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Told ya so: iPhone 4s is not revolutionary, but didn’t need to be

Apple's Phil Schiller talks about iPhones during an announcement Apple headquarters Cupertino Calif. Tuesday Oct. 4 2011.  (AP Photo/Paul

Apple's Phil Schiller talks about the iPhones during an announcement at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:45AM

Basically, what I said yesterday.

This completes my report of the stuff that Apple announced on Tuesday. If you can’t find the link to the predictions I made on Monday it boils down to (1) basic updates to the iPod Touch and iPod Nano; (2) An update to the iPhone 4 -- known as the iPhone 4S, not the iPhone 5 -- featuring an upgraded CPU, camera, and antenna but sporting the same basic design; (3) a demo of the next edition of Apple’s mobile OS which mostly just rehashed what the company had previously demonstrated, as well as iCloud, Apple’s new, holistic cloud service; (4) an ambitious new system for voice control of the whole phone; and (5) Sprint has become the third U.S. carrier to have the iPhone.

Whoops . . . and there’s also a new app in the iPhone that will allow you to turn any photo into a greeting card that Apple will print and mail to the address of your choice. You’ll get an email confirmation from the USPS that Gramma got the birthday card.

Apple will start taking orders for the iPhone 4S on October 7, with hardware available in stores starting on the 14th. iOS 5 will be a free update for all iPhone and iPad users and will launch with the iCloud service on the 12th.

So it’s an update and not a landmark new device. I’ll have a full review in about a week or so. But the overall presentation on Tuesday reminds us of the difference between the way Apple looks at its products and the way other companies do. Apple wanted the press to know about broad things that the iPhone 4S would be good at. “It’s a fantastic camera”; “It’s a world-class gaming device”; “It’s a brand-new kind of digital assistant.”

They backed up these points with features, of course. The camera is even more light-sensitive than the iPhone 4, shoots 1080p HD video instead of 720, and can stabilize handheld shots. It has a dual-core graphics processor for 7 times the graphics performance and can mirror its screen wirelessly to an AppleTV (thus transforming it into a console gaming system). The new Siri voice system can converse with you. “Schedule lunch with Phil at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.” “You have a conflict on that day. What would you like to do?”

Other phone makers would boast of an 8 megapixel camera, or a dual-core processor, or Google Maps without really telling the story. Apple is always trying to win the “hearts and minds” battle; they don’t care so much about wasting time filling out feature-comparison tables and that’s why the message on their gear is so much more clear.

Of course, Apple is indeed competing with dozens of other handsets, often in the same stores. So although the pricing of the new iPhone is the same as the old iPhone (the top model is $399 with contract, with an unprecedented 64 gigs of storage; the cheapest costs $199 for 16 gigs) this is the second year in a row they’ve kept the old model on the price list at a greatly reduced price. The existing iPhone 4 has been cut to $99 (with just 8 gigs of storage) and they’ve bumped the iPhone 3GS down to “free with contract.”

Oh, right: and it’s time for Apple to freshen up the iPod line. The iPod Touch got a minor price drop (to $199 from $229) and is now available in white. The iPod Nano retains its “color postage stamp on a clip” form, which is a major win for its engineers: this might be the first time the iPod Nano has gone unchanged from one year to the other. Apple has tweaked its UI a skosh, and added an onboard pedometer (which underscores its purpose as “the fitness iPod”).

There’s more good news, if you wear your Nano on a wristband: Apple added a dozen new watch faces. Yes, it’s hardly a technological advancement but hey, cool, the collection includes Mickey Mouse and the Muppets. I guess it pays when your Chairman is also a member of Disney’s board.

Speaking of the Apple Chairman of the Board, rumors of a Steve Jobs appearance proved false. It seemed like a longshot to begin with. And not because of anything related to Jobs’ current health. This was Tim Cook’s first Apple keynote event as company CEO and clearly, the focus needed to stay on the company, not the personnel.

In the end, as a nigh-eternal 90-minute presentation finally wound down -- I reminded myself that God created the Universe in six days and Steve Jobs required only about 75 minutes to introduce the world to the iPad -- I was left with the impression of a horse race that was still being run.

During the Tuesday media event, Apple didn’t manage a Secretariat-style breakaway from the other phone makers. But they showed themselves to be ticking along in fine stride and showed no signs whatsoever of tiring.

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