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Let’s Discuss the iPhone: Did Apple Meet Your Expectations?

I suppose you could call Apple’s iPhone launch the lesser of what was expected, although the hardware changed quite a bit. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

The anticipation for Apple’s iPhone media event, at the corporate headquarters in Cupertino, CA, was unprecedented. Early on, it almost seemed as if the cat was already out of the bag ahead of the event, with the report that Apple Japan posted information about the iPhone 4s. So out went talk about a possible iPhone 5 with an all-new external design.

Ahead of the main announcements, newly-minted CEO Tim Cook took to the stage to deliver the usual round of statistics about stellar sales of Apple products, along with the news that some six million copies of Lion had been downloaded, giving the new OS a 10% share of the entire Mac market, estimated at 60 million users. But he didn’t mention how many Macs with Lion preloaded had been sold, although that will be more obvious later this month when Apple’s quarterly financials are revealed. And, in passing, his presentation was professional if stilted. We’ll, let’s give him time.

Scott Forstall, senior VP of iOS Software, delivered a pretty standard presentation outlining iOS 5’s key features, such as the revised Notification Center, the new Camera app, full Twitter integration, Newsstand and other cool features. All this joy will come your way to download on October 12th.

While all this was going on, the online updates about the event various tech sites sputtered, as the systems all labored under heavy loads. I imagine browser Refresh functions were triggered at a record pace.

At the end of the iCloud presentation from VP Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, it was announced that it too, as expected, would drop on October 12th. No doubt Mac OS 10.7.2, an expected update for Lion that supports iCloud, will arrive the very same day, since there are now reports the GM has been seeded to developers.

Marketing VP Phil Schiller assured everyone that Apple still loves music, as they announced new versions of the iPod nano with an improved user interface, no doubt to respond to customer complaints, at $129 for the 8GB version and $149 for the 16GB edition, down from $149 and $179. This model is available today. A slightly revised 8GB iPod touch, also available in white, starts at $199 for 8GB, $299 for 32GB and $399 for 64GB, and it’ll be available on October 12th, when iOS 5 is released. Nothing was said about the Classic or shuffle, which continue unchanged for the holiday season.

Then came the  main event.

In announcing the iPhone 4s, Schiller pointed out that the iPhone is the number one smartphone in the world, and gets a higher customer satisfaction rating than any competing product. Despite the expectations of an all-new form factor, the actual product looks the same as the previous model, with the glass front and rear casings, but the internal workings are changed significantly, starting with Apple’s A5 processor, the same chip the iPad 2 uses, making it twice as fast as the A4 processor in the original iPhone 4. The dual-core graphics are said to speed up performance by up to seven times, with games as the major beneficiary.

The new model also boasts eight hours of 3G talk time, 14 hours of 2G talk time, and six hours for 3G browsing. No doubt in response to last year’s brouhaha about the infamous “death grip,” where the phone’s reception would dip if you held it the wrong way, Apple has a solution. The antenna system has been overhauled, automatically switching between two antennas for transmitting and receiving, something Schiller said had never been done before. But it sounds suspiciously to me like the diversity antenna systems you find on many cars that hunt for the best signal. But as a result, data downloads are said to be twice as fast as a result, up to 14.4 megabits per second, which he said was as fast as so-called 4G phones achieve. But it doesn’t appear as if this higher speed is yet available in the U.S.

So, yes, the iPhone 4s won’t support LTE, or 4G, or whatever carriers choose to call it. Wait till next year. However, the iPhone 4s will also be a world phone, with both CDMA and GSM capabilities included. The camera is enhanced from five to eight megapixels, as expected, incorporating a five element lens, and is said to provide superior color accuracy, resulting in a “perfect” 8×10 photo.

Other features include 1080p video recording, including image stabilization, and a personal assistant, known as Siri, which promises more accurate speech recognition from plain language requests. The demonstration was impressive, and it would be nice if the auto makers would try to license the feature to fix their sadly broken voice recognition capabilities.

The price for all this goodness? It’s the same as the original iPhone 4, with the 16GB configuration at $199, and the 32GB configuration for $299. For an extra $100, you can get a version with 64GB of storage. That price is for a standard two-year contract. Preorders begin October 7, with the actual on sale date set for Friday, October 14. So prepare for huge crowds at every dealer selling this device. In the U.S., Sprint will share in the joy, in the wake of published reports that the company is betting everything on a multibillion deal with Apple.

For those who are on a budget, an 8GB iPhone 4 will be available for $99; the 8GB iPhone 3GS remains available free, and both require a two-year contract. But the latter is only available in GSM form, meaning you won’t be able to get it for Sprint or Verizon Wireless.

Unfortunately, the media wanted a new look to go with the new components, so the iPhone 4s was declared underwhelming according to some reports.

In closing the session, Tim Cook returned to the stage to label the iPhone 4s as “the most amazing iPhone ever.” But he’ll be saying the same thing next year when the 4S’s successor is released. And, no, Steve Jobs did not appear, nor did the media seem to notice. No doubt he didn’t want to upstage his successor.

In case you didn’t notice, Microsoft took the occasion to announce that the failed Zune music player is no more, nor will there be any updates now or ever.