It is time to take a step back from everything Apple and the nonexistent iPhone 5 for a minute and put everything into perspective. The summer of 2011 has been a building tidal wave of rumors, speculation, false leads and outrageous claims. When you look back at the roadmap that led to what Apple released today with the iPhone 4S, you have to step back and ask: What should you have really expected?
Was it too much to expect an iPhone 5? In retrospect, yes. Making a giant jump in its product line is not in Apple's DNA. Look at the iPhone 3GS in comparison to the iPhone 4. The 3GS was a great improvement on the 3G and it ran iOS 4, but they looked very similar. The 4S runs iOS 5 and looks basically exactly like iPhone 4. Come next summer or whenever the iPhone 5 comes out, it won't look anything like the 4S. But, the iPhone 5S will look a lot like the iPhone 5. Incremental improvements to satiate demand while still leaving consumers wanting more.
The Fundamental Nature of Being Apple
Near-Field Communication (NFC) is a perfect example of how Apple has behaved over the years. NFC is a very sophisticated technology that Google is pushing for payments with the Google Wallet. Google Wallet is just another beta by a company that is always in some version of beta. They understand great technology. Apple is never in public beta. Why is there no NFC in the iPhone 4S? Because it is not a mature technology.
Apple does not do that. Apple takes existing technology and makes it consumer friendly. They did it with the iPod (perfecting the imperfect world of MP3 players), the iPhone (turning Palm and BlackBerry ideas of what a phone could be and turning it into sleek experiences) and the iPad (tablets existed before but were not tied to the type of media infrastructure that Apple had created). Most of Apple's innovation is tied to the fact that they were the first to perfect capacitive touch and tie it to an existing structure of media a la iTunes. In turn, they set a bar that is difficult even for the wealthiest tech company in the world to eclipse on a yearly basis.
The reasons that we do not see NFC or the pre-4G technologies (WiMax and LTE) in the iPhone are simple. They are not ubiquitous which means Apple cannot support them. Apple did what it does well - release for Now while preparing for the Future. The perfect example is how the antenna works in the 4S. What is available now? High-speed CDMA and GSM networks. Apple wants its iPhone to work everywhere, not just in the parts of the world that happen to have WiMax and LTE coverage. Make no mistake, the actual iPhone 5 will have LTE functionality because Verizon and AT&T (and maybe even Sprint) will have it widely available by late next year.
What did Apple announce today? Exactly what they have been perfecting for an entire season of development. The upgrade of iTunes and AirPlay, the integration of those existing tools into iCloud and a phone with nominally better technical specifications that will make it viable in the mid-term future (a year, basically) against the current crop of smartphones.
Even Siri, which is the most innovative aspect to iOS 5 and the 4S, is an attempt by Apple to catch up with Android. Android has had decent voice capabilities for more than a year. Siri leapfrogs Android in that department, but not by as much as you might think.
I Want More, But This Taste Is Good
The technosphere may be disappointed. Even sophisticated consumers may be disappointed. The fact of the matter is that Apple iterated a new version of its line of devices that another great piece of technology that the average consumer will crave while leaving them waiting for what is coming next. They can do that because the consumer market lets them. The iPhone 4 is still a hot selling phone 15 months after hitting the streets. Do we want more? Hell yes we want more.
And that is how Apple keeps us in its pocket.
Can you blame them?