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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