There's not a whole lot I can add to the discussion of Steve Jobs over the past week, so I'm not going to try. I will say that the intensity of the coverage, and of people's reactions to Jobs, positive and negative, only confirms the important role that technology now plays in all our lives.
Life goes on, meanwhile, even for Apple. On the day before Jobs' passing, his successor Tim Cook announced a new iPhone, the 4S. The 4S has numerous internal improvements, including an 8-megapixel camera and voice recognition features, but looks the same as the iPhone 4 from the outside. This refuted numerous rumors and supposed leaks indicating that a whole new phone, perhaps called the iPhone 5, would be introduced, perhaps with a larger screen and with a "teardrop" design that was thicker at one end than the other.
After being primed by all the speculation to expect a game-changer, some people complained that the actual 4S wasn't enough of an improvement from the iPhone 4. A few even predicted that the lack of a redesigned case would hurt sales. Some people treat owning the latest and greatest iPhone as a status symbol, and the iPhone 4S, looking just like the iPhone 4 to the casual observer, gives such status-seekers no reason to upgrade.
An article by Horace Dediu at the web site Asymco.com ( http://goo.gl/JSxqr ), which Dediu also posted as an answer to a question at Quora.com, has a great analysis of why Apple didn't choose to make a major upgrade at this time. Many users of Apple's previous iPhone, the iPhone 4, as well as many users of Android smartphones, are still under contract to their cell phone carriers. They'd have to pay full price if they got a new iPhone from their existing carriers, or would have to pay an early-termination fee to their old carrier if they got a new iPhone from someone else.
Instead, Dediu said the iPhone 4S is aimed at two groups: users of older iPhone models (iPhone 3GS or earlier) who are coming off their contracts and ready to upgrade, or customers who might be ready to ditch their feature phones ("feature phone" is the industry term for anything less than a smartphone). A complete reinvention of the iPhone isn't necessary to reach either of those markets.
The iPhone 4S will also be the first iPhone available from Sprint.
Dediu predicts a more dramatic upgrade at this time next year, by which time iPhone 4 users and early Android users will be rolling out of their contracts and ready to try something new.
By the way, the new pricing structure announced with the introduction of the 4S will make the older iPhone 4 less expensive, and the iPhone 3GS free with a two-year contract. This will be the first time that any iPhone has been offered free of charge, and it will be interesting to see if that also entices some feature phone users to make the jump to a smartphone. An article by Evan Niu of Motley Fool at the MSNBC web site ( http://goo.gl/r3ohz ) disputes a claim that AT&T hasn't made yet -- but almost certainly will make -- that its iPhone 4S will be faster than those sold by Verizon or Sprint. Differences in the data networks used by the three carriers mean that the fastest level speeds the device can achieve on AT&T's HSDPA network are faster than achievable on the EVDO networks used by Sprint and Verizon. But Niu points out that the difference is based on theoretical top speeds for those respective technologies. He said that because of other factors, there probably won't be much of a difference at all in the everyday speeds experienced by actual customers on those different networks.
All three carriers also have higher-speed LTE networks in some areas, but the iPhone 4S isn't able to use that technology.
According to Niu, AT&T is lobbying with Apple to have a "4G" indicator show up whenever the iPhone 4S is in reach of AT&T's fastest HDSPA technology, which AT&T bills as 4G. The use of the term 4G is a point of contention between mobile providers and standard-making agencies, with critics saying that AT&T's HSDPA technology doesn't meet the official definition of 4G at all. It remains to be seen whether Apple will jump into the fray by granting AT&T's request.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.