Did Apple just misstep with the iPhone 4S?
That seems to be the opinion of some tech pundits, who took to the blogosphere within hours of Apple's Oct. 4 unveiling to vent their disappointment in the newest update to the popular iPhone franchise.
"Apple no longer has a leading edge, its cloud service is even behind Android; it can only sell on brand loyalty now," Gartner analyst C.K. Lu told Reuters Oct. 5.
In the weeks heading up to the release of the iPhone 4S, any number of tech publications seemed focused on the theory that Apple would release a high-end "iPhone 5" with a revamped body and higher-end hardware, perhaps paired with a set of midmarket devices modeled after the iPhone 4.
While the iPhone 5 didn't make an appearance, it seems a version of the "midmarket" iPhone 4 ended up coming true. While the iPhone 4S will retail for $199 for the 16GB version, and include Apple's higher-end A5 processor and an 8-megapixel camera, the company will sell the iPhone 4 for $99, low enough to make it a player against lower-cost Android devices.
Certainly the iPhone's new presence on Sprint could help boost sales, as well. It remains to be seen whether T-Mobile will remain the only U.S. carrier left out of the iPhone party for very long, or whether Apple will announce a deal with them in the near future. But if AT&T completes its hoped-for T-Mobile acquisition despite federal scrutiny, that renders the question moot.
But will the iPhone 4S fulfill the predictions of early naysayers and lead to an erosion in Apple market share? Google Android owned some 43 percent of the U.S. smartphone market through August, a slight uptick from 40 percent in July, according to data released by research firm Nielsen.
Apple's iOS came in behind Android with 28 percent of the market, followed by Research In Motion with 18 percent. In a Sept. 26 blog posting, Don Kellog, Nielsen's director of telecom research & insights, noted that Apple's iPhone launches regularly translate into an uptick in sales.
However, Apple also faces heartier competition in the form of new high-end Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the latest additions to the Motorola Droid franchise, which could complicate the equation somewhat. Despite legal challenges from Microsoft and Apple, various Android manufacturers also seem determined to release devices with increasingly improved hardware and software, which in turn are evidently gaining traction with consumers.
So Apple definitely faces some challenges. However, if the last decade's proved anything, it's that you underestimate Cupertino's ability to compete at your peril.