Apple’s Absent iPhone 5: Whose Fault Is It Really?

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Media, meet blame game, a game in which excitable tech bloggers pronounced Apple’s iPhone event the iPhone 5’s official coming out party, only to discover the iPhone 5 doesn’t exist, or that it’s been replaced by—gasp!—a 4S impostor.

Let’s get one thing straight. There’s never been an iPhone 5. Apple never mentioned it, never leaked it, never referred to it in any way, save indirectly, by way of implying its next iPhone would involve the number that comes after “4.”

But not every Apple product launch exists to fulfill media fantasies dredged from who-knows-where and passed along to “reputable” tech sources, who’ll—fingers pointed at much at ourselves as anyone else—rush the information to light because everyone loves Apple gossip. People pay attention when Apple speaks, even if much of what we in the press end up alleging Cupertino’s up to, it’s not really.

(MORE: Apple: iOS 5, iCloud Both Launching October 12)

And here’s the kicker: The iPhone 4S Apple did announce today is essentially the enigmatic “iPhone 5″ we trussed up by another name. It has the 8 megapixel camera we’ve heard so much about—also, it turns out, capable of 1080p video. It has the dual-core A5 chip, currently powering Apple’s iPad 2 (putatively seven times faster than the iPhone 4’s). Its battery life is a tick better (eight hours of talk time instead of seven). It supports both GSM and CDMA technologies, making it the first truly global iPhone. And then there’s the thing it’ll do we didn’t know about, meaning “Siri,” a voice-controlled virtual assistant that’ll respond to natural language questions with relatively sophisticated semantic know-how. There’s plenty more to say on that, because Siri is technology to pay attention to, even if Nuance’s Dragon Go beat it to the punch.

What we didn’t get: a physical design makeover. The rumors were all over the map here, so I won’t waste your time reciting what amounts to wishful thinking. The iPhone 4S is physically identical to the iPhone 4. But ask yourself this: Was the iPhone 4 really in need of a makeover anyway?

I say no, not “in need.” It’s slick enough as-is. I wouldn’t want it getting any smaller, lengthwise (my eyes aren’t protesting yet, but they might if the screen shrunk). Would I take lighter? Sure, but at 5 ounces—about as much as a deck of cards or a full checkbook—how much lighter do you need?

Okay, I hear you saying it: an edge-to-edge screen (especially lengthwise). Yep, that would’ve been nice, but I can’t rake Apple over the coals for letting it slide, this time.

And unbreakable glass? Ruggedized grips and non-scratch coating? Sure, they’d be nice, just like anti-gravity tech that pulls the phone out of a free-fall, or an app that lets you travel through time.

The reason we thought there’d be an iPhone 5 today was simply us, meaning the tech-babble-sphere, not Apple. We started this when we dropped a “5” after the word “iPhone” about a year ago, filling stories with factoids delivered by anonymous sources speaking from nebulous “supply chains.” So here we are, fuming at Apple, with no one to blame but ourselves.

That’s too bad, because the iPhone 4S may be worth crowing about (we’ll see—hands on time coming), as well as the supplemental stuff like Siri. By setting expectations based on a silly number, we may have inadvertently made a molehill out of a mountain.

MORE: Spec Spat: Apple iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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