So much for all of those pundits who had us assuming Apple would introduce the iPhone 5 on Tuesday.
Instead, Americas most revered smartphone maker debuted the iPhone 4S the next version of a device that has symbolized the mobile computing age.
The iPhone 4S will feature a retina display and dual-core processor that makes it twice as fast as the previous version, Apple said during a media event at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and now Sprint, will sell the gadget, which will be priced at $199, $299 and $399 for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB units, respectively, with a two-year contract.
The gadget will be available on October 14 in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom. Apple reportedly will broaden distribution to 70 countries and 100 carriers by the end of the year, reflecting the companys fastest rollout ever for the device.
Analysts had been expecting Apple to debut a brand-new version of its popular gadget ingeniously dubbed the iPhone 5 but that didnt happen. Those looking for a new exterior design were left open-mouthed, jaws on the floor.
Still, the somewhat reasonably priced iPhone 4S could be a huge hit, particularly with Sprint customers and in countries with an insatiable demand for slick mobile devices, but where price may be more of a barrier to purchase. The unknown is the existing iPhone owner: Will there be enough here to get him or her to upgrade?
In the United States, Apple already sells the iPhone through AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two largest mobile operators whose smartphone sales have been rapidly accelerating. Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless operator, is making a enormous gamble on the iPhone: The carrier has committed to purchase 30.5 million iPhones from Apple despite the fact that it would lose money on the deal until 2014, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The debut of the iPhone 4S is the first major product launch under the leadership of Tim Cook, who replaced Steve Jobs as chief executive officer after the man credited for building Apple into a tech powerhouse resigned over the summer.
Sales of the iPhone have been meeting or beating analysts expectations, helping to make Apple one of the biggest and most powerful tech giants in the world with a market capitalization of roughly $353.2 billion.
Apple has sold a whopping 55.2 million iPhones through the first nine months of the year. Net sales of the iPhone and related products and services totaled $36.1 billion through the first nine months of 2011. As of June 25, 2011, Apple has distributed the iPhone in 105 countries through 228 carriers.
There is plenty of opportunity for growth: Cook reportedly said today the iPhone represents just five percent of the entire mobile-phone market or 1.5 billion units.
Meanwhile, the companys iPad has dominated the tablet computer market, selling 21.3 million units through the first nine months of the year and shaming competitors like Research in Motion, whose sales of the BlackBerry PlayBook have been sluggish. Apples Scott Forstall senior vice president of iPhone software at Apple reportedly revealed today that 92 percent of the Fortune 500 companies are implementing or testing the iPad. Although devices based on Googles Android operating system collectively have begun to gobble market share, some analysts contend that no single tablet has been able to rival the iPad. But that could change now that Amazon has introduced the Kindle Fire, a $199 tablet computer that costs less than half the iPad ($500).