The story of the iPhone, continuing with the 2011 iPhone 4S, which upped the camera ante and introduced the world to Siri
Nothing about 2011 was normal. Tim Cook had introduced the Verizon iPhone 4 at the beginning of the year and Apple had finally shipped the white iPhone 4 by spring. But unlike previous years, WWDC 2011 came and went with nary a mention nor a glimpse of a new iPhone. Steve Jobs went on medical leave again, and later resigned as CEO. He passed away on October 5, 2011. Just a day after Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, SVO of Marketing Phil Schiller, and others valiantly took the stage at a special media called "Let's Talk iPhone" and, no doubt under tremendous emotional strain, introduced the iPhone 4S.
“iPhone 4S plus iOS 5 plus iCloud is a breakthrough combination that makes the iPhone 4S the best iPhone ever,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “While our competitors try to imitate iPhone with a checklist of features, only iPhone can deliver these breakthrough innovations that work seamlessly together.”
Previously there had only been about a year between different iPhone models. They launched every June or July from 2007 to 2010. Whether Verizon and their customers were given more time with the iPhone 4, or whether features like iCloud or Siri took more time develop, or whether Apple simply wanted to move the iPhone from summer to fall to replace the slowing iPod line in the all important pre-holiday quarter, or some confluence of all of those things is uncertain. What is certain is that the gap between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S is currently the largest in the product's history.
16 months in the making
The iPhone 4S, codename N94 and model number iPhone4,1, was the second time, following the iPhone 3GS, that Apple kept the same basic design on the market two years running, concentrating their improvements on the internal components instead. That meant the same 960x480 326ppi Retina display and IPS LED panel. It also had the same composition, with two layers of chemically hardened glass sandwiched on either side of a stainless steel antenna band.
The antenna band itself, which had proven problematic on the iPhone 4, was improved. It had the same configuration as the Verizon iPhone 4, but Apple split it into two components and enabled it to intelligent switch between them to avoid attenuation and detuning both. While CDMA EVDO Rev A data speeds had already been maxed out - given slow it was to begin with - Apple boosted the UMTS/HSPA speed to 14.4mbps. The new Qualcomm RTR8605 chipset was dual-mode, however, so even the Verizon (and later Sprint) CDMA models could work on GSM internationally, making the iPhone 4S Apple's first "world phone".
Wi-Fi stayed the same at 802.11 b/g/n on 2.4Mhz, but aGPS was augmented by Russian GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System), and Bluetooth jumped to 4.0 with support for both high-speed (HS) and low-engery (LE) modes. Typically radio-conservative Apple was making a big bet on the future of Bluetooth, and none at all on NFC (near-field communications).
As was becoming the pattern with S-class upgrades, the processor got a significant boost - a version of the Apple A5 system-on-a-chip (SoC) that debuted with the iPad 2 earlier in the year. The A5 featured a dual-core Cortex A9 central processing unit with Imagination's PowerVR SGX 543MP2 graphics processing unit. Apple claimed a 2x general speed improvement and a 7x graphics improvement.
All of this helped enable features like AirPlay mirroring, which let the iPhone project its interface to the Apple TV, and Siri, which replaced the previous Voice Control feature with a full-on virtual digital assistant feature powered by natural language, and a Pixar-like personality. Unfortunately, network issues plagued Siri at launch, and well after. The debate as to whether or not to release Siri with the iPhone 4S was rumored to have lasted up until just before launch. Key parts of the technology were licensed from Nuance, however, and Apple historically had less expertise in services than they did in hardware and software, resulting in multiple points of pain for them, and for users.