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Apple unveils voice-controlled iPhone 4S

Marketplace Staff Oct 4, 2011

Apple unveils voice-controlled iPhone 4S

Marketplace Staff Oct 4, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: The cynical among us would call it a bait-and-switch. Others would just say, hey, it’s still pretty good, even if it’s not an iPhone 5.

We are, of course, talking about Apple and its latest consumer product extravaganza. Actually, that’s not fair, because today’s release of what turned out to be an iPhone 4S was actually far smaller than similar events in the not-so-distant past.

Marketplace’s Steve Henn is on the line to talk about it. Hey Steve.

Steve Henn: Hey.

Ryssdal: So, no iPhone 5, man. You disappointed?

Henn: Well you know, I think a lot of people are. The headlines about the day’s release are likely to be all about what Apple didn’t do. There’s no iPhone 5, and that disappointed Apple customers — and Apple investors. The stock was down 5 percent after the announcements wrapped up. And also Apple didn’t stage a really big event like they have in the past. This was Tim Cook’s first time introducing a product as the permanent CEO of Apple, and the company held the announcement at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. It’s a much smaller venue than the places they’ve used in the past, and they let far fewer reporters into the building. So you kind of have to wonder if Apple’s PR team was trying to protect Cook from facing a lot of direct comparisons with Jobs.

Ryssdal: Did you try to get in?

Henn: I did. But I didn’t get in.

Ryssdal: Wow. All right, so help me out here in understanding what exactly they did say. There’s no iPhone 5, but there is this iPhone 4S and a new pricing structure as well, right?

Henn: Yeah, that’s right. So the iPhone 4S is basically identical to the iPhone 4 on the outside. On the inside, it’s different. You know, it has faster chips and a better camera. But probably the biggest difference is a new feature they’re adding called Siri. This basically lets you talk to your phone. It’s a voice-activated —

Ryssdal: Don’t you always talk to your phone? But anyway.

Henn: I swear at my phone, occasionally. But it’s a voice-activated personal assistant. So what Siri does is try to actually understand what you mean and what you want using the context of your questions. So I spoke with a guy named Norman Winarsky, he works at SRI, a nonprofit research group that developed the technology and sold it to Apple.

Norman Winarsky: This is more of a do engine than a search engine. This is more of not getting links but getting answers. This is more responding with actions. This is ‘get me a hotel reservation, buy me a ticket, make this calendar adjustment.’

Ryssdal: All right, that sounds nifty and all, but is it enough of a big deal to get past the fact that there’s no iPhone 5?

Henn: Well, we’ll have to see. But you know, if you remember back to when Google’s Eric Schmidt was testifying on the Hill a couple weeks ago, he kept telling members of Congress that when folks search on a mobile phone, they don’t want what Google used to deliver, which is a page full of links. What they want are answers, right? And this delivers answers. So if this changes the way people use their mobile phone to search and discover things online, it could be a big deal. Right now, Google owns something like 90 percent of the mobile search market. If Siri takes off, Google could stand to lose a big chunk of that business, at least on the iPhone.

Ryssdal: Before I let you go, Steve, a question about the wireless companies: AT&T, of course, and Sprint and Verizon. Does this no iPhone 5 thing mean anything for them?

Henn: Well, Sprint got the iPhone, so that’s good news for it. The question is, how much did it have to give up to Apple to get it? There were stories that it promised to purchase something like 30 million phones. And if that’s the case, that’s a huge risk for Sprint, especially without a sleek fancy new iPhone 5.

Ryssdal: Marketplace’s Steve Henn on a day where there was, you know, moderate Apple news. Steve, thanks a lot.

Henn: Sure thing, take care.

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