Our DNA is written in Objective-C

It’s the 5th Generation, Dummy!

There’s been much brouhaha – especially by the German media – about how disappointed everybody is about the iPhone 4S. No new look. Only better camera and better CPU. Ah and there’s this voice recognition which Android’s been having for years.

I beg to differ, massively. I am stoked, ecstatic about the iPhone 4S. Let me share my thoughts on why this move by Apple makes perfect sense and why not just iPhone newbies and 3GS owners will buy it.

BSA Banner

The main argument in favor of the 4S has been a rather weak one: “iPhone 4 users will not purchase the 4S because it is not substantial enough an update. The 4S is appealing as upgrade to current pre-4 users (2G, 3G, 3GS) and for users for which this will be the first Smartphone.”

I kind of felt left out by this hypothesis, being proud owner of all iPhones there have ever been. We have a strict hand-me-down policy in our house. I get the latest hardware – “because I need to test on it” – and my wife gets the previous model. Also, I don’t pay VAT and can depreciate devices as a business expense. So it makes more sense for me to buy non-subsidized unlocked phones.

I had bought my iPhone 4 in UK, shortly before they started selling unlocked iPhones in Austria. And when the two years contract of my wife’s 3GS was over I had this as well as the 3G unlocked by my carrier. Unfortunately AT&T continues to refuse to unlock original iPhones, so my museum has a 2G iPhone that’s jailbroken. Actually the in-laws are using this as mobile phone and e-mail client.

I wanted to know how you other developers are feeling about this strategy and so I did a Twitter Poll.

Pundits are argumenting that the iPhone 4S is only appealing to the 50% of iPhone users that have a model prior to iPhone 4. What do you think?


Granted, my followers on Twitter are biased, they are mostly iOS developers. But the overwhelming response was that the above stated theory does not hold for them. Only 16% agree with it. 62% are buying everything Apple releases anyway, even without a wife to hand something down to (or because there IS no wife). 22% – not something to sneeze at – are practicing the same hand-me-down strategy as me. Only 10% agree with the “not sufficiently different” option.

I think that this clearly debunks the myth that no iPhone 4 user would find the iPhone 4S appealing for himself.

There are some variants of course – some guys are putting themselves in line behind their life partner, but the basic idea stays the same: One gets the 4S one gets the 4.

I won’t bore you with the technical reasons why the 4S is a true 5th generation iPhone, but instead list a couple of non-obvious reasons why Apple is smart to do it like they are:

  • Apple likes to keep the packaging of any product around for two or three iterations. See for example the MacBook Air. With this strategy they increase customer satisfaction because you don’t fell like you have old crap once the shiny new device arrives. By making anything visually similar to the predecessor you are communicating that the previous generation is great too. So when people see my MacBook Air, they think “aha, a MacBook Air, this cool and light new MacBook”, instead of “this poor guy has an old model”.
  • Half of all iPhones sold so far have been iPhone 4, so clearly people must like the form factor and packaging. Why would you want to disappoint these people? Why would you want to completely change something that works? “Never change a winning team!”
  • Makers of accessories get a longer use out of custom-tailored solutions like the Glif, a mount that lets you fix your iPhone 4/4S onto a standard tripod. And thus people like myself who have such accessories can continue to use them. This might put a dent in manufacturers’ plans who where hoping for their products to be obsolete after a year, but for Apple the accessory business is only an afterthought.
  • The main mobile Apple products this year is iCloud and they are betting the farm on it. iCloud is the main new tech in iOS 5. Apple knows that they will get more acceptance for iCloud if new devices have it pre-installed, especially because it makes setup PC-free. Since iCloud was not ready in Summer they had to postpone the next-gen iPhone launch until now.
  • Siri is just about as revolutionary a technology that they can add to the iOS experience without distracting too much from iCloud. All of iCloud’s features will also be coming to 3GS and 4, so Siri was thrown in for good measure to make the 4S be more attractive. It’s the poster technology that people can see and be excited about, because the improved hardware performance can not really be seen and demonstrated.
  • Apple is interested to make FaceTime the standard for video calls on iOS. Every conversation needs two devices. Are these more likely to be two iPhone 4 or is it more likely that it will be subsequent generations? I would say the latter, due to the hand-me-down-syndrome. By upgrading my wife to my current iPhone 4 she gets FaceTime and we finally can use it whenever I am away on speaking engagements.
  • iOS devices had a major shift in performance when Apple moved to their own custom silicone. By having the second generation A5 SOC power the iPhone 4S Apple can further validate this approach. They needed to use the A5 in a phone to leverage all the development and tuning that went into creating it. This is why they used existing design and completely reworked the electronics.
  • The 6th generation iPhone will have to have the same CPU as the iPad 3. And since the iPad 3 is likely to have a Retina display they cannot use the A5 for that because they need to increase the graphics power by yet another factor of 4 to drive as many pixels. This means that the next generation jump is not ready yet, because the A6 is still on the drawing board.

I am making the argument that Apple’s strategy is very logical, calm, understandable, even predictable. They are giving us sufficient arguments to purchase the iPhone 4S from whatever iPhone we currently are on, even iPhone 4.

For a device that nobody wants don’t you think it is odd that that would sell out the initial alotment so quickly?

Categories: Apple


  1. I cannot help but being troubled by this “hand-me-down” pattern. It feels like you buy yourself the best and give what you don’t want anymore to your wife. I’m sure you didn’t mean bad, but phrased as you did, this sounds very sexist.

    Otherwise, I agree with you. I am disappointed that the design didn’t change (I don’t like the iPhone 4 design and was waiting for the 5th gen to upgrade), but for Apple this is very justifiable, and the 4S is not a semi-update, just as the 3GS was not a semi-update either. Apple never changes the design per se, as a fashion trend, but only if this new design can bring in some major improvements: better display, longer battery life, lighter, thinner, easier to handle…

  2. Except, by your logic, it’s a 6th gen phone.
    iPhone = 1
    iPhone 2 = 2
    iPhone 3G = 3
    iPhone 3GS = 4
    iPhone 4 = 5
    iPhone 4S = 6 gen.

  3. LOL: original iPhone = iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G was 2nd gen

  4. My wife is happy, regardless of how I formulate that she will get my iPhone 4.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: