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Ear to the Ground

New iPhone: Don’t Judge the 4S by Its Cover

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Posted on Oct 4, 2011
Courtesy of Apple

Apple announced Tuesday the first new iPhone in 16 months. It says the 4S is twice as fast, has a better camera and can communicate with you like a virtual manservant. But it looks just like the old version and that seems to have disappointed those of us who spent months fantasizing about a mythical “iPhone 5.”

The fact is Apple has pretty much figured out how to make the perfect phone. The only major complaint about the original iPhone 4 was that it had antenna issues that interfered with making and receiving calls. Those are said to be ironed out in this incarnation.

It would have been nice to see 4G and its superior download speeds—Apple was already behind the curve with the last new iPhone, and by the time the next version comes out the addition of a modern data radio will probably embarrass for its long absence. A larger screen would have made something of a splash, but Apple’s “Retina Display” is still fetching, and changing it to something bigger would have upset as many as it would have pleased.

Instead of changing the phone’s appearance, Apple has stuffed it with superior innards. A new dual-core processor the likes of which can be found in the much larger iPad promises twice the speed, while a new graphics processor allows for more powerful gaming. A new eight-megapixel camera is supposed to not only take better photos but greatly reduce the lag between shots. Long-heralded improvements to the phone’s operating system, along with cloud services that sync your music, contacts and other data seamlessly, bring Apple up to speed with its rivals and will enhance the user experience.

Add to all this the magical Siri, a software personal assistant that Apple claims will take voice recognition to a more useful and human place. You speak commands and questions to the phone and it carries on a conversation while supplying information, reading and responding to text messages, booking appointments and so forth. It’s a digital Jeeves with all the problem-solving and none of the quiet subversion.

Why then does this announcement feel like such a dud to those of us who obsess over personal gadgetry? Maybe because we were expecting something like this. Apple’s stock fell after the iPhone 4S was announced. Did I mention that the phone is twice as fast as the last version?

Two of the key features of the iPhone 4S, voice recognition and cloud services, aim to correct notable failures from Apple’s past. The iPhone 3GS had voice commands and they were useless. MobileMe, Apple’s original cloud initiative, was such a disaster that it prompted a reorganization and a letter of shame from former CEO Steve Jobs to his employees. In this version of the iPhone, Apple has confronted its missteps with promising results. (“Cloud” is tech speak for services and applications that store your data online, rather than keeping it in a hard drive connected to your computer. The idea is that you access what you need, as you need it, from any place with an Internet connection.)

Apple usually wows us by taking products that are functional and simple and making them seem otherworldly. In this instance, Apple has managed to make major improvements that come off as ho-hum.

After Tuesday’s meh announcement, I’m much more interested to see what Google’s next flagship phone, the Nexus Prime, turns out to be. But I don’t buy iPhones. My mom does, and she will want this. Very badly.  —PZS

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Queenie's avatar

By Queenie, October 5, 2011 at 11:14 am Link to this comment

Gzoref:

No. I will not lighten up. Yes. I came to this website via computer. I do not have a “smart” phone or use one.

My point:

My computer does not have to be traded in for a new model every year. It is old and I like it. It is NOT WIRELESS!!! Do you have any idea the damage wireless technology does to our environment? Or don’t you give a rat’s arse about eating, because the pollinators are being knocked off by wireless everything from cell phones to “smart” meters. And without them, we don’t eat.
And what about birds? Do you want to live in a world without birdsong? A silent spring?
And what’s this troll thing? You calling me a troll because I spoke what was on my mind? That’s what we are here for bub.
I was born in 1942. We could breath the air. And play in the sun. Swim in the ocean. There were tons of birds and bees and critters and lots of space for them to live in. Forests, fields, meadows, blue skies, a clean environment. Technology destroyed all that and goddamit, technology isn’t going to bring it back.
So go ahead, if it makes you feel more like a man to deride others who remember how beautiful our planet was. I suggest you don’t carry your latest gizmo too close to your pecker, though.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 5, 2011 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

OUTSIDE-THE-BOX

rt: But I doubt the world would be any better or our social-political problems any less without an Apple product.

That’s where I beg to differ. Not only is America fixated on “gadgets” it is drugged. Forty-percent of those with an iPhone4 will purchase an iPhone5 (at no less a price).

Values are key to societal development and yet you dismiss them as somewhat less important than profits - if I get the gist of your message that insists companies making profits are only measure of what is good and not good.

It is possibly irrelevant to you that the iPhone cannot possibly be made and sold in America at its current price in dollars. So, we are living off the backs of Far East labor - which is just fine ... for the Far East. But not so good for the kids between 16 and 28 who have an unemployment rate in the mid-teens.

Societal values are indeed important, in fact they are key to the development of country in terms other than GDP growth - which is yet another fixation of the American spirit. They are particularly key in understanding egalitarian values.

What’s that, egalitarian values? These are the intrinsic values of a people that distinguish nations that are guided from the misguided.

Why does this happen? Because America has an educational system that teaches children to think inside-the-box not outside. To think outside the box, one needs a grounding in philosophy. (To exchange views outside-the-box, one needs a grounding in debating.)

Philosophy = the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 5, 2011 at 9:26 am Link to this comment

rt: But I doubt the world would be any better or our social-political problems any less without an Apple product.

That’s where I beg to differ. Not only is America fixated on “gadgets” it is drugged. Forty-percent of those with an iPhone4 will purchase an iPhone5 (at no less a price).

Values are key to societal development and yet you dismiss them as somewhat irrelevant - if I get the gist of your message that insists companies making profits are only measure of what is good and not good.

It is possibly irrelevant to you that the iPhone cannot possibly be made and sold in America at its current price in dollars. So, we are living off the backs of Far East labor - which is just fine ... for the Far East.

Societal values are indeed important, in fact they are key to the development of country in terms other than GDP growth - which is yet another fixation of the American spirit.

Why does this happen? Because America has an educational system that teaches children to think inside-the-box not outside. To think outside the box, one needs a grounding in philosophy.

Philosophy =

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redteddy's avatar

By redteddy, October 5, 2011 at 9:12 am Link to this comment

@Lafayette

I am not sure if you can blame an iphone for societies distractions nor can you
blame it for the lack of a health care system.  Its an innovation, nothing else,
and to tell you the truth I much more appreciate a company that makes money
from technological innovation than from money changing hands,  They employ
people who need work here and abroad and they have contributed to a
changing society more than any other gadget company.  If you don’t want buy
their products because you don’t have the need or desire that’s fine. But I doubt
the world would be any better or our social-political problems any less without
an Apple product. As far as the military is concerned I don’t worry over those
who volunteered for the armed service.  They weren’t drafted, it was what they
signed up for, its their risk, such is life. And still that has nothing to to with
Apple or any other commercial product.  Commerce and technology is just as
important to society as anything else.  Its foolish to put so much social
responsibility on a mere phone.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 4, 2011 at 11:35 pm Link to this comment

ESCAPISM

PZS: But it looks just like the old version and that seems to have disappointed those of us who spent months fantasizing about a mythical “iPhone 5.

Poor, poor you.

Isn’t fantasizing about the newest, latest gadget a fundamental right in the US?

In fact, it’s like a drug. It takes your mind off what is really ‘n truly important (like the political mess this country is in) because we are fixated on this inanimate object in our hands. Which, due to its tangibility, seems so much more a part of our lives.

Yes, the iPhone and other such nerdy products, make our lives better in subtle ways. Their impact upon our productivity is very obvious.

But whilst elsewhere our lives are being ruined by far more important currents, isn’t it Very Wrong to be indulging in escapism?

MY POINT

We can probably live without an iPhone. Really!

But it is far less certain that we can “live” without a decent National Health Care system that does not cost an arm and a leg.

And we might very well die if we are young, without a job and we are attracted by the siren-song of military service where we are paid to put our lives on the line daily. (Fully 20% of returning army veterans are under care for psychological problems directly attributable to their military service abroad.)

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By Gzoref, October 4, 2011 at 9:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Lighten up, Queenie.

What did you use to visit this website and post your comment? Not a computer or
smart phone, I’m sure, cause that would make you a hypocrite.

(Yeah yeah, I know, don’t feed the trolls and all that)

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By Tim, October 4, 2011 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Queenie:

I understand your frustration. I haven’t owned a computer since 2001. I keep my trash minimal. But, I can at least rejoice due to computers getting smaller. A dual core processor in a handheld device is huge, in that the piles at the landfills will be smaller.

In addition, print media has a pretty significant impact (footprint) on the environment. I’d have a lot more magazines coming to my door besides The Nation if print media was still king. But, now I can get Truthdig on a tiny device.

I’ve come to grips with the reality that people won’t halt this drive for mutual destruction until the oil runs out. We’ll see.

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zonth_zonth's avatar

By zonth_zonth, October 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
Whose problem is it?  Who will benefit?  Who wil pay for it?
What new problems will the new technology create?

Neil Postman

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By Peter Z. Scheer, October 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment

Queenie, it’s funny to imagine the cat making the
comment.

You raise an excellent point, however. There are
extremely dangerous waste products produced not only
in the manufacture of consumer electronics, but in
their disposal. Much of both is outsourced to the
developing world, with devastating effect.

Also, because they are subsidized by carriers, the
consumer rarely appreciates the true cost of phones
and they can become almost disposable relative to the
damage they can do. There are those who cover this
industry who have argued for higher prices so that
people are less reckless in their consumerism.

But I would also argue that as more sophisticated
phones make their way down the food chain, they open
up a world of information to people in places like
India who would otherwise not have access to the
Internet.

It is much easier to set up cell towers than to lay
cable, though one wonders what all that radiation
will do to us.

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Queenie's avatar

By Queenie, October 4, 2011 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

Just how much of the environment are you geeks willing to give up so you can have your latest toys? Huh?
How many landfills, how many islands of floating plastic crap will satisfy you?
Go ahead, flame away if it makes you happy.

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