Apple fans faced two major disappointments this week – the death of Steve Jobs and the shock launch of the iPhone 4S, instead of the highly anticipated iPhone 5.

Jobs’ tragic death was no real surprise; his ongoing ill-health, the resignation in August and recent photos of the frail looking Apple co-founder indicated that the end was nigh.

It’s the conclusion to a great life and a magnificent era. However, the beginning of the new Apple era this week did not get off to a good start.

Recently-appointed Apple CEO Tim Cook (who is said to be gay) has shown that, compared to his predecessor, managing expectations of the public and media could prove to be a problem for the company.

The world was abuzz with rumours that Tuesday would see the launch of the iPhone 5 – something that had Apple fans in a tizz; anticipating all kinds of miraculous innovations. Instead, Cook pulled out the iPhone 4S – an update of the current iPhone.

This may not in itself be a bad thing, but Apple should have realised that the hype around the launch was doomed to lead to a very public anti-climax; something it has largely avoided in the past.

Putting aside the disappointed expectations, let’s have a look at this iPhone 4S. Is it worth lusting after, or should we rather just wait for the iPhone 5?

Apple punts the iPhone 4S as “the most amazing iPhone yet, packed with incredible new features”. That sounds a little desperate to me, but the new release definitely appears to be an improvement; with faster performance and a much better camera.

The iPhone 4S looks just like the iPhone 4, although it has been completely redesigned on the inside. Apple’s dual-core A5 chip delivers up to twice the processing power and up to seven times faster graphics than the iPhone 4, all while maintaining battery life of up to 8 hours of 3G talk time.

The iPhone 4S comes with the new iOS 5 operating system that includes over 200 new features including Notification Center, an innovative way to easily view and manage notifications in one place without interruption and iMessage™, a new messaging service (ala BBM) that lets you send text messages, photos and videos between all iOS 5 users.

The iPhone 4S further introduces Siri, an “intelligent assistant” that helps you get things done just by asking. Siri apparently understands context, allowing you to speak naturally when you ask it questions, for example, if you ask “Will I need an umbrella this weekend?” it understands you are looking for a weather forecast.

If you tell Siri “Remind me to call Mom when I get home” it can find “Mom” in your address book, or ask Siri “What’s the traffic like around here?” and it can figure out where “here” is based on your current location. Siri helps you make calls, send text messages or email, schedule meetings and reminders, make notes, search the Internet, find local businesses, get directions and more. You can also get answers, find facts and even perform complex calculations just by asking.

This intelligent assistant sounds quite cool and I’m excited to try it out and see if it lives up to its promise.

iPhone 4S will also be able to make use of the iCloud – a set of free ‘cloud’ services, including iTunes® in the Cloud, Photo Stream and Documents in the Cloud, that work seamlessly with your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or PC to automatically and wirelessly store your content in iCloud and push it to all your devices. When content changes on one device, all your other devices are updated automatically and wirelessly.

The late Steve Jobs

Making sure that its camera’s resolution is up there with its competitors, the iPhone 4S also includes an all new camera. The 8 megapixel sensor has 60 percent more pixels so you can take higher quality photos. The iPhone 4S includes a new custom lens, a larger f/2.4 aperture and an advanced hybrid IR filter that promised to produce sharper, brighter and more accurate images.

New iOS 5 features include built-in Twitter integration and iMessage, so you can instantly share your photos via Twitter directly from the Photos app and send photos via iMessage to individuals or groups. And with iCloud’s new Photo Stream service, a photo you take on your iPhone is sent to iCloud and automatically pushed to your iPad, iPod touch, Mac or PC.

The iPhone 4S can also now record video in full 1080p HD resolution and with the new video image stabilisation feature, you can take richer, smoother videos. Other iPhone 4S video camera improvements include increased sensitivity, sharpness and an increased ability to capture video in low light conditions.

Improving on the stainless steel external, dual-antenna design of iPhone 4, which caused problems with reception for users in the past, iPhone 4S claims to be the first phone to intelligently switch between two antennas to send and receive.

Based on the information supplied, it may well be worthwhile getting hold of the iPhone 4S, after all, we don’t know when the iPhone 5 will actually be launched. I have little doubt that iPhone 4S will be an improvement on its previous incarnation. It may not be the groundbreaking must-have item we all expected, but it’s made sure that the iPhone will for now remain the most sought-after smartphone around.

The iPhone 4S launch does, however, leave a slender gap for a competitor to finally catch up with or even supersede Apple in the smartphone department. The media has already begun to ask if Apple can maintain its leadership position without Steve Jobs at the helm. Tim Cook has his work cut out for him.

Although no official date has been announced, the iPhone 4S is expected to be available in South Africa in December.

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