Apparently, the tagline for Apple's iPhone event earlier today – "Let's Talk iPhone" – was a clue. Along with the new iPhone's comes a new voice interface dubbed "Siri."
But first, the hardware news.
As expected, Apple today finally revealed this year's iPhone, the iPhone 4S, which the company says will run at 4G speeds and will go on sale Oct. 14, with pre-orders starting this Friday, Oct. 7: 16 GB ($199), 32 GB ($299) and, new for this year, 64 GB ($399), in black or white, from AT&T, Verizon and, as speculated, Sprint.
For the first time, Apple unveiled more than one new iPhone. There's a $99 iPhone 4 with 8 GB of memory, and a free/subsidized 8 GB 3GS. All prices are contingent on the usual two-year contract commitment.
Also as speculated, iPhone 4S looks just like the iPhone 4, but is a true "world" phone – it includes dual antennas, one for CDMA and one for GSM, which means it'll work in any country.
iPhone 4S also gets a lot of other expected performance boosts, including:
- iPad's speedier 1.2 GHz processor, which provides seven times faster real world performance than the 1 GHz chip in the iPhone 4, according to Apple;
- an 8 MP camera, 3264 x 2448 pixels, using a new sensor chip that will snap photos 33 percent faster; according to Apple, the iPhone 4S will shoot a shot in 1.1 seconds and a second candid in a half second, compared to more than two seconds for capture an image with the Samsung Galaxy S II and nearly four seconds for Motorola's Droid Bionic;
- 1080p video recording;
- longer battery life – eight hours talk time, 14 hours using 2G, six hours 3G web browsing, nine hours Wi-Fi Web browsing, 10 hours video watching, 40 hours music listening.
The bad news: iPhone 4S has the same, suddenly anachronistic, 3.5-inch display, which is more than an inch smaller than the display on the Samsung Galaxy II S Android models from Sprint (available now) and from T-Mobile, which will go on sale two days before the iPhone 4S.
But the new iPhone 4S were only a small part of Apple's event.
iCloud, iOS 5, iPod
New Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the new iOS 5 operating system service would be available for download for current iPhone 4s, 3GS, iPads 1 and 2, and the last two iPod Touch generations on Oct. 12, along with the new free iCloud service.
iOS 5 includes numerous enhancements, including:
- Notifications: Similar to Android, the top status bar now pulls down like a window shade to show you awaiting calendar appointments, emails, texts, etc. Swipe across one of the notifications and you get to the appropriate app.
- iMessage: Allows you to send messages to other iOS devices, of which there are now 250,000 plus.
- Reminders: Location-based notifications.
- Twitter: The social networking service is now more tightly integrated into the operating system. No more signing in multiple times, and you can now share photos from your library or shot with the iPhone camera.
- Camera: You can now double tap the Home button to instantly get to the camera, and use the Volume Up key as a shutter release.
Apple also peeled off some new iPods. New iPod Nanos – with 16 new clock faces, including a Mickey Mouse watch face – are available today in 8 GB ($129) and 16 GB ($149) capacities, $20 and $30 less than last year's models, respectively.
New iPod Touches, now in a white version, will be available Oct. 12 in 8 GB ($199, $30 less than last year), 32 GB ($299) and 64 GB ($399).
But the big news, of course, is the iPhone 4S and the voice-control Siri app.
Talk to me
Front and center was not the Apple hardware or the operating system or iCloud, but Siri – actually the name of a voice control development company that Apple bought last April.
You may now ask your iPhone questions or tell it what to do as if you were talking to your child, your neighbor, co-worker or whomever, in everyday, normal language. You don't even first have to say "iPhone!" to preface your instruction or perform any other syntactical gymnastics as you would if you were using any current smart phone voice command technology.
Instead, you hold down the Home key until a microphone icon pops up, then you ask a question or make a request.
For instance, ask "What is the weather like today?" Siri responds: "Here is the forecast for today." Ask for Italian restaurants near you, and Siri gives you a list. Ask Siri what a word means, ans Siri gives you the definition and the whole etymology. Ask for a stock quote, how many days until Christmas, how do you get to where you're going from where you are, do a Web search, whatever. Sometimes Siri will even reply in a GPS lady voice.
Or, if you say "call dad on Monday," for instance, iPhone will create a reminder for you – also a new iOS 5 function called (duh) Reminder. Or, just say you need to hot foot it to a chiropodist next Thursday, and Siri will create a calendar appointment. She'll even help you resolve scheduling conflicts. Or, tell Siri to text your spouse you'll be late for dinner, and a text will be created and transmitted forthwith.
Is Siri self-aware? An Apple exc asked Siri, "Who are you?" and Siri replied, "I am a humble personal assistant."
There is a catch, of course. Actually, a couple of catches. Siri uses technology in the cloud to translate your speech into action, which means you'll need an Internet connection, Wi-Fi or 3G, to send your requests up the line.
And Siri is so sophisticated, she might work only on iPhone 4S's more advanced processor, which means she might only work on the new iPhone 4S.
Whether Siri can be activated and used via a Bluetooth or wired headphone also remains to be seen.
iPhone 4S also lets you escape the drudgery of tediously tapping on the the keyboard and lets you dictate your email and texts. This Dictation feature will be beta at first – English (U.S., U.K., Australia), French and German – with more languages to come.
Which leads us back to the new iPhone 4S hardware itself.
iPhone 4S – 4G? Not 4G?
Unfortunately, the new iPhone 4S is not 4G. But, Apple says the 4S will upload and download data as fast as any 4G phone.
How? iPhone 4S will move data twice as fast as the current iPhone, a theoretical speed boost from 7.2 megbits per second to 14.4 Mbps.
I'm afraid you'll have to wait 10 days until I get one to test these speed claims and Siri's responsiveness.