The iPhone 3G S handset is well appointed, functional, and nicely packaged, but it's not at the high-end of the smartphone hardware scale. The OS and interface -- and the richly stocked App Store -- remain the best reasons to buy an iPhone. Unless you need 16GB or 32GB of storage, a compass, and a faster CPU, the iPhone 3G will suit you as well as the more expensive iPhone 3G S.
After the drama that enveloped the last two iPhone releases, the party surrounding the iPhone 3G S is somewhat subdued. That's not because the 3G S is lacking. Rather, blame a troubled economy, in which it's much harder to justify spending for a new iPhone -- especially if you already have one.
The 3G S is identical to the 3G in form, distinguishable only by the lettering on the back. Inside, it's definitely a different animal. The CPU is faster, the RAM has been doubled, and there's a magnetometer, a 3-megapixel camera, and up to 32GB of storage. All of these pieces contribute to making the iPhone 3G S a formidable mobile computing platform, even though they are roughly in line with phones from other manufacturers. It's the apps and the interface that make the difference.
[ For more iPhone reviews and analysis from InfoWorld, see "First look: iPhone OS 3.0 is better for business, but IT won't be satisfied" and "Your next iPhone: iPhone 3.0 update or iPhone 3G S?" ]
There's certainly many "oh cool!" tricks in the 3G S, like the maps feature that combines the magnetometer with the GPS receiver to allow you to turn in any direction and have the map revolve to your position as you turn. I found the GPS receiver to be very fast in linking satellites, and very accurate as well. The camera is far better than the previous iterations, and the video recording and editing features are well done. I also found the voice control features to be useful, but the command listen duration seems too short, and voice control can be somewhat clunky to access.
A higher gear
I moved from an iPhone 2G to a 3G S, so the speed boost and new options were no doubt more dramatic to me than they will be to someone with a 3G. The speed is apparent immediately, with applications launching very quickly and navigation running much smoother than it did on my 2G. But after a few minutes, you won't notice anymore. The 3G S just does what you want when you want it, with little hesitation.
Otherwise, the 3G S offers roughly the same feature set as the 3G, especially with the iPhone OS 3.0 upgrade. Sorely lacking in both is tethering and MMS -- features that are supported by the device, but not by AT&T. This is a sad state of affairs for both Apple and AT&T; it's ridiculous to think that 22 countries and 44 carriers fully support these features, but they're not available to iPhone users in the United States. If anything underscores the fact that the United States is falling behind other countries in many technologies, this is it.
On the business side, the iPhone continues to be attractive, if not as accepted as the BlackBerry. Using the free iPhone Configuration Utility, companies can build iPhone profiles that can be distributed to user phones to configure Wi-Fi and network settings, VPN configuration, mail settings, and so forth for all users' phones. The iPhone Enterprise Deployment Guide offers a list of all these tweaks and how to distribute them. You can implement remote wipe for lost devices as well, either through Microsoft Exchange Server or a maximum failed password setting.
It's the software
Apple has also mentioned data encryption on the phone, possibly using a dedicated chip in the 3G S. Ostensibly, this will perform encryption for data on the phone, such as e-mail, notes, recordings, and whatnot, but details are very hard to come by. There is a new option in iTunes to encrypt the phone backup when the phone is synced, however.
Apple's WWDC demo highlighting a few accessory and application combinations is highly intriguing, especially those aimed at healthcare professionals. As Apple says, "There's an app for that," and there doesn't appear to be much slowdown in new applications available through Apple's iTunes store.
Given the faster speed, more RAM, and better video performance in the iPhone 3G S, more doors are open for heavier applications, including heavier business apps. It wouldn't surprise me to see corporations requiring some employees to carry iPhones or iPod touches running custom applications to achieve business goals. If the healthcare apps are as usable as they seem to be, doctors might start carrying them for professional reasons alone.