Apple’s decision not to include LTE in the iPhone 4S shouldn’t have been a big surprise to anyone, nor should it be such a big disappointment. The company has a tradition of stalling implementation of new technologies until it is absolutely sure that it can do so without hurting the end user experience. In the case of an LTE-capable iPhone 4S, Apple had ample reason to wait.
First, the iPhone 4S would have cost more. LTE chipsets have not come down enough in price that Apple could have included one without driving up the price of what is essentially an iPhone 4 refresh, with Siri. Consumers were already upset that it wasn’t an iPhone 5; how would they have felt if it cost $25 or $50 more?
Second, users would have seen major battery drain (aside from the software snafu, which has since been fixed), given that the device would have been managing 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Ideally, an LTE chip should mean less battery drain, but these are early days and chip makers are still working on more efficient management of handoff and signaling. Besides, have you ever seen or felt the heft of the Thunderbolt – slim as it may be in its out of box form – with an external battery pack?
The third reason is that while LTE may be rounding third right now, it hasn’t reached home. LTE is not available in a lot of areas. Granted, Verizon Wireless is executing well when it comes to LTE deployments, but consumers are still just catching onto what it all means. Just prior to writing this blog, a friend called and asked me what kind of smartphone he should get. I told him that it depended on whether he wanted LTE. My friend had no idea what LTE was. Neither did he know what 4G really meant. Sorry folks, we’re just not there yet.
The final reason that I think Apple was right in waiting is that it’s really not that big of a difference to consumers right now. I’ve seen LTE on an HTC Thunderbolt. Yes, it is most definitely the wave of the future and very fast. However, the killer app just hasn’t arrived yet. There are very few things that a LTE-capable Thunderbolt can do that an iPhone 4S can’t do. In fact, I can’t really think of even one thing.
I am not diminishing LTE here. I think it’s a great technology that is going to drive things like HTML5 and cloud-based services to whole other levels. But until users look from their iPhone 4S over to their friend’s Thunderbolt and really get jealous, we’re just not there yet. In the end, it will be the applications that differentiate and promote LTE.
Apparently Apple decided that the difference between watching a video on a smartphone connected to LTE and one connected to 3G wasn’t worth rushing their next major leap forward. Instead, I’m guessing they’ll wait until mid-2012, when the networks are deployed in more places, the chipsets are cheaper and more refined and developers will have begun showing off their LTE-only wares. At that time, there will be enough iPhone 4 and 4S users looking over at their evolved iPhone 5 cousin, saying “I think it’s time to upgrade.”