What does a Russian satellite system have to do with the iPhone 4S' GPS capabilities? Allow us to explain. Russian site iPhones.ru recently noticed that the 4S' spec page lists support for both assisted GPS and GLONASS -- the Kremlin's global navigation satellite system and acronym for GLObalnaya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema. The country launched GLONASS 35 years ago in the hopes that it would eventually provide an alternative to GPS and the EU's forthcoming Galileo, thereby reducing Russia's dependence upon US- or Europe-operated systems. The global system has since been beset by delays and budgetary setbacks, but last week, a Russian rocket successfully launched the 24th and final GLONASS satellite, completing the constellation and inching the infrastructure closer to activation.
As of today, of course, the system is still dormant, though news of the iPhone 4S' support has already elicited a delightfully surprised response from the Russian media, with daily Vedomosti writing: "If the iPhone 4S really does have Glonass navigation, this would be the first time the Russian system reached the world market." (Nokia, it's worth noting, announced in August that it would manufacture GLONASS-compliant handsets, while Samsung's High Fidelity Position app offers similar compatibility.) In light of Russia's economic and regulatory climate, however, the move may not seem so shocking. The Kremlin already imposes import taxes on handsets that don't support GLONASS and, as Russia's iGuides.ru points out, has even threatened non-compliant devices with an outright ban. Apple, meanwhile, has made no secret of its interest in expanding its influence within the country, with CEO Tim Cook recently referring to the Russian market as "more promising." It remains to be seen whether this added support results in sharper navigation capabilities, or if it enhances Apple's presence within Russia, but it's certainly a compelling development, nonetheless.