iPhone 3G S: So what does the S really stand for?

Jonathan Morris
June 9, 2009


From the outside the 3G S looks the same as the 3G. The upside is that you won’t have to upgrade simply to have the latest model (old MacBook owners don’t have the same luxury). The downside is that you probably wanted something that looked different for the sake of change.


S stands for speed?

O2 UK offers HSDPA speeds of up to 1.8Mbps, meaning the current (sorry, outgoing) 3G model is still more than capable at running at full speed. The 3G S offers speeds of up to 7.2Mbps, but by the time O2 is up there, we’ll all be clamouring to get our 3G T’s (the T will be for Turbo, probably) with 14.4Mbps.

Meanwhile, there’s Wi-Fi support that is unchanged. No 802.11n support, although we wouldn’t expect the hardware to cope with speeds in excess of 100Mbps just yet.


iPhone OS 3.0

Earlier in the year, Apple announced the big new operating system update. Features like cut & paste, picture messaging and being able to use your iPhone as a modem all became new features – well, new to Apple.

To be fair, had Apple opted to reserve these features for the iPhone 3G S yesterday, they would have had a product that would have really stood itself apart. Instead, they’re rolling out the update to every existing 2G and 3G owner (and for a modest fee for the iPod touch – which didn’t see an updated model announced yesterday).

We can’t fault Apple for doing this, but the end result is the new phone has to make do with relatively little differences. The most notable one being ‘voice control’, a feature that will probably barely get used at all.



With the addition of encryption and remote data wiping, Apple could be trying to make its device more business-friendly. But, regardless of this, there’s something quite reassuring about knowing that you can destroy your data should the phone fall into the wrong hands. A definite thumbs up for this one!



Like a shopping window sale sign, the Apple website shows a logo saying ‘upto 2x faster’, referring to the faster processor. Now, one thing you can’t accuse the existing iPhone models of being is slow – but the new processor could allow for new features unique to the 3G S in the future, so this could be when there starts to be a real differentiation between the 3G and 3G S.



A jump to 3-megapixel doesn’t sound much, but if they’ve got a decent sensor then the honest truth is that this is actually sufficient for most things we use a cameraphone for. Uploading pictures to Flickr, MobileMe or Facebook doesn’t need a higher resolution, but it does need good quality photos. The autofocus sensor will make the biggest difference here, and the tap-to-focus feature might not be new, but it is certainly useful.

Video recording is another case of ‘about time’, and thankfully the VGA resolution, 30fps, capture means this is sufficient for uploading to YouTube.


Data tethering

Part of the iPhone OS 3.0 update, Apple has managed to create a new term for something we’ve been able to do for years. Okay, so that’s clever marketing, but that hasn’t stopped O2 from charging up to £30 a month for a Tethering bolt-on. Now, let us get this straight; another £360 a year to use your iPhone as modem – when most handsets simply hook up via a USB cable or Bluetooth and use your existing mobile Internet settings at NO extra charge?

You’ve got to hand it to Apple…



Besides the camera, the other new bit of hardware is the electronic compass. You won’t be surprised to learn that Apple didn’t pioneer this either (handsets like the Nokia N97 and Samsung’s I8910 HD have this feature too) but you can be certain that Apple will make use of it in more applications, and quicker too.

The compass is designed primarily for working when you are standing still. GPS can only work out your direction by measuring where you were and where you are. The compass can also determine which way you’re facing, which is going to have major benefits for using Google Maps on the street – especially Street View.


Still exclusive to O2

The biggest rumours ahead of the Apple announcement was O2 losing its exclusivity. Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone all dropped hints (unofficially, naturally) that they might be getting it – and none of these networks ever made much of an attempt to stop any stories being published.

Vodafone went the furthest by developing a portal designed around the iPhone, with all UK content. First it was claimed that this was done for the foreign Vodafone owned networks that had the iPhone, followed by the bizarre claim that it was built purely for O2 customers that had unlocked their iPhone.

We must now conclude that all of these operators were in fact pitching to Apple to get the rights to distribute the new iPhone. Apple sets the rules, and everyone wants a piece of the action.

It seems that, despite all the effort, O2 managed to convince Apple it was still the best choice.



Buying an iPhone is never going to be cheap, but that doesn’t seem to put people off. If it did, Apple wouldn’t sell any computers at all. You’re buying into a brand and when you walk out of the shop with the new iPhone, you’re smiling even though the cost of ownership should be making your eyes water.

Note to other manufacturers: If you can get people to happily pay such premiums, you might start to make some money.



Improved battery performance has been relegated to the bottom of my list, but considering how bad it can be on the current 3G model, maybe it should have been bumped up. However, the improvements on the 3G S are still far from making this a phone you heavily use as a phone and media player and still have working at the end of the day.

To stand a chance, the only option is to purchase a portable battery charger (such as the Richard Solo 1800 plug-in charger, or an mStation Mophie Juice Pack) that can boost the power throughout the day. Assuming Apple hasn’t done anything silly, all of the kit designed for the 3G should work just fine with the 3G S.

Suddenly, keeping the same exterior shell is starting to look like a rather smart move.



So, will the new iPhone be a success despite having minimal changes? Well, we all know the answer is yes – so who are we kidding? The option for a 32GB model also makes its ability to store more music and video even more compelling – at least until the imminent announcement of the new 64GB iPod touch…


So what do you think?

> Discuss the iPhone 3G S here

> Recap on the iPhone 3G S announcement

> See O2’s pricing for the iPhone 3G S

> Mobile News: “3G S a cleverly-staged con”


About the Author

Share this article