FAQ: Hello, iPhone 4S

Here's the scoop on Apple's first new smartphone in 16 months

Apple shredded prognosticators' reputations yesterday -- it'll be the iPhone 5, it'll have a bigger screen, it'll be only on Sprint -- when the company finally pulled off the wraps covering the first new iPhone in 16 months.

But the iPhone 4S ... really?

So the name doesn't roll off the tongue -- even less so than 2009's 3GS -- and some commentators have been nearly livid in their disappointment. But now at least everyone knows what they're dealing with.

Just to make sure we're all on the same page, let's recap with a quick Q&A.

When can I get one? Friday, Oct. 14. That's the on-sale day -- and for online and phone pre-orders via Apple, also the delivery and pick-up day -- for the iPhone 4S.

Apple will open its retail stores at 8 a.m. local time. Although the three U.S. carriers will also begin selling phones Oct. 14 in their stores, they have not yet announced door-open schedules.

Can I pre-order? Yes. Apple and its carrier partners will begin taking pre-orders, all presumably via both their websites and by phone, this Friday, Oct. 7.

But no word on the time of day they'll open the virtual doors.

What's it going to cost me? If you're eligible for the subsidized prices -- either your existing contract is up or nearly so, or you're switching carriers -- the 4S will run you $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB) or $399 (64GB).

That last one, by the way, is the most expensive iPhone since Apple trotted out the original in 2007 at the unbelievable prices of $499 for a measly 4GB and a whopping $599 for the not-much-better 8GB. For those with short memories, Apple saw the error of its pricing ways a few months later, then ditched the 4GB model and cut the price of the 8GB to $399.

Who do I talk to to find out if I can get the 4S at the subsidized price? Your current mobile carrier. Apple's website will steer you to AT&T's and Verizon's eligibility calculators -- Sprint's isn't included yet -- or you can go directly to your carrier's site. Or do it the old-fashioned way by calling.

I just got an iPhone 4 a few months ago, so there's no chance I'll qualify for the subsidized price. How much for the 4S for me? A lot.

A quick check of one AT&T account returned with out-of-contract prices of $449 (16GB), $549 (32GB) and $649 (64GB). Yikes. A Verizon account, however, pegged the prices at $649 (16GB), $749 (32GB) and $849 (64GB). Double yikes.

What does the iPhone 4S look like? Identical, or virtually so, to the iPhone 4. The exterior dimensions are the same, although the new model is heavier by 3 grams, or about one-tenth of an ounce.

Apple reinforced the similarity between the two models by saying that "all iPhone 4 accessories work with iPhone 4S," which we take to mean that cases for the older smartphone will fit the newer, including the holes for the cameras.

It's not the iPhone 5, but does the iPhone 4S have enough cool new features for people to make the switch? Keith Shaw and Computerworld's Ken Mingis discuss some of today's Apple announcements.

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