Apple Announces iPhone 4S: Old Design, New Specs, Siri Assistant

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Apple’s next smart phone is the iPhone 4S. On the outside, it looks just like the iPhone 4, but as Apple said at its press event on Tuesday, it’s the inside that counts.

The iPhone 4S uses Apple’s dual-core A5 chip, the same one found in the iPad 2. Apple says the iPhone 4S is seven times faster than the iPhone 4. Battery life has been boosted to eight hours of talk time, compared with seven hours on the previous iPhone. The "Retina" display introduced with the iPhone 4, with its 960-by-640 resolution, remains untouched on the iPhone 4S.

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The iPhone 4S also has an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video capture. For still images, Apple says the iPhone needs only 1.1 seconds to take its first photo and 0.5 seconds for subsequent stills. Video capture will include image stabilization and noise reduction.

For global smart-phone users, the iPhone 4S has GSM and CDMA bands on the same chip, making it a world phone. The phone also has a system for switching between two antennas, apparently increasing call quality (and, presumably, avoiding another antennagate).

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Most of these spec boosts were expected of Apple’s next iPhone. So perhaps the biggest news is Siri, the voice-controlled virtual-assistant software Apple acquired last year. It will be integrated into the OS, so users can hold down the iPhone 4S home button and say things like "How do I get home?" "What’s the weather for today?" or "Search Wikipedia for Neil Armstrong."

Siri will call up the appropriate app or OS function. The user can also dictate text messages and e-mails to Siri (which can read messages back to the user). This feature will be exclusive to the iPhone 4S.

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The iPhone 4S will cost $199 for a 16-GB model, $299 for a 32-GB model and $399 for a whopping 64 GB — all with a two-year contract. Keeping with tradition, Apple will sell the previous-generation iPhone 4 with 8 GB of storage for $99, but the company will also offer an 8-GB iPhone 3GS for free with a two-year contract.

As rumored, Sprint will carry the iPhone 4S, alongside AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The iPhone 4S will become available for pre-order on Oct. 7 and will go on sale on Oct. 14.

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