Just call him Timmy Come Lately. At today’s big “Let’s Talk iPhone” event, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the wraps off the iPhone 4S, a next-generation smartphone with key improvements such as a dual-core processor, voice-controlled assistant, and the ability to tweet pics directly from the photo gallery. All of these features are truly groundbreaking . . . if you’re still living in 2009.
Apple enthusiasts must think that the S in the new phone’s name stands for “speedy,” but those of us who follow the smartphone industry know that letter really means “superannuated,” because this phone is still at least a generation behind its Android-based competitors. The iPhone 4S provides the strongest evidence yet that Google’s open ecosystem is much better at driving innovation than Apple’s walled garden.
Top 7 iPhone 4S “Me Too” Features
Like Columbus “discovering” the Americas thousands of years after native Americans migrated here and hundreds of years after Leif Ericson was the first European to visit, Cook wants you to get excited about the following “me too” features:
- Dual-Core CPU: LG demonstrated the dual-core Optimus 2X way back last December, and dual-core Android handsets became commonplace this spring. With Nvidia’s quad core Kal-El chip coming to phones in the next few months, the iPhone 4S will fall behind again.
- Voice Commands: I haven’t yet had the chance to test out Siri, Apple’s new voice-activated personal assistant. However, using one’s voice to perform common phone tasks is old hat. Google’s Voice Actionshave allowed you to do things like send and receive messages and search the web by voice since August 2010. In Apple’s demo, Siri appears to do a better job of combining voice recognition with text-to-speech feedback, but the concept is nothing new.
- 8-MP Camera: Android has had 8-megapixel cameras since at least April 2010, when the HTC Droid Incredible launched. Today, you can even get an Android handset with a 3D camera while Apple stands flat.
- Tweeting Directly From Photos: Apple, you’ve got to be kidding if you think the ability to send tweets directly from the iPhone 4S’s photo gallery is a breakthrough. Android users have been able to share photos or videos on Twitter, Facebook, and any other social networking app they have installed since 2009. With Android, you can even share with third-party apps such as Tweetdeck.
- World Phone Capability: Apple engineers shouldn’t break their hands patting themselves on the back over global roaming with a GSM/CDMA dual-mode device. Motorola’s Droid 2 Global came out last fall.
- Left-handed Calling: The iPhone 4S has an improved antenna system, so it won’t drop calls depending on how you hold it. Tim, that’s not a feature; it’s a bug fix.
- Your Choice of Carriers: Now that Sprint has made a huge deal with Apple, you’ll be able to use the iPhone 4S on three of the four major U.S. carriers. However, Android handsets have been available on all four major carriers and smaller services such as MetroPCS and U.S. Cellular for a long time.
5 Things iPhone 4S Can’t Do That Android Can
If it wasn’t bad enough that Apple wants you to drool over iPhone 4S features that Android had a year or two ago, the phone lacks some really important capabilities you’ll find in a number of Android handsets today. These include:
- 4G Speeds: Ever since the HTC EVO 4G launched on Sprint’s WiMAX network in summer 2010, we’ve seen more and more Android handsets with next-gen network support. Today, every major carrier sells 4G Android phones, including Verizon, which has half a dozen LTE handsets that can download at speeds between 10 and 20 Mbps while the 3G iPhone 4S will be lucky to pull down 1.5 to 2 Mbps. Buy your iPhone 4S with a two-year contract and you’ll be stuck on a 2008-era network in 2013.
- Load Any App You Want: With iOS, developers and users are at the mercy of Apple’s standards board. With Android, there are literally dozens of app stores in addition to Google’s Android Market. Want to program your own app and distribute it your friends? With Android, it’s no problem; just give your friends the install file, tell them to check the “Unknown sources” box in their settings menu, and go to town.
- Keyboard Flexibility: If you don’t like Android’s stock keyboard, you have dozens of third-party alternatives, from Swype to Better Keyboard. Better still, you can buy an Android handset with a honest-to-goodness physical keyboard. If you don’t like the iPhone’s keyboard, you’ll need to jailbreak it in order to install an alternative.
- Bigger Screens: With the iPhone 4S, you can get any screen size you want as long as it’s 3.5 inches. With the wide range of Android phones available, you can choose from tiny form factors such as the Motorola Charm or huge ones, such as the 4.5-inch Samsung Infuse. It’s your choice, not Apple’s.
- NFC Support/Mobile Payments: With a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip, Android phones such as the Samsung Nexus S and the HTC Amaze 4G can double as your wallet, allowing you to tap and pay at a growing number of retail outlets. In the future, NFC chips will also allow your phone to be used as an ID card or a keycard. Maybe then, Apple will add this promising technology to its phones.
I’m sure some future iPhone will offer 4G, a larger screen, and NFC support. At that time, we’ll probably be asked to accept Apple’s belated improvements as innovations, but Android competitors will have already moved on to the next big thing.
Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch oversees the production and content of LAPTOP’s web site. With a reputation as the staff’s biggest geek, he has also helped develop a number of LAPTOP’s custom tests, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. Catch the Geek’s Geek column here every week or follow Avram on twitter.