Camera hardware and software
Apple has upgraded the iPhone 4's camera from five megapixels to eight for the iPhone 4S. Top-end Android phones have used eight megapixel sensors, and greater, for yonks now.
Of course, it's not all that simple. Focusing reliability, autofocus speed, and ability to handle low-light situations all have a huge effect on the usability of a mobile phone camera (any camera, to be fair). We'd still rather use the 5-megapixel snapper of the iPhone 4 than the 8-megapixel camera of the HTC Desire HD, for example.
The jury's out on the iPhone 4S camera as yet, of course, but we'll be back with the full verdict once we get a review sample in. We have faith that Apple - user experience driven as ever - will keep the quality of its camera in-line with the iPhone 4's. However, Samsung's upcoming cameras will have a chance of toppling the iPhone 4S's new setup - it tends to produce the best Android cameras.
Bad news for Apple - it's the manufacturing force behind the Google Nexus Prime, due to be unveiled next week. If you care about you cameras, wait for those revelations before making your mind up.
iOS5 vs Ice Cream Sandwich
We've often accused iOS of playing catch-up with Android in feature terms, but Ice Cream Sandwich is the version of Android that will see it become much more Apple-like. It will merge the two software streams of 2.x and 3.x, so that Android tablets and smartphones all use the same version of Google's operating system.
Visually, it takes Honeycomb as its base, but is happy to scale its operation down for smaller, lower-resolution screens. Of course, iPhones and iPads have shared a fundamentally similar operating system since day one.
iOS 5 adds plenty of features, but doesn't change the familiar core layout - those pages of app icons. Android will continue to offer more customisation power and flexibility than an iPhone, but is also sure to offer more bugs and crashes. Ice Cream Sandwich could be summed-up as a smartphone port of Honeycomb (one that still plays nice with tablets, of course) and no port is without problems.
One stand-out element of iOS 5 that deserves particular mention is the iPhone Assistant. It's a piece of software that blends voice reognition and artificial intelligence to let you speak in a more relaxed manner than any other mobile voice recognition system - including Android's voice commands. Apple made a big deal of the software at the iPhone 4S's launch - and it could be something rather special. We'll be back with more impressions when we get a unit in to review.
Last, and least in our opinion, to cover is connectivity. The iPhone 4S features HSPA connectivity, but not the 4G offered by some Android phones. Why such a low view of how we get online? Because we'll always (for the foreseeable future) be limited by the networks we use rather than our hardware.
HSPA connectivity gives theoretical speeds greater than 20Mbit, but you can bet your last pound of app store credit that once a network's under iPhone 4S loads, you won't get within sniffing distance of those speeds.
Over the next year, Androids will catch up with the iPhone series, in the categories in which the iPhone 4 put some distance between the two camps. Android screens will get more pixel-dense, gaming on the platform will improve and Ice Cream will help create cohesion within Android. It's a war of attrition on the hardware front though, and the iPhone 4S doesn't represent a huge breakthrough.