iPhone 4S

Apple Store - LondonThis weekend I joined the hysterical masses and upgraded my increasingly ancient iPhone 3G to a shiny new 64GB iPhone 4S. Except that it was actually a bit of an anticlimax. I went into my local O2 shop at about 10:30am on Saturday morning, the day after the launch, and purchased a phone. No queueing, no raging hoards. I didn’t even have to shove a granny out of the way to get one. However, after handing over my credit card while cringing at the expense it was back home to enjoy the famous Apple unboxing experience.

I wish I’d never upgraded my 3G to iOS 4.2. Up until that point it was a great phone. Afterwards it was slow and applications would repeated crash on start up. Did I mention it was slow?

It’s hard to express just how much quicker the 4S is compared to my 3G. Often just typing my the passcode would be too quick for the 3G and it would miss one of the numbers forcing me to go back. No danger of this with the 4G though. Application starting, browsing the web, taking photos are all super speedy.

Although it’s the same as the iPhone 4 the screen is still incredible. It’s so bright and sharp it’s really a joy to use. It really comes into its own when browsing webpages that are designed for bigger screens. The extra detail really helps you to work out where to zoom in.

The camera is also much improved, and I’m sure the addition of video compared to my old 3G will come in useful. I brought iMovie and that seems like an easy way to put together some short videos of my holidays. I haven’t had much of a chance to experiment with this aspect of the phone properly yet, but I can imagine that where carrying equipment is a problem it will replace my DSLR as my primary camera. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic when I’ve been out and about for a while.

Robots only eat old peopleI don’t intend to make this an in depth review of the phone, there are many hundreds of better places that you could go to for that. One feature that I can’t not talk about is Siri. I struggle to see why, for a non-blind user, you would use it after playing with it for a bit. If you are blind then dictating is clearly a huge help, and the biggest surprise for me is the quality of the voice recognition. I don’t have a strong accent so I suppose that if it didn’t work for me then it wouldn’t work for anyone. Still though, for someone who hasn’t used voice recognition for ten years it’s amazing just how far it has come.

There’s lots of talk online about the funny answers that Siri comes up with if you ask it question like “What’s the meaning of life?” It’s certainly to Apple’s credit that they’ve given it so much personality and it’s not just a bland robot. These questions are not a long term use case though.

Where Siri really succeeds is as an interface to Wolfram Alpha. Like most people when Wolfram Alpha was launched I played with it for a bit and then forgot about it. The ability to say things like “What’s the distance from the Earth to the Moon?” and have Siri return the correct answer is quite amazing. People are used to typing a few words into Google but Wolfram Alpha needs a bit more than that. A voice interface seems so much more natural and is probably Siri’s killer application.

Unfortunately as I’m in the UK Siri doesn’t do mapping or business search for me. Roll on 2012 when that is supposed to be added.

It’s early days yet, but I’ve fallen in love with my phone all over again.

Photo of Apple Store – London by nabekor. Photo of Robots only eat old people by Mark Strozier.


Author: Andrew Wilkinson

I'm a computer programmer and team leader working at the UK grocer and tech company, Ocado Technology. I mostly write multithreaded real time systems in Java, but in the past I've worked with C#, C++ and Python.

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