iPhone 4S launch: What's different this time?

It's been more than a year since 2010's big iPhone 4 launch and a lot has changed. How much? CNET walks you through it.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
4 min read
The lineup for the iPhone 3GS in 2009.
The lineup for the iPhone 3GS in 2009. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

After much fanfare, a minor pre-order meltdown, and what was perhaps the largest collection of Apple software updates to go out in a single week, the next iPhone arrives tomorrow.

If it feels like a long time since the iPhone 4 went on sale, you're not mistaken. The iPhone 4S, Apple's follow-up to the iPhone 4, comes a few months later than Apple has typically released previous handsets, and it seems even longer given that leaks led to the world seeing the final design months before it was officially unveiled.

From the looks of it, Apple appears to have used that extra time to polish the latest version of its iOS software, which went out to users yesterday, as well as to ready Siri, the iPhone 4S exclusive voice assistant that's being launched as an uncharacteristic "beta." That's not all that's different though. This year's launch brings a number of other changes, which we've detailed beneath.

More carriers
When the iPhone 4 launched (and every previous iPhone for that matter), the only carrier you could get it on in the U.S. was AT&T.

This time around your choices are more spread out with the addition of Verizon and newcomer Sprint. For those who bought the iPhone 4 from Verizon when it launched on the carrier earlier this year, there's probably a twinge of anger there, however those buyers had some idea of what they were getting themselves into.

So will two more carriers make things more complicated for Apple tomorrow morning? Based on the iPad 2 launch earlier this year, which included 18 different model possibilities--including different 3G-enabled models for GSM and CDMA carriers--probably not.

Outside of the U.S., the iPhone 4S is also launching through KDDI in Japan.

More countries
The phone is launching in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. at the same time. By comparison, last year's device did not arrive in Canada for some three months after the launch in other countries in that same group.

At last week's event, Apple pledged to get the 4S in 70 countries on more than 100 carriers by December.

Unlocked version from the get go (for some)
Besides the existing lineup of devices attached to carriers, Apple's offering an unlocked version of the iPhone 4S from the get go--at least in places like the U.K. and Europe.

In the U.S., Apple has promised an unlocked iPhone 4S in November. By comparison, it took Apple about a year to begin offering an unlocked version of the iPhone 4 in the U.S.

Worth noting is that despite being a world phone, working on CDMA and GSM carriers, the unlocked version of the device will only work on GSM networks.

More stores
Not counting Sprint retail stores in the U.S., there are now other places to get Apple's new phone where you couldn't a year ago. That includes Sam's Club, which announced its deal to sell Apple's iOS gadgets last October, along with Target, which began selling Apple's iPhones last November.


More colors
The iPhone 4 was originally promised in two colors, but what we ended up with was a 10-month wait for white version. In an interview with AllThingsD in April, the day the white version launched, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller described the process of making that color "challenging" both in how the color held up over time and how it interacted with the phone's internal sensors.

Since last year's launch, Apple's offered a white iPad 2 on its first day of release and began offering a white version of the iPod Touch, which hit stores yesterday.

More configurations
For the first time ever, Apple's selling three variations of the newest model, while selling last year's model and the 3GS. All told, that's five phones--at least on AT&T.

The big thing here is the move to three capacities from the get go: the 16GB, 32GB and the top of the line 64GB model, which retails for $399, a return to the original iPhone's price after it's controversial cut. Will people be lining up for an iPhone 3GS or a 4 tomorrow? Not unless they've made a horrible mistake.

New add-ons
Last but not least, Apple's rolling out the iPhone 4S with a brand new version of its AppleCare service called AppleCare+. This optional protection boosts the iPhone's warranty from 90 days of tech support to two years. The plus at the end adds accidental damage to that protection. On top of the $99 cost of the service, buyers who have damaged their iPhones in an accident can get a replacement for a $49 fee. This works twice, before you have to start paying full price for a replacement.

What should make tomorrow interesting is that this new level of AppleCare service requires that users buy it at the time of purchasing their new iPhone, unlike the original AppleCare, which gave users a year from the time of purchase to buy and activate it. That could mean a lot of folks making the move buy AppleCare+ with their iPhones, the same way Apple was pushing its bumper cases with last year's model.

The iPhone goes on sale at 8 a.m. local time at Apple Stores and through the company's carrier and retail partners, and CNET will be on the scene to bring you news about the launch.