Tech Journal: Is the iPhone 4S Worth it?

Paul Sakuma/Associated Press Tim Cook at the launch of iPhone 4S at the Apple headquarters in Calif, Oct. 4.

Apple has a long history of ignoring India, a country of more than one billion people and the second-largest mobile market in the world. The first iPhone officially hit Indian stores more than a year after its debut in the U.S., while it took almost nine months for the iPad to travel to this side of the world.

However, Apple surprised everyone in 2011 when it launched the iPad 2 in India just a month after the U.S. launch. And the good news is the company is following a very similar release cycle for the iPhone 4S. new chief executive Tim Cook unveiled the smartphone in California last month, and it has already made its way to India, officially.

Indian telecom operators Airtel and Aircel have announced that they’ll be launching the new iPhone 4S on Friday. The 16GB model will sell for 44,500 rupees ($870), while the 32GB iPhone 4S is put at 50,900 rupees on Airtel and Aircel’s pre-order sites. neither company has disclosed the price or availability of the 64GB model, but it is expected to retail at 57,500 rupees, according to Nidhi Singal of India Today.

That’s a pretty steep order. like in many countries, the arrival of a new Apple product is usually greeted with near hysteria in India. but websites such as Twitter were strangely subdued last week after news broke that the iPhone 4S was coming.

Should we blame Apple for this steep price? Atul Chitnis, technologist and former chief products officer at Geodesic, says that Apple only decides the lowest price. in countries like India, where it doesn’t sell directly, distributors decide the MRP. mr. Chitnis is looking forward to buying an iPhone 4S, but like everyone else, he isn’t too pleased with the pricing strategy and recommends shopping around.

What are the other options? Apple’s online store does sell the unlocked iPhone 4S in the U.S. this is free of contract and can be used with any GSM carrier in the world. The 16GB model is available at around $700 (base price + taxes) which is about 25% less than in India, but the phone may not carry an international warranty. also, since Apple won’t directly ship it to India, you’ll either have to ask someone to buy it for you on their next trip to the U.S. or opt for package forwarding – this however will be a more expensive option as you will also be required to pay customs duty and other taxes. I found several iPhone 4S listings on eBay India, but there wasn’t any significant difference in price from Aircel and Airtel.

Is the iPhone 4S worth the money? Compared with the iPhone 4, the exteriors are similar but Apple has improved the camera – here’s how it stacks up against other iPhone models. it also does away with the antenna problem, but battery life remains a concern for many iPhone 4S users.  then there’s the voice-assistant Siri that everyone seems to have fallen in love with (see reviews of Walt Mossberg and Jason Snell) but based on feedback that I have received from people who tried Siri, it looks like the voice-assistant isn’t that great at recognizing Indian accents.

Apple watcher John Gruber once noted that Apple follows a “two-year cycle [for the iPhone] that starts with a new form factor (3G/4) followed a year later by a new phone with the same form factor but significantly improved internals (3GS/4S).” if Apple continues to follow that release pattern, your shiny new 50k phone might feel obsolete in 8-10 months. Some rumors even suggest that the iPhone 5 could debut next summer.

The iPhone 4S should be available in Airtel and Aircel stores from tomorrow, but given the above, it may be worth considering some other options. Rajat Agrawal of gadgets website BGR India suggests the Nokia Lumia 800 and Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus also deserve a look.

Amit Agarwal also writes Digital Inspiration, a popular how-to technology blog. You can find him on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook or send him an email at

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