It's that time of year again, when anxious smartphone shoppers flood my inbox with questions about whether they should buy the current iPhone now, or wait for the new version.
And with good reason. No one wants to be the dupe who buys the older version of a product a week before the latest model is introduced. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I advise a reader who recently lost his iPhone 3GS to the smartphone gods about whether he should buy an iPhone 4S now, or wait another three to six months for the new iPhone to be introduced.
The iPhone waiting game
My iPhone 3GS recently bit the dust. I was able to slot my SIM card into my wife's old Google Android device, but I really miss my iPhone. I know that Apple is probably going to announce a new iPhone soon. Anyway, I don't know what I should do. Do you think I should wait for the new iPhone 5 or just go ahead and get the iPhone 4S?
This is a tough question to answer, because we really don't know when Apple will announce a new iPhone, nor do we know exactly what the new features will be on this new device once it's announced.
As you pointed out in your question, Apple has historically released a new iPhone mid-year. But last year, it switched things up and released the iPhone 4S in October. This means that at the earliest, Apple will probably release the new iPhone in three months. But it could be another six or seven months until the new one is released.
And that's a long time to be using a temporary device that you aren't completely happy to be using. If you can live with a loaner for a few months, then go ahead and wait. But honestly, I don't think you'll have any major regrets if you buy the iPhone 4S now. And here's why.
Even though we don't know exactly which new features will be on the new iPhone, we might have some hints of what's coming. Last week, Apple introduced its third-generation iPad, which may have given us a preview of features to be expected for the iPhone 5 or whatever Apple chooses to call the next-generation iPhone.
My CNET colleague Kent German already wrote a post about what we may learn about the upcoming iPhone from the most recent iPad.
Based on what I've seen from the new iPad, I don't expect the iPhone 5 to be a revolutionary product. Once again, I expect Apple to make some nice enhancements to the product, as it did with the iPhone 4. But I don't think the changes will be so drastic that people who buy an iPhone 4S now because they need a new phone will be kicking themselves over their purchase.
The most substantial change that Apple might make to the new iPhone from a design perspective is the screen size. Since it was introduced, Apple has maintained the 3.5-inch screen size on the iPhone. Many people say they like this screen size, since it easily fits in their hands and pockets.
Meanwhile, every other top-of-the-line smartphone on the market has grown to 4.3 inches and larger. Of course, I don't expect Apple to change the size of the screen just to follow the competition. But as more people use their mobile devices for watching video, playing games and viewing other content on their devices, there seems to be a market for bigger screens. And it would make sense for Apple to increase the size of iPhone screen.
If it does this, I'd expect Apple to also increase the resolution of the screen. The Retina Display on the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S is already terrific, sporting 960x640 pixels. But Apple has proven with the latest iPad that it can push the limits on screen resolution.
The new iPad has a true high-definition screen, with 2048x1536 pixels. German said he doesn't expect Apple to go that far with the iPhone. After all, the iPad is a much bigger device with a 9.7-inch screen. But if Apple increases the iPhone's screen size, it will also likely boost the resolution a bit.
The other major improvement to the iPhone 5 will likely be the addition of 4G LTE network connectivity. This will allow the new iPhone to operate on a faster network, with download speeds averaging about 12Mbps. And unlike other LTE devices on the market, Apple is promising that the battery life of the iPad will stay the same — around nine hours. This is good news for the potential iPhone 5 with LTE. Hopefully, Apple will make sure that its battery life isn't affected by the 4G LTE technology — and, unlike the new iPad, make sure that the LTE functionality works in Australia.
Other than that, I don't expect to see Apple make any other major improvements. German noted in his story last week that the iPhone 4S already has a dual-core processor. And the new A5X chip found in the iPad is also a dual-processor chip with better graphics processing, something that is an important improvement for a device with a larger screen. The overall design of the iPhone 5 may change slightly, but I don't expect it to be drastically different.
As far as features that can be added via software, it also seems to me that Apple is committed to keeping the iPhone 4S around for a while. The phone was eligible for the latest iOS 5.1 update released last week, which says to me that Apple wants to keep the device up to date. My guess is that when the new iPhone is released, Apple will still make many, if not all, of the new software features compatible with the iPhone 4S.
So the bottom line is that unless you really want an iPhone with a larger screen or you must have an LTE phone, you will probably be very happy with your iPhone 4S, even after Apple introduces the iPhone 5.
Believe me when I tell you that I understand your angst. I typically experience buyer's remorse for almost any big purchase that I make. But the iPhone 4S is such a solid device and such an improvement over your iPhone 3GS that recently died that I think you will be happy with your purchase no matter what Apple announces in June or September.
I hope this advice was helpful. Good luck making your decision!