By all reports, it's a tremendous hit. Lines at Apple stores (Steve Wozniak was on one in Los Gatos, Calif.) snaked around the block everywhere, though it must be said that Apple was good at orchestrating them to be long but not frustrating. Apple said it sold more than 4 million new phones in the first weekend.
And to go with it, Apple has introduced iOS 5 -- its new operating system -- so successfully that it was almost too successful. The Internet seemed to buckle under the load as people tried to download the software into their existing iPhones, iPads and iPods.
Here are five things that will be helpful to know if you're an Apple enthusiast, unpacking your new phone or waiting for it to come. We hope this information will be useful, too, if you're sticking with the competition.
|Don't Judge a Phone by its Cover|
Apple made a careful, rational decision to upgrade the existing iPhone 4 instead of selling a shiny -- but potentially buggy -- new iPhone 5, said analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group.
"The iPhone is a five-year-old product now, and Apple has had success finding a design that works," said Rubin, who writes a technology column for ABC News. "By allowing it to be offered on Sprint and selling older models at a lower price point, it's increasing its market share."
So the 4S has the same body as its predecessor -- but its innards are significantly changed. It has a more powerful processor (the same dual-core A5 chip that runs the iPad 2). Its 8-megapixel camera is unusually good for shooting in low light. And if you have any questions about it, well, go to our next page.
|Siri Will Answer Your Questions Now|
The iPhone 4S answers questions and takes voice commands through an "intelligent assistant" called Siri. (It's actually named for the voice-recognition software company Apple bought in 2010 for just this mission.) Need directions? Ask it. Want to send a text while you're driving? Dictate it.
Apple says Siri is smart enough to know that if you ask, "How's the weather forecast?" or, "Do I need my umbrella?" you're really after the same thing. If you're a southerner or a New Yorker, it has surprisingly little trouble understanding accents.
Of course, the phone still has a touch screen with virtual buttons you can touch. Handy if you don't feel very talkative.
Apple's iCloud feature is not actually part of the phone -- but that's the idea. The hot trend in computing is to store data in the "cloud" -- on the Internet instead of only your laptop or your handheld. If you saved that document on your computer back home, you'll now be able to check it on your phone, or iPad, or somewhere else without trouble.
Some Wall Street analysts have pointed out that iCloud, at least so far, has fairly limited capacity. But it's a start.
This is poignant for many people. ICloud was announced by Steve Jobs in June at the last public appearance he ever made.
An OS is just an operating system, for crying out loud -- the basic software that keeps something running -- so what's the big deal about Apple's iOS 5? It's a big enough deal that people crowded online Wednesday to download it and had a good deal of trouble when they tried.
Apple lists 200 features -- such as a "notification center" that combines your emails, reminders, texts and tweets; and "iMessage," a texting system that gets you around those annoying data charges from cell phone carriers. Read more about iOS 5 HERE.
A nice thing about the iPhone 4S is that it's new -- so you won't need the update.
For all the buzz Apple gets, for all the loyalty many people have to their iPhones, it's not the market leader. In the U.S., smartphones that run on Google's Android software have 44 percent of customers, according to the research firm ComScore (iPhones are 27 percent). Worldwide, BlackBerry is most widely used.
But Apple has cornered the market for cool. The seamless marriage of design and function -- that was Steve Jobs' mission. The iPhone 4S was the last Apple product announced before he died, though there are doubtless others in the planning that he had a hand in.
The new model drew almost twice as many online orders in its first weekend as the iPhone 4 in 2010, even though outwardly it looks no different. What would Jobs think now?