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Five years of iPhone

iPhone 4S: iOS 5.0

For its its fifth year of iPhone, Apple launched iPhone 4S, an improved version of the iPhone 4's overall design with a much faster A5 processor borrowed from the iPad, improvements to its camera, 14.4Mbps HSDPA and new support for 1080p HDMI or VGA output or 720p wireless AirPlay.

In software, Apple added a variety of features including iMessage for automatically sending text and multimedia messages via WiFi, Newsstand for delivering subscription content, a new Notification Center for managing local and remote push alerts, and support for Apple's new iCloud services, as well as PC Free setup and configuration.

Exclusive to iPhone 4S is Apple's new Siri voice assistant, which adds intelligent responses to spoken requests as a secondary natural user interface, next to the iPhone's pioneering multitouch interface. Siri can search the web and translate voice to text, but more importantly serves as a way to interact with calendar items, messages, reminders and notes.

iPhone 4S

The introduction of the iPhone 4S also enabled Apple to sell three models of iPhones differentiated by price and features: essentially the last three generations of iPhone models. That ability erases competitor's options to easily develop low end models to compete with the iPhone on price, as Apple now has popular older models it can sell paired with its latest software, something Android's model ironically doesn't support.

Late 2010 iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S feature comparison

The future of iPhone competitors: 2011 - 2012

After a year on the market, Microsoft has found it nearly impossible to find interest for WP7 among consumers. At the beginning of 2011, Nokia announced that it would be dumping its own Meego and Symbian platforms to focus on a new joint venture with Microsoft, although it noted that the fruits of its efforts wouldn't be ready for nearly another year. Microsoft also has parallel efforts in place to launch Windows 8 as a viable PC and tablet platform, which is also a year away.

RIM is now in a similar predicament to where Microsoft was a year ago, facing delays in getting its new PlayBook operating system to work on its smartphones, and reportedly eying plans to license the software to third parties for production.

After largely wasting 2011 on failed tablet-oriented efforts with Honeycomb, Google has delivered Android 4.0 as its unified smartphone/tablet version of its 2011 efforts, but it is not making it widely available in a way most existing Android users can download and install. Instead, it's leaving it up to manufacturers and carriers to do the work needed to make its raw code work on existing devices, an expensive effort few are excited about undertaking. Meanwhile, Amazon has derailed Google's tablet aspirations with the Kindle Fire, which like the Barnes & Noble Nook, uses a year old version of Android 2.3 to deliver a customized, incompatible, closed tablet platform.

The most successful iPhone competitor has been Samsung, which like Sony Ericsson, has now adopted Android as its primary platform after ditching WiMo and Symbian. Unlike Sony Ericsson, Samsung has actually experienced significant sales growth from Android. Samsung's performance seems to have more correlation to the company's "slavish copying" of Apple than its use of Android, because other major Android licensees haven't experienced the same dramatic growth. In fact, a variety of top Android licensees failed to regularly break even in 2011, a serious problem when considering the historical profitability associated with building and selling smartphones.

This year, competitors are hoping to coast on the differentiations they introduced last year: more processor cores and 4G LTE wireless service. Apple, however, has the option to simply match their efforts, because there's nothing proprietary or unique about obtaining the latest ARM chips or 4G support.

Once that happens, iPhone competitors will again be looking for new differentiated features while Apple continues to sell a quarter of the world's smartphones and earn the majority of the market's revenues and profits.