In his first product launch since becoming CEO, Apple's Tim Cook has announced a new version of the iPhone at Apple HQ in Cupertino, California. The iPhone 4S retains the ground-breaking Retina display technology and glass back of its predecessor, but has undergone something of an internal overhaul. Apple's new smartphone gets a brand new dual-core processor, an 8 megapixel camera capable of also shooting full high definition video, and a new personal assistant application that uses voice recognition. The 4S also promises up to double the previous download speeds and will be available on over 100 carriers worldwide.

Announced in the very same room as 2001's original iPod, Apple's new iPhone 4S runs on the new iOS 5 platform and is powered by the company's new dual-core A5 chip, that's said to be twice as fast as its predecessor. Mobile gamers will no doubt be pleased to hear that the included dual-core graphics are up to seven times faster than before. The new smartphone's battery life is claimed to offer either eight hours of 3G talk time, six hours of browsing, nine hours on Wi-Fi, ten hours of video playback, or 40 hours of music.

As the rumor-mill predicted, the 4S features a new 8 megapixel camera sensor (in actuality a 3264 x 2448 pixel resolution, backside illuminated CMOS sensor). There's a hybrid IR filter for more accurate colors and a five element f/2.4 aperture lens for 30 percent sharper images. The sensor also caters for full 1080p high definition video recording with image stabilization and noise reduction. Users can line up a shot using optional onscreen grid lines, and the new Photo app allows for simple in-device editing - such as crop, rotate, enhance and red-eye removal.

Access to the camera has been simplified - users just need to double-tap on the home screen to activate the new camera app, and use the volume up button as a shutter release. A new Apple-designed Image Signal Processor caters for face detection, improved white balance, and it sees the camera ready for its first shot in just 1.1 seconds (in only 0.5 seconds, the next one can be captured).

Improved call quality and voice control

Apple says that intelligent switching between the transmit and receive antennas results in much improved call quality, and users are no longer asked to choose between GSM or CDMA networks, as the 4S supports both. Theoretical data download capabilities have been doubled to up to 14.4 Mbps with HSDPA, with uplink remaining the same as the iPhone 4 at 5.8 Mbps. The 4S has also been treated to AirPlay Mirroring, which allows gamers to throw the device's image onto the big screen - wired or wireless.

As previously mentioned, perhaps most impressive of all the new features is an Intelligent Assistant named Siri, which uses sophisticated voice recognition technology to do your bidding. Press down the onscreen icon and speak to Siri via the phone's microphone, then everything from the local real-time weather to checking stocks and shares to setting appointments, alarms and reminders to searching online for information, is made available via vocal commands.

Apple has also included a beta version Dictation feature that currently supports U.S., UK and Australian flavors of English, along with French and German, with more languages to follow in the near future.

Pricing and availability

Pre-orders for the new iPhone 4S will start on October 7, with U.S., Canada, Australia, UK, France, Germany, and Japan getting first bite on October 14. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have all been confirmed as U.S. carriers and both black and white versions will cost US$199 for the 16GB model, US$299 for the 32GB version and US$399 for the 64GB flavor (with a 2-year contract).

Another 22 countries (including Mexico, Singapore and most of the rest of Europe) will take delivery from October 28, and the 4S will be available in 70 countries by the year's end.

In other news...

The Apple team also highlighted a few of the 200 plus new features in the new iOS 5 platform - including an interruption-free, swipe down Notification Center, a new iMessage service for sending and receiving text messages, photos and videos between iOS device users, location-aware Reminders, the Newsstand feature with background downloading of latest subscribed issues, and wireless, PC-free updates. There's also an update to the Safari browser that brings tabbed browsing to the iPad and new reader functionality with device sync. iOS 5 will be available from October 12.

Apple is also launching its iCloud services on October 12, including Find My Friends, where you can view the locations of friends who've opted to share - useful for guiding lost guests to your new house. iTunes in the Cloud comes with iTunes Match, that scans your own music library, upgrades matched songs to 256kbps AAC file format, and places the matched files into iTunes - all for US$24.99 per year (available in the U.S. from the end of this month). iCloud comes with 5GB of online storage free for iOS/OS X Lion users, with more available at a price.

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