Apple Introduces iPhone 4S With Voice Control Features

1:43 PM PST 10/04/2011 by Andy Lewis
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Upgraded hardware allows natural language commands; iCloud set to launch Oct. 12.

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced a new iPhone at a press event Tuesday and while it was not the rumored iPhone 5, the new model dubbed the “iPhone 4S” is going to win lots of fans for its new features. Siri, Apple’s new voice control assistant, which is exclusive to the iPhone 4S, is going to blow people away. Think HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey come to life.

On the surface the iPhone 4S looks exactly like the existing iPhone 4, but it has a supercharged engine under the hood. The 4S uses the same A5 chip found in the iPad2, so it offers 2X the processing speed and 7X the graphic performance of the existing iPhone. Apple has also tweaked the battery so the phone delivers eight hours of 3G talk time, ten hours of video watching, or forty hours of music.

The most impressive new hardware feature is the upgraded 8MP camera, which delivers 3264 by 2448 resolution and the ability to print beautiful looking 8x10 inch photos. It can also record 1080p HD video. Said Cook, "We set our sights on competing with the best point-and-shoot camera.”

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The iPhone 4S is a world phone, combining GSM and CDMA technology in the same model for the first time. In real world terms, this means the end of separate Verizon and ATT models and the introduction of a model for Sprint.  Americans can now use their phone while roaming in Europe or Asia with less concern about compatibility with foreign carriers. The new iPhone 4S will come in 16GB/32GB/64GB models priced at $199/$299/$399 with a two year contract. Preorders start Oct. 7 and delivery begins on Oct. 14. Apple also introduced a budget iPhone 4 with 8GB of storage for $99 with a two-year contract and made the 3GS free with contract.

The killer feature in the iPhone 4S is the new voice assistant dubbed Siri (after the company Apple bought which pioneered the underlying technology). Siri allows users to have a natural language conversation with their iPhone. Scott Forstall, the Apple executive in charge of iOS development, asked, “What is the weather today?" The phone replied, "Here is the weather for today,” displaying the weather on the screen. Forstall then said, "Do I need a raincoat today?" "It sure looks like rain today," answered the phone.. "Wake me up at 6 a.m.," asked Forstall. "O.K., I've set an alarm for 6 a.m. tomorrow," replied the phone.

Apple has also set up partnerships with Yelp and Wolfram Alpha so the iPhone can answer more sophisticated questions. For example, to "find me a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto," the phone responded, "I've located 14 Greek restaurants. Five are in Palo Alto. I've sorted them by rating." Or when asked to “define mitosis,” the phone spoke a definition. Forstall asks Siri, "Who are you?" Siri replies, "I am a humble personal assistant."

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Compared to Siri, the other new software features pale in comparison. Apple announced that iCloud, its cloud storage system will launch October 12. iCloud allows users to re-download music purchased on iTunes anytime and anywhere there is Wi-Fi or cellular reception. For an extra $24.99 iTunes Match will extend this feature to a user’s entire music library. Cards allows a user to design a greeting card on an iOS device, email it to Apple, and the company will print it out on high quality paper and snail mail it for $2.99 to U.S. addresses and $4.99 internationally. Apple also added "Find My Friends" which allows users to locate friends and family on a map, provided they also own an iPhone and have given permission. 

Apple also updated its iPod lineup. It introduced a new iPod touch that is slimmer, faster, and cheaper than the existing model. It will also now come in black and white models. The Touch will come in 8GB/32GB/64GB models priced at $199/$299/$399. Apple updated the software on the iPod nano to make it easier to navigate and built the Nike run+ feature right into the nano. It dropped the price to $129 for 8GB and $149 for 16B.

As just a piece of hardware, the iPhone 4S is a nice upgrade, but combined with Siri, the new iPhone is going to be a massive hit for Apple.  

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