer of 2011. They turned out to be wrong. But they’ll get their first iPhone when the 4S goes on sale on Friday.

3. Sprint. Its loyalists now get the chance to buy an iPhone for the first time.

4. The new camera. If it lives up to Apple’s claims it is a major improvement over the 4’s camera. And lots of us use our phone cameras so much that getting a dramatically better one is as compelling as an upgrade can get. (It’s the biggest reason why shelling out the bucks for an upgrade sounds like something I might do.)

5. The never-ending abiity of pundits to be unimpressed by Apple keynotes. I think people forget that “this was a disappointing keynote” is almost always a common reaction. (Some people even managed to be bored by the original iPhone. Even if Apple had released an iPhone 5 with a strikingly different design, that would have been the case. Pundit reaction just doesn’t map to real-people reaction.

If you’re a real person–or even if you aren’t–what’s your reaction to the iPhone 4S now that the initial post-keynote hubbub has faded?


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27 Comments For This Post

  1. Shane Brady Says:

    I'd like to know how many *new* iPhone buyers there were versus repeat buyers from Sprint, 3GS's, or from ATT.

  2. Muay Thai Says:

    Me too :). Would be interesting. Muay Thai Combinations | Muay Thai Kick | Martial Arts for Children

  3. The_Heraclitus Says:

    A little Executive sanity check here:

    What % of those orders were "new business" as opposed to people dumping their "old iPhone model"?

    THAT, is the question the execs at Apple are asking internally right now.

  4. Stynkfysh Says:

    How about the fact that it is now available on 3 carriers vs. 1 on the last launch date? 400,000 x 3 would be 1.2 Million iPhones sold which is more than what they are saying sold. Given that Sprint is a smaller carrier though, one could argue that 1 Million iPhone 4S sold is on par with the last launch.

  5. Tom Ross Says:

    You're forgetting international markets. The comparison looks more like this: 15 carriers in 5 countries in 2010 vs. 25 carriers in 7 countries in 2011.

  6. Fred Says:

    I’d upgrade, but apparently my $200/month family plan (iPhone, BB, two featurephones) isn’t special enough to AT&T. The 64GB 4S would thus run me $649. No thanks.

  7. David Strom Says:

    I, personally, am SOMEWHAT excited about the new iPhone. Not overwhelmed, but quite pleased. First of all, we iPhone fanatics love our current phones, and what is not to love? Unless you are spec fanatic, the usability of iPhones is very pleasing. iOS 5 will be a huge improvement, and I am looking forward to the camera improvements. Siri is an unknown, and I have modest expectations. But my wife is still pleased with her 3GS, and only the improved camera on the iPhone 4 excites her. I am rarely impressed by the new Android phones, and then only as curiosities. The look cool and all, but as with Android tablets they disappoint in the real world. The latest Apple product is the premium product on the market, and the only exciting hardware to add is a larger screen–and then only if the ergonomics are good.

  8. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Apparently, the market disagrees with you. Android phones have a larger market share than Apple powered smart phones…

  9. Jah Knee Says:

    You are comparing hardware to software. You can't compare Android market share against iPhone market share. You have to compare iOS vs Android, in which case iOS has the lead in market share, or you can compare one model of iPhone vs one model from another handset maker, for instance iPhone 4 vs Samsung galaxy IIS. No matter which way you compare them, Apple (iphone and iOS) have the lead in market share AND profits. http://www.loopinsight.com/2011/04/28/the-truth-a

  10. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Yes, you can. See Apple vs. MS PC's.

    'nuff said.

  11. David Thornton Says:

    It's about time someone points that out! Regardless, the amazingly high return rate (almost 40%) for individual Android phones vs the amazingly low return rate (less than 2%) for the iPhone speaks VOLUMES.

  12. David L. Says:

    But Android is still behind iOS in actual installed user base—by a fairly large percentage per comScore.

    "Although the Android platform accounts for the highest share of the smartphone market (43.7 percent in August), its total audience among mobile and connected devices in current use is eclipsed by the Apple iOS audience. The iOS platform had the highest share of connected devices and smartphones in use at 43.1 percent, fueled by the iPad’s dominance in the tablet market, while Android accounted for 34.1 percent of the total mobile and connected device universe."

    I guarantee that if Android had anything to count, other than phones, they would be.

  13. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Right. Including the tablet mkt (no idea what it has to do with smart phone mkt) 'droid won't overtake until end of '13.

  14. @JustCallMeBen Says:

    I consider myself a 'real person' 😉

    I was looking forward to the new iPhone and saved up for it.
    However, size matters, and on the matter of size it disappoints me on 2 fronts:
    – The32GB model is still expensive as hell (I need an unlocked model because here in Belgium carriers don't subsidize phones. Ever)
    – the 3.5" screen is really small today. I have used the 4.2 and 3.7" screens on my friends' phones, and I can't help but feel 3.5 is just too small these days.
    If the 4s failed me on only one of these two fronts, I would have bought one.

    Instead, the 4s only offers the very minimum Apple could call an upgrade:
    -dual core is the defacto standard among high-end phones since spring 2011.
    -the faster graphics are a no-brainer when designing a new SOC.
    -the better antenna was a must after last year's PR-disaster

    The only thing I would call a valuable upgrade is the camera, but that's not a major feature for me.

    The main focus of this update seems to be Siri. And while it does look cool, history tells us voice-commands will always be a gimmick. Voice Control worked pretty well, but nobidy actually ever used it. Only while driving a car Siri can be helpful as a handsfree tool. But I doubt it will be a major sellign point for anyone except fanboys.

    All of this made me get a cheap droid that was on sale for €120: it has a mediocre 3.2 MP camera, 800MHz CPU (comaprable to the 3GS), 256 MB of ram, Android 2.3.3, and a 480×320 3.2" screen.
    For 120€ that's a damn good deal.
    This isn't the phone I want, but the one I settle for to sit it out untill Apple finally decently updates the iPhone. If a 4" screen and/or cheaper 32Gb option doesn't come next year, I think I'm getting a high-end Android phone.

  15. Tom Ross Says:

    There will never be a 4" iPhone because Apple doesn't believe that much more than 3.5" is useful in terms of thumb reach and pocketability. If they haven't done it now, why should they ever? Honestly, if you don't care for iOS, just go ahead and buy a high-end Android right now.

  16. MJPollard Says:

    Wait, I thought we were talking phones here, not phones+tablets. Stop comparing apples to oranges (no pun intended) in order to strengthen your argument. Therein lies fanboi territory. Besides, who gives a s**t? Use whatever works for you.

  17. David Thornton Says:

    It is amazing how the so-called pundits can be wrong so consistently about Apple and still get paid! I pre-ordered my iPhone 4S last week. Real people apparent are much less gullible than pundits…

  18. ymala1 Says:

    Well… if we're talking about gullible, I think a lot of people would argue it's the real users that are that for buying the phone despite a less than stellar value proposition.

    But I do believe that there's more to things than lines of specs. Gullible's probably just a bad word to describe this.

  19. Yow Says:

    ??? — less than stellar?

    Go look at the satisfaction surveys and retention stats. 'Less than stellar' describes many on the list, but AAPL — perennially at the top of the list — is in territory few products ever find themselves.

  20. David Says:

    The question of new iPhone users vs those upgrading is only relevant to the carrier. Either way they are buying Apple and Apple is getting paid. Secondly, many of the pundits were poo pooing the 4S because they were so insistent on needing a iPhone 5. No one ever explained what that was supposed to entail other than Brian Tong of BOL who said they need a new case, 4G, and a bigger size. In the real world the most common screen size is the 3-4” range. Apple is not going to do 4G until everyone else has and they can do it better. Still, they did say that the new antenna design will get speeds comparable to what others are claiming is “4G”. Lastly, why do they need to make a new case design for no reason. Everyone knows what the iPhone4 looks like and envies it. Why give that away? If you disagree, explain their nearly 50% market share with only 2, now 3, phones compared to Samsung, what 50 different phones, or RIMS, what, who really cares about RIM anymore?

  21. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Umm, no David. It is relevant to the execs at Apple. It is a matter of expanding market vs. stagnant.
    Impacts stock price is HUGE way.

  22. Tom Ross Says:

    67 % up is not stagnant, it's expanding. There you go, that's your answer.

  23. sam Says:

    have an iphone 3G, it was time for an upgrade, also if you have some brains the update is more about software, not hardware, they just did the hardware update to keep people content until the iPhone 5.

  24. blackberry developer Says:

    Any new release by Apple arouses some excitement. Personally I didn't buy iPhone 4 and waited for '4S that's why I can tell you that I was waiting for it's release date.

  25. Rob Says:

    @David Strom

    Unless I’m mistaken, iOS 5 will be available on various iDevices, though possibly not on the iPhone 3GS (or, possibly with reduced functionality). Therefore, the software benefits are not a compelling advantage for the iPhone 4S. However, the dual core processor might just be an important spec upgrade to make features of the new OS pleasing. For example, Siri will probably be too slow to bother on any lesser hardware (though it may not be worth much on the 4S either).

    If you don’t find the hardware advances compelling, then get a reduced cost iPhone 4, upgrade it to iOS 5, and enjoy!

  26. Dave Says:

    People who want an iPhone will buy whatever the current model is. That doesn't mean that it isn't dissapointing that it didn't have features we were hoping for.

  27. Yow Says:

    Upgrading from an iPhone 4:

    Camera — I take 100's of shots per week with it, and the new camera at f2.4 is very compelling.

    Siri — in 25 years I've never managed to use any calendar or task app for any length of time since the data entry portion quickly became tedious and loathsome. If Siri works as demonstrated, this portion becomes a breeze.

    Siri again — can't wait to use it on searches and maps. More so: can't wait to see what developers come up with in a years time for their own app/Siri integration.

    Speed – gotta love it at 7x graphics and +70% increase.