John Gruber is on a roll countering the notion that the iPhone 4S is disappointing by citing record-breaking preorder numbers. And yes, by sales, the iPhone 4S is doing extremely well, and many people are speaking with their wallets in approval of the new device.
However, a device can be both a commercial success and still be a bit of a disappointment. Being disappointed in a product update doesn’t mean that the update makes the product worse, or that you won’t buy it, it just means that it’s below your expectations of what the update would improve.
I personally know at least four people that were waiting for the iPhone update to upgrade. Most of them have expressed disappointment with the update, and said that had they had known what the update was going to be, they would have bought an iPhone 4 months ago. Yet most, if not all, of the people will end up buying a 4S. Contrast that with the fact that I don’t know anyone that wasn’t planning on purchasing an iPhone that has expressed interest in the iPhone 4S. I’m willing to admit some selection bias – I’ve been advising people to wait for the update, so it’s understandable that most of them have followed my recommendation.
It’s also worth exploring a bit exactly what seems disappointing. Again, those that misunderstand why some people consider the iPhone 4S a disappointment also misunderstand the reason why some people do. It’s not just the fact that the outward appearance hasn’t changed, though I will say that had the outward appearance changed it would have gone a long way to mask the fact that the other upgrades were mediocre as well. No, another reason why the 4S is considered a disappointment is that there has been no truly new hardware added. Every hardware difference between the iPhone 4 and the 4S is a matter of degree: faster processor, better camera, better antenna. No LTE. No NFC. Nothing like inductive charging or other “nice to have” additions either. Not even a memory increase, something even the 3GS managed to have over its predecessor.
Compare this with the iPhone 4 – there were several huge differences between the iPhone 4 and the preceding 3GS. The 480 by 320 screen on the 3GS was dated back when it first appeared on the original in 2007 (Palm had the same resolution on the Tungsten T3 that came out in 2003), but the retina display leapfrogged the competition and has, until very recently, remained the highest resolution screen on a smartphone, and is still the highest pixel density screen on the market. A front camera was added for FaceTime calling. The build quality significantly improved from the bulbous, plastic back to beautiful flat glass. And of course the CPU, camera, and, yes, antenna were improved as well. A gyroscope was added. And they even managed to double the memory.
The iPhone 4 is, in my opinion, one of the best products Apple has ever made, and one of the most substantial product updates. And so, by extension, the 4S is ever that so much better. But only just. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect them to pull a rabbit out of their hat every year, but when you look at what they’re capable of when they put their mind to something, you can’t help but be disappointed when what they come out with is something you know could have been even better.
Filed under Op-Ed