Two Weeks with the Apple iPhone 4S

I’m just going to focus on a couple of things here, because you know what this phone is and what it can do.

Siri Speaks Kiwi

Yes she does, and pretty well at that. Siri is the best voice recognition system I’ve used on a phone. Apart from the occasional weird word (“egg” comes to mind), accuracy was incredibly good, even with background music and talking. It struggled a bit when I was driving, but then who wouldn’t in the wall of sound that is my Nissan Sunny. Hey, it’s economical.

But let’s get this straight: Siri is so much more than voice recognition. It’s the lack of “commands” that really does the job. Everything else I’ve used requires you to speak a command: “dial x”, “message y”. Some allow you to use variations like “call/ring/dial”. But you have to remember those commands. Get them wrong, and the phone complains pleasantly.

Siri is different. She gets the general idea of what you’re asking. It doesn’t matter if you say “set a reminder for …” or “remind me to….tomorow” or “tomorrow, remind me to …”, or even “don’t let me forget to …”. The genius in Siri is her ability to find meaning in your statement and build a result around it. Whichever way you put it, 9 times out of 10 Siri will do the right thing.

Combine Siri with the addition of location based reminders, and “remind me to get milk on the way home” becomes something seamless and wonderful. It’s genuinely futuristic.

The big gap for Siri in New Zealand is not the accent. It’s the lack of location services. Ask Siri to “find me a Korean restaurant”, and she’ll politely decline. “Sorry Ben, I can only look for businesses in the United States”. Let’s hope this gap is being closed.

It’s The Ecosystem, Stupid

Chances are – in New Zealand especially – at least a couple of your friends have iPhones. You might have an iPad yourself. Perhaps like me you grabbed an Apple TV just because they’re so damn cheap? The new version of iOS really ties this ecosystem together. Sure there’s been synergy before, but iOS 5 takes it further.

Find my Friends, which I considered creepy, is properly useful and even a bit fun. While camping on Waiheke, friends offered to bring fish & chips for dinner. I invited them to a temporary Find my Friends share (24 hours by default) earlier in the day. Around dinner time, I picked up my phone, expecting to make the normal “What time are you coming? Here’s the address”, call. Instead I fired up Find my Friends and saw them already halfway across the island, homing in on my position. Fun and useful.

iMessage likewise. If you have friends with iOS5 devices, your messages just became free-as-in-data. Certainly much cheaper than SMS messages assuming you have any sort of data plan on your device.

iCloud helps make sense of multiple devices.

  • Sync your mail, contacts and calendar between all your devices. Useful if you don’t have a corporate email account, or if you like to keep your personal stuff separate.
  • Photo Stream automatically syncs your last few photos (actually up to 1000, stored for 30 days), to all your devices. Snap a shot on your iPhone, and it’s automatically available on other devices, including as a slideshow on Apple TV.
  • The iWork integration with iCloud is excellent. Edit a document or presentation (or other iWork doc) on any device, and changes are synced to other devices automatically. You can even download a PDF copy from a browser – probably the simplest PDF conversion I’ve ever seen.
  • iCloud Backup does the backup that iTunes did previously, but stores it safely in The Cloud. In fact, combine iCloud Backup with the new WiFi sync, and you barely need to connect the phone to a computer anymore.

Airplay is great – view a video or song on your iPhone and stream it instantly to Apple TV. Airplay Mirroring (4S only) is a vision into the future of gaming: use your iPhone as a control and dashboard, while the big screen (via Apple TV) is your gameplay screen. Mirroring was flakey for me, and for others I’ve talked. Once it is nailed down it will be a great function.

And we haven’t yet touched on the huge hardware ecosystem, which is arguably more reason to go with the iPhone than anything above. Just check out, for example, this awesome add-on that my boss pointed out. Just one of about three billion different docks, dongles and doo-dads that plug into an iPhone’s dock connector.

Should I Buy One?

The $1,049 to $1,349 question. I’ve broken this one down before. Unless you have a particular need for open devices or crazy large screen sizes, the iPhone 4S is (still) the best phone out there. iOS has matured to the extent that rough edges are really hard to come by. Everything just works.

It pains me to say it, but moving back to iOS after a year with Windows Phone, it’s brutally obvious where Windows Phone needs to catch up: polish and ecosystem. XBox has been around for a lot longer than Apple TV. Why, quite frankly, the HELL does WP7 not integrate with XBox (the device, not the XBox Live back-end) the way iPhone and Apple TV work together? And infrequent but hugely annoying bugs like the “disappearing keyboard” in Mango are just downright frustrating. So close, but just not there yet. Bring on the Nokias.

And then there’s Android. Again, so close but just not there. Unless you have a pressing desire to have an “open” device or giant screen sizes, the iPhone is probably a better choice.

In an alternate universe, Apple would build services like Airplay, Find my Friends, iMessage and iCloud on open protocols so that all devices could play equally. In this universe, that’s never going to happen. So if you want a part of that truly useful, seamless ecosystem, just put your koolaid drinks up and party in the iPhone club.

iPhone 4S Arrives in New Zealand on 11 November

And Guatemala! Press release follows:

iPhone 4S Arrives in New Zealand on 11 November

Pre-Orders Begin November 4

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – 2 November, 2011 – Apple® today announced that iPhone® 4S, the most amazing iPhone yet, will be available in New Zealand and 14 additional countries on Friday, 11 November. Customers will be able to pre-order iPhone 4S beginning on Friday, 4 November.*

iPhone 4S is packed with incredible new features including Apple’s dual-core A5 chip for blazing fast performance and stunning graphics; an all new camera with advanced optics; full 1080p HD resolution video recording; and Siri™, an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking.

Beginning Friday, 11 November, iPhone 4S will be available in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania and South Korea. iPhone 4S is available today in 29 countries around the world and will be available in more than 70 countries by the end of the year.

iPhone 4S comes in either black or white for a recommended retail price of NZD$1,049 inc GST for the 16GB model, NZD$1,199 inc GST for the 32GB model and NZD$1,349 inc GST for the new 64GB model. iPhone 4S is sold through the Apple Online Store and select Apple Authorised Resellers. iPhone 4 is available for just RRP NZD$899 inc GST and iPhone 3GS is available for RRP NZD$599 inc GST.

*Pre-orders not available in Albania, El Salvador, Guatemala, Malta, Montenegro and Panama.

Apple iPhone Game Center Spam

Game Center BugTalk to any iPhone app developer and you’ll hear stories of app rejection over minor bugs and inconsistencies. I’m not even talking about the big-news app rejections like Google Voice – just minor bugs like notifications not working or intermittent obscure crashes.

So it’s more than a little ironic that Apple’s new Game Center on iOS 4.1 continues to trumpet new friend requests even with notifications turned off. Check the image at right for glaring evidence (Game Center notifications clearly say “off” in the background).

This isn’t a minor bug. I only have notifications turned on for things I consider quite important, and to have Game Center’s blaring trumpet fire twice in a meeting before I could hit the mute switch is just plain obnoxious. It’s spam. Apple would revoke any app that did this, and here I am having to either wait for an iOS update, or stop using Game Center to get rid of the notifications.

Poor form Apple. Very poor form.

Question: Can I Just Buy an iPhone 4?

A question has arrived, fresh off the boat:
[quote]Hi. I have a few questions re. iphone 4

Do you have to run it on an iphone plan or can I just use my existing VF plan?

I’m thinking of purching an iphone 4 from the Apple website, thinking it’s possibly faster than waiting for them to come into stores. What happens with the micro sims, though? You need a micro to run an iphone 4, right? Are they readily availible in VF stores, or do they only come in when the phones come in? In which case, I might as well wait and get one from a store. Your thoughts, please? Thanks.[/quote]
Despite what Apple would like you to think, the iPhone is just a phone, like every other phone you can buy from a shop or direct from Vodafone. It has a SIM slot, and Vodafone has absolutely no control over what piece of plastic you decide to put in that SIM slot.

So yes, you can use your existing plan. And yes, you can buy an iPhone 4 directly from Apple, then go into a Vodafone store and ask for a micro SIM. I’m pretty sure they have a lot more micro SIMs available than they do iPhones. You should have no issue getting one, but they might charge you a small fee for the pleasure.

If you’re keen to avoid that fee, you can even just chop up your existing SIM card so it fits in the slot on your phone. It’s cheap and fun, and I’ve done it myself with complete success. If you fail, just take the chopped card into a Vodafone store and ask for a replacement micro SIM.

One thing to check before you decide to use your existing plan with an iPhone: what will data cost you? You don’t have to use data when you’re using an iPhone, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun to use when you don’t have to worry so much about downloads. And while Vodafone’s billing system is broken, their iPhone plans have 3GB per month bonus data. It was meant to end this time last year, but is still going.

iPhone 4 New Zealand Launch Debacle

Here’s how it stands:

  • Apple issued a press release early this week that the iPhone would be available in New Zealand today (30th July)
  • We have heard nothing from either Apple or Vodafone since
  • As of 9:30 this morning, there are no iPhone 4s available in New Zealand
  • Vodafone is replying to all emails with “No comment, you have to talk to Apple”

I have directly asked Vodafone about an NDA with Apple, and whether they care more about their relationship with Apple than potential iPhone customers, and get the same “We have no comment. You need to talk to Apple.” response.

But Apple just replied to an email from me as below:
[quote]We are thrilled to be selling iPhone 4 in our Apple Online Store starting this evening.
For further availability details please contact Vodafone.[/quote]
And Vodafone’s St Lukes store said
[quote]We are getting them in at midday. I can’t say how many, but not a lot.[/quote]
So just politely, why the hell is Vodafone’s official PR channel saying “we can’t comment”?

And finally, at 10:15am we have full plans and pricing on Vodafone’s website.