One Million iPhone 4s Customers Can’t Be Wrong

October 11th, 2011

You just know that Apple fans can complain, and loudly, if the company disappoints them. Certainly when the iPhone 5 with a new case and lots of new internal workings ended up as an iPhone 4s with the latter but not the former, the social networks were filled with heated protests. The media followed suit, pretending that this was strictly a minor update and that Apple should have done better.

But consider the situation: Apple builds a new iPhone with a much speedier processor and graphics capabilities, offering tremendous performance improvements. There’s a superior camera, with higher resolution image sensors, automatic stabilization when you take videos, improved picture quality, not to mention the Siri personal assistant. That’s a breakthrough in speech recognition software, folks. What’s more, the antenna is significantly revised to improve reception. In addition to the new features, Apple revises the case substantially, say with a slim brushed aluminum rear, mirroring the concept of the MacBook Air.

If that were to happen, the media would be raving about the huge changes in the latest and greatest iPhone. But stick with the current case, and the very same internal changes become insignificant. Can you see the disconnect?

Besides, it’s not unusual for Apple to keep the case the same, or substantially the same, through several product revisions. That was true with the iPhone 3 series and whole generations of Macs, so why should it change now? And how does it even make a difference, if the hardware and software is otherwise significantly improved?

I suppose Apple had to meet a higher standard last week, what with Tim Cook running the company without Steve Jobs watching his back. They had to demonstrate that the company was in good hands, and would continue to build the sort of products the public was prepared to embrace with passion.

Understand that the iPhone 4s is not mainly for owners of the iPhone 4, most of whom wouldn’t be able to upgrade without paying a substantial penalty to their wireless carriers. Instead, it’s meant for new customers, plus those who have older iPhones and are eligible to upgrade their hardware and pay the regular subsidized price. There are millions of those out there who have waited patiently for the next iPhone.

Apple’s strategy, tried and proven, has been shown to be correct once again. As the stock price soared Monday, Apple announced that over one million pre-orders for the iPhone 4s were received on the very first day. The initial stock has already been exhausted, and those of you who order one now will have to wait a week or two for delivery.

Now in the summer of 2010, Apple tallied 600,000 iPhone 4 sales the very first day, with a total of, as I recall, 1.7 million sold as of the first weekend on sale. What Apple will record as of next Sunday night is anyone’s guess, though sales of two million or more wouldn’t be out of the question. So much for a minor upgrade, and a disappointing product introduction.

Now none of this means that the iPhone 4s will garner universally positive reviews, or even close. I expect some reporters will assume that there are few changes, and color their evaluations appropriately. However, to be truly fair and balanced about the whole thing, they should actually test the claims of vast performance improvements with games, Web browsing, and general OS snappiness. The antenna system should be evaluated to see if a “death grip” produces any negative impact. Certainly the iPhone 4s ought to be tested in neighborhoods where a wireless carrier has marginal service, just to see if the quality of the connection is improved, and the number of dropped calls reduced.

In other tests, still pictures and movies should be examined carefully against those produced by the iPhone 4 and competing handsets. Also, Siri’s accuracy in the real world should be throughly evaluated, with the realization that it’s still regarded as a beta and may not always perform efficiently or accurately.

Of course, this is all simply common sense. You expect that product testers will give the iPhone 4s a thorough going over and, shorn of Apple’s claims, attempt to determine just how much of an improvement it really is. Apple’s decision to stick with a 3.5-inch display, against Android OS handsets of four inches or more, ought to be given some real-world consideration. Does a larger screen make sense on a smartphone? How does a larger unit impact portability? Would it fit into your pocket or purse as comfortably, or fall neatly to hand?

One of Apple’s historical advantages against the competition is elegance. An Apple gadget generally runs smoothly, looks great, and isn’t too difficult to master. There have been exceptions, of course, and even today’s Mac has its share of usability traps. But so long as Apple continues to concentrate on the features that work, rather than the ones that look good in a PowerPoint presentation, they should do well.

Yes, Apple’s rivals will complain that the iPhone 4s isn’t a significant upgrade, and that they can beat Apple on sheer specs. But it doesn’t seem as if those complaints will really hurt Apple’s sales.

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