Apple’s Hardware De-Emphasis With iPhone 4S Release Deliberate?

HardMac’s Lionel notes that with the launch of the original iPhone, Apple was able to surprise the entire phone industry and corner an incredible market share in just a few years. However, he observes that many are suggesting that the relatively unambitious iPhone 4S upgrade marks the end of hardware innovation on the iPhone (although he recalls that the same was said after the iPhone 3GS launch). Apple obviously didn’t try to revolutionize the device by changing its form factor radically, concentrating instead on internal upgrades including the new dual-core A5 chip — a substantial enhancement from the single-core A4 used in iPhone 4, the new 8 megapixel camera with improved lens optics and 1080p video recording resolution, — up from the iPhone 4′s 720p — and the improved “World Phone” dual antennae.

However, Lionel thinks, the feature that will contribute most to the iPhone 4S’s success is Siri, the new personal assistant, which is not hardware-based but rather run from Apple’s servers, which he perceives to be the core dynamic of Apple’s new marketing strategy, adding services to the hardware equipment to add an extra value to the device, which also applies to iCloud, iTunes match and probably other services to be unveiled in the future.

NeoWin’s Brad also predicts that also predicts that Siri represents the future for Apple, with the iPhone 4S rollout only the start of a grand plan, not just for smartphones and touchscreen slates, but also desktop and laptop computers. Sams predicts that Apple will kill the keyboard and mouse for most tasks on all of these devices, replacing them with voice control input, and suggests that this transition is happening faster than you might think, having been underway since the day the iPad was released early last year.

Sams observes that OS X 10.7 Lion’s application launcher imports the familiar iOS icon-based layout to OS X, while its App Stores are creating a unified platform that can go anywhere and do anything, so as long as Apple says its OK, predicting that in the not so distant future direct application downloads to OS X will be gone and replaced with an iOS-style App Store-only environment

Not of course that Apple wants you to stop upgrading your Apple hardware. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Adam Turner notes, that Apple has made iCloud is an all or nothing proposition, leaving users choosing to hold off installing OS X 10.7 Lion and iOS5 out in the cold, not to mention users of older Apple hardware who would upgrade to Lion and iOS 5 if they could, but are blocked. The iOS5 upgrade doesn’t support the iPhone 2G or 3G, is reportedly not an entirely happy upgrade for 3GS iPhones, and you can’t upgrade to Lion if you’re running a pre-Intel Mac, or even some of the earliest Intel Macs.

Turner suggests that crunch time has arrived for iUsers, to wit: either be prepared hand your digital life over to iCloud or turn your back on Apple and look for other ways to sync your data – Google being an obvious choice for those looking for device-agnostic cloud services. He says that even if he was prepared to jump through Apple’s hoops this time, who’s to say he wouldn’t get burned again the next time Apple feels like introducing a new service and killing off an old one, concluding that “its time to cut the cord,” bridling at Apple’s habit of forcing users to play by its rules, and refusing to lock himself into Apple’s iWay of doing things.

And one of those things will likely be less emphasis on hardware innovation and form factor change. It’s arguable that Apple wanted to give Siri a trial run as a beta in the iPhone 4S in order to be able to offer it as a final, stable release in the iPhone 5, and have iCloud sorted out as well. Consequently, I’m still pretty confident there’ll be an iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 sometime in 2012 with a quad-core A6 CPU. The question is whether Apple will accede to demand for a form factor overhaul, with a larger display and a curved back. Not everyone is displeased that Apple chose to stick with the 3.5″ Retina display with iPhone 4S, with proponents of the latter arguing that the 4″ displays in some Android smartphones makes them uncomfortable to hold and less conveniently pocketable.

Last week in a research note cited by CNET’s Brooke Crothers, Rodman & Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar predicts that the next-generation iPhone will be a complete redesign, with a slimmer profile and larger screen size but with the same dimensions as the iPhone 4S, so the screen will presumably be configured to utilize more of the phone’s front surface area rather than being radically larger. Kumar also suggests that the next iPhone is also expected to have LTE/4G support, and debut around the time of Apple’s Developer’s Conference in the summer of 2012.

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