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FAQ: Hello, iPhone 4S

Apple shredded prognosticators' reputations yesterday -- it'll be the iPhone 5, it'll have a bigger screen, it'll be only on Sprint -- when the company finally pulled off the wraps covering the first new iPhone in 16 months.

But the iPhone 4S ... really?

So the name doesn't roll off the tongue -- even less so than 2009's 3GS -- and some commentators have been nearly livid in their disappointment. But now at least everyone knows what they're dealing with.

Just to make sure we're all on the same page, let's recap with a quick Q&A.

When can I get one? Friday, Oct. 14. That's the on-sale day -- and for online and phone pre-orders via Apple, also the delivery and pick-up day -- for the iPhone 4S.

Apple will open its retail stores at 8 a.m. local time. Although the three U.S. carriers will also begin selling phones Oct. 14 in their stores, they have not yet announced door-open schedules.

Can I pre-order? Yes. Apple and its carrier partners will begin taking pre-orders, all presumably via both their websites and by phone, this Friday, Oct. 7.

But no word on the time of day they'll open the virtual doors.

What's it going to cost me? If you're eligible for the subsidized prices -- either your existing contract is up or nearly so, or you're switching carriers -- the 4S will run you $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB) or $399 (64GB).

That last one, by the way, is the most expensive iPhone since Apple trotted out the original in 2007 at the unbelievable prices of $499 for a measly 4GB and a whopping $599 for the not-much-better 8GB. For those with short memories, Apple saw the error of its pricing ways a few months later, then ditched the 4GB model and cut the price of the 8GB to $399.

Who do I talk to to find out if I can get the 4S at the subsidized price? Your current mobile carrier. Apple's website will steer you to AT&T's and Verizon's eligibility calculators -- Sprint's isn't included yet -- or you can go directly to your carrier's site. Or do it the old-fashioned way by calling.

I just got an iPhone 4 a few months ago, so there's no chance I'll qualify for the subsidized price. How much for the 4S for me? A lot.

A quick check of one AT&T account returned with out-of-contract prices of $449 (16GB), $549 (32GB) and $649 (64GB). Yikes. A Verizon account, however, pegged the prices at $649 (16GB), $749 (32GB) and $849 (64GB). Double yikes.

What does the iPhone 4S look like? Identical, or virtually so, to the iPhone 4. The exterior dimensions are the same, although the new model is heavier by 3 grams, or about one-tenth of an ounce.

Apple reinforced the similarity between the two models by saying that "all iPhone 4 accessories work with iPhone 4S," which we take to mean that cases for the older smartphone will fit the newer, including the holes for the cameras.

It's not the iPhone 5, but does the iPhone 4S have enough cool new features for people to make the switch? Keith Shaw and Computerworld's Ken Mingis discuss some of today's Apple announcements.

What's different inside? We won't know for sure until tear-down artists like IHS iSuppli get their hands on one. Some hardware changes, however, are clear: The iPhone 4S is powered by the dual-core A5 -- not the iPhone 4's single-core A4 -- packs an 8-megapixel camera (as opposed to the iPhone 4's 5-megapixel camera) and supports Bluetooth 4.0.

I think I'll pass on the iPhone 4S. Anything for me? iOS 5.

Apple's launching the upgrade Oct. 12 -- no info on what time of the day it will hit the company's download servers -- for iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 owners.

Among the new features for everyone are PC Free -- the wire-free sync and updating that cuts iOS' ties to Macs and PCs -- in-app notifications and the new iMessage alternative to email or SMS texts.

Who gets the iPhone 4S first? Apple will launch the new iPhone in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. on Oct. 14. Twenty-two other countries -- a list is near the bottom of this page -- will follow on Oct. 28.

None of the countries in what Apple calls its "Greater China" market -- the People's Republic, Hong Kong and Taiwan -- are on the list of 22. That's interesting because Apple has touted the strong contribution that region has made to its bottom line, and several analysts expected the new phone to show up there fast.

But Apple's head marketing man, Philip Schiller, did say Tuesday that the iPhone 4S would be available in over 70 countries total by the end of the year.

Siri sounds slick. Will it run on my iPhone? Only if yours is an iPhone 4S.

Several analysts highlighted Siri, the new voice control app based on a $200 million technology purchase last year, as one of the stellar features of the new phone, and one way that Apple is separating the new from the old.

Tuesday, Apple execs talked about Siri only in connection with the iPhone 4S, and the company tucked phrases like "iPhone 4S also introduces Siri, an intelligent assistant..." and "Siri will be available in beta on iPhone 4S" into its press release.

The assumption is that Siri requires the faster processor of the iPhone 4S -- an A5 system-on-a-chip (SoC), like the one inside the iPad 2 -- and perhaps more system memory than the 512MB available to the iPhone 4.

(It's not confirmed that the iPhone 4S has 1GB of system memory, but reports to that end circulated prior to Tuesday's announcement.)

I'm going with Verizon ... which version of the iPhone 4S should I get? As the Rev. Jesse Jackson famously said in a 1984 Saturday Night Live skit, "The question is moot!"

Unlike the iPhone 4, which came in two flavors, the 2010 model suitable for GSM networks like AT&T's and the February 2011 version for CDMA networks (such as Verizon), the new smartphone is an all-in-one that works on both.

The move makes things simpler for consumers, but more importantly, said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi, "It really optimizes Apple's economies of scale."

And we all want to optimize that ... right?

No 4G, or LTE support? Nope.

Expectations that Apple would shift to the new faster network standard -- AT&T and Verizon have been rolling it out in the U.S. -- had fallen in the weeks leading up to the unveiling, but most of the news stories and blogs expressing disappointment with the iPhone 4S had the LTE omission on their short list.

Wait until next year, or even 2013, said iSuppli analysts Tuesday. "IHS continues to expect that Apple will introduce an LTE-capable iPhone 5 when an affordable chipset solution allowing a thinner form factor is available," the firm said in a research note after the iPhone 4S intro. "The iPhone 5 most likely will arrive in late 2012, or in mid-2013."

What's the battery life? Slightly better, and somewhat worse, than the iPhone 4, Apple claimed.

Apple rated 3G talk time at eight hours, an hour longer than the iPhone 4, but said standby time for the new model will be 200 hours, down from 300 hours on the older unit. Using Wi-Fi to browse the Internet will supposedly exhaust the iPhone 4S' battery in nine hours, an hour quicker than on the iPhone 4.

My wallet's thinner this year than last, but I still want an iPhone ... any options for me? As usual, Apple dropped the price of last year's model -- the iPhone 4 -- to $99, and cut the storage space in half along the way to 8GB.

New this time around, however, is the retention of a two-year-old device, 2009's iPhone 3GS, which will be free. Well, not really free: Like any subsidized iPhone, buyers have to sign a two-year contract with a carrier. And it's the monthly fees that are budget busters, not really the hardware.

But Gartner's Milanesi thinks that the free iPhone 3GS may signal some new opportunities for less-expensive plans. Rather than consider the free iPhone a sop to developing markets, she said, it may actually play best in "the more mature markets, like the U.S., in the pre-paid [mobile] market."


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