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iPhone 4S soars with Siri

Galen Gruman | Dec. 30, 2011
The beefier hardware is welcome, but the star of the show is the voice-controlled Siri personal assistant

Applications It's now part of the popular culture: "There's an app for that." There are hundreds of thousands of apps for iOS, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many useful apps as well. No other mobile platform has the breadth and depth of apps available to iOS users.

The native apps included with iOS include email, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, the Safari browser, a music player, a YouTube player, and SMS messaging (including the iOS 5-only iMessage service). iOS also includes FaceTime, Apple's videoconferencing app that works only with iOS devices and Macs and only over Wi-Fi networks.

iOS's Notes app is simple (no formatting) but integrates with IMAP and Exchange servers, so your notes can be automatically synced to and made available from your email. This is an amazingly useful feature, as your notes are always available. Apple's iCloud extends this utility for locally stored notes. iOS 5 also adds Reminders, a basic task manager that integrates with Exchange's to-do capabilities and syncs via iCloud to iCal on the Mac and Outlook in Windows 7.

The document-syncing protocol introduced in iOS 5, Mac OS X Lion, and iCloud is a game-changer for many business apps. The fact that a Keynote presentation syncs across all my devices, reflecting the current version no matter where I edit it, is a huge productivity boon. As app developers beyond Apple adopt this protocol, it will become increasingly easy to work in a mobile context without all the sync and file-management hassles that currently slow us down. Google has nothing similar.

Another big deal in iOS 5 is its enhanced AirPlay support. You can now send your screen image and audio to an HDMI-connectable presentation device attached to a $99 Apple TV, as long as the iOS device and the Apple TV are in the same wireless network. And you can use a VGA or HDMI cable for a direct connection. With the iPhone 4S (as with the iPad 2), you can mirror the entire screen as well. Thus, it's very easy to give presentations from an iPhone 4S. Too bad you can't use a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPhone 4S -- with such keyboard support and the exisitng screen mirroring, you could use the 4S as a computer in a pinch.

Siri. Available only in the iPhone 4S and officially labeled beta software, the Siri voice-controlled personal assistant is an amazing technology. To use it, you need a network connection, as your speech is digitized and sent to Apple's servers for speech recognition -- you'll get faster response when on a Wi-Fi network. What's so great about Siri is that it is available throughout the iPhone 4S. By contrast, Android 4 limits voice commands and transcription to specific apps, such as navigation for speaking destinations, Browser for speaking Google search terms, and in any app that has a text field. And note the word "transcription" -- you dictate text to Android; you speak to Siri on the iPhone 4S.


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