Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled the iPhone 4S, a major upgrade over its previous iPhone 4 model that includes the ability to run on both GSM and CDMA networks, a faster, dual-core processor, an 8 megapixel camera and a software program that acts as a virtual assistant.
The iPhone 4S also marks the first time Sprint (NYSE:S) is getting the iPhone, joining AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZW) as the three U.S. carriers to sell the hallowed handset.
Available for pre-order from Apple.com, Apple retail partners and carriers Oct. 7, the iPhone 4S will be available Oct. 14 in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the UK. The phone will cost $199 for 16GB of storage, $299 for 32GB and $399 for the 64GB model.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and his cadre of executives unveiled the smartphone, along with refreshed iPod touch devices, at an event at the company's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters Oct. 4. The event, best captured online here by Engadget, was widely expected to include an iPhone 5, but Apple dispelled that notion by the time the event ended, shy of two hours.
The iPhone 4S even boasted the same design as the iPhone 4, launched some 15 months ago, as Apple noted: "iPhone 4S has the same beautifully thin glass and stainless steel design that millions of customers around the world love, while being completely redesigned on the inside."
Offering no apologies for the glaring absence of the long-rumored iPhone 5, Cook and his team touted how the phone is powered by Samsung's A5 chip, which also fuels Apple's popular iPad 2 tablet computer, and promises to deliver as much as twice the processing power and seven times faster graphics than the iPhone 4.
The phone's camera has also been augmented, trading the former 5 megapixel lens for an 8 megapixel shutter, which includes 1080p HD resolution video recording. The iPhone 4S camera app also has the ability to shoot pictures twice as fast.
As for software, Cook and company showed off some of the more than 200 new features in iOS 5, the company's latest mobile operating system refresh.
These perks include Notification Center, which helps users view and manage notifications from one screen and iMessage, which lets users send text messages, photos and videos to any iOS 5 users. iOS 5, which also boasts major Twitter integration, will be available on Oct. 12 as a free software update via iTunes 10.5 for customers who own an iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
iCloud is also a huge part of the iPhone 4S' appeal, allowing users to access their music, photos, apps, contacts, calendars, documents via the Web and sync them across their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or PC.
Users may wirelessly store their content in iCloud, and when content changes on the user's iPhone 4S, the changes will be reflected on each of his or her Apple iPads, iPod touches or Mac and PC computers.
For example, a consumer can buy a song from iTunes from their iPad and find it waiting for them on their iPhone 4S later. iCloud will be available Oct. 12 s a free download to iPhone, iPad or iPod touch users running iOS 5 or a Mac running OS X Lion with a valid Apple ID. iCloud includes 5GB of free cloud storage for mail, document, storage and backup.
From a strategic standpoint, iCloud is certainly a big deal because it is expected to help Apple sufficiently answer smartphones and tablets built on Google's Android operating system.
The highlight of the day wasn't iCloud, which will launch Oct. 12. It was Siri, a virtual personal assistant that lets users speak into their handset's microphone to direct the device to retrieve information, or perform other task. Like Google's Voice Actions software, Siri helps users make calls, send text messages or email, schedule meetings and reminders, search the Web and find local businesses.
However, Siri goes several steps further, relying on human-oriented intelligence to retrieve answers. For example, users may ask Siri what the weather is like somewhere, or more specifically, whether they will require an umbrella that day.
The application has the opportunity to be the first true mainstream artificial intelligence application the world has ever seen. Or it might not be used much at all. It's tough to tell, until Apple launches the handset in less than two weeks.
Shares of Apple fell 19.25 to $356.14 on the lack of an iPhone 5, but rebounded to $372.50 in after-hours trading.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster added that despite no iPhone 5 unveiling, the iPhone 4S will meet or exceed unit expectations, as it represents the first iPhone launch at two major U.S. carriers (Verizon and Sprint). He expects Apple to sell 25 million iPhones for the December quarter and 11 million for all of 2012.