Buzz kill: Online reaction to iPhone 4S trends negative

Buzz kill: Online reaction to iPhone 4S trends negative

Over two-thirds of the online buzz Tuesday about Apple's new iPhone 4S was negative, a social media monitoring company said today.

According to Bellevue, Wash.-based Visible Technologies, 69% of the comments it tracked on Twitter concerning the iPhone 4S were negative, a turn-around from what the company said were usually "rave" reviews for Apple and its product introductions.

The thumbs-down reaction was largely based on the lack of a larger, faster "iPhone 5," said Visible.

Rumors, many of them citing unnamed sources, had circulated widely in the weeks and days leading up to yesterday's announcement that Apple would roll out an "iPhone 5," a device that would supposedly boast a bigger screen and support the faster LTE networks being deployed in the U.S. by Verizon and AT&T.

Instead, Apple took a page out of its 2009 playbook, and dubbed the next-generation handset the 4S, using the same nomenclature it applied in the transition that year from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS.

Visible's findings echo an undercurrent of disappointment in what Apple revealed that has been expressed by bloggers, some analysts and even news reports yesterday and today.

Some of the responses to the iPhone 4 have ranged from over-the-top to simply outraged, while the Twitter hash tag #ifail

continues to be heavily populated with gripes and venting over the new smartphone.

Some analysts were not hesitant to join the chorus.

"This new iPhone 4S announcement was a real yawner," Jeff Kagan, an independent technology analyst, said in an email. "There was nothing earthshaking at all about this iPhone announcement. It is not the iPhone 5 like we expected. It is just an iPhone 4S."

Kagan berated Apple for wasting people's time by holding a product announcement when in his opinion a press release would have done. "This was almost abusive on Apple's part," he said.

Other analysts didn't see it that way.

"The disappointment is really ironic, considering all the positive press leading up to the announcement," Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst with IDC, said in an interview today. "I can understand it to some degree -- I would have liked to see a bigger screen and LTE, too -- but Apple is still doing things better than anyone else."

Llamas pegged the same-sized 3.5-in. screen as the iPhone 4 and lack of LTE as the two biggest buzz killers.

"People look at the iPhone 4S and see Apple holding to [a] 3.5-in. screen when the market has shown that we like a bigger screen so we can see more, do more," said Llamas. "So they ask 'Why can't you stay ahead of the Samsungs, the HTCs of the world?'"

But he saw reason in Apple's moves.

"I can imagine a ton of developers breathed a huge sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to support yet another screen size," said Llamas. "It could have lead to the fragmentation [that affects] Android all over again. And as for LTE, good luck finding it anywhere outside the U.S. If you want to put out a device that reaches the corners of the earth, you can't bet on LTE."

The negative reaction to the iPhone 4S also stems, said Llamas, to the perception that "Apple is a trend setter" in the smartphone space, and people expect that each year.

That's unrealistic.

"Apple only does a major change of its hardware design every other year," said Llamas, pointing to the iPhone 4 as the first in that two-year cycle, and the 4S as the follow-up.

"I think the criticism [of the iPhone 4S] was kind of unfair," Llamas added.

So did Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities.

"The new name of the iPhone was a clear headline disappointment and led to a rush to judgment around the degree of improvement consumers will receive with the new phone, leading to a knee-jerk reaction from the market on fears of a weak upgrade cycle," said White in a note to clients today. "We believe this is nothing more than a superficial analysis."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, mentioned headlines as well.

"Although the iPhone 4S will disappoint headline writers, it's a very strong product," said Gottheil yesterday.

Llamas agreed, and echoed other experts yesterday who argued that Apple's whole was bigger than its parts, certainly bigger than the hardware.

"Yesterday, they didn't really talk about the hardware, except for mentioning the faster [A5] processor," Llamas said. "Instead, they really tried to sell the entire experience."

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