After an inexplicably long delay, pre-orders for the iPhone 4S have begun on Apple's online store. Orders began as scheduled on both Verizon and Sprint, but AT&T and Apple both experienced significant issues getting the ball rolling. The device won't hit Apple's retail stores until October 14, but if you'd rather not brave the inevitable launch day lines you can get your order in now. As with all iPhone pre-orders, if you really want to nab the device you'd better get moving; in fact, by the time you've finished reading this there's every chance the shipping date will have already slipped.
The iPhone 4S is available in the United States through AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Plan pricing between the three carriers is relatively comparable, though Sprint is the only of the three who is offering unlimited data. The iPhone 4S is available for a subsidized price ranging from $199 for 16 GB up to $399 for 64 GB if you sign up for a two-year contract.
Unlocked models will be offered, but they're not going to be made available until November. Thanks a million for that one, Apple; about a million other customers just probably said the same four-letter word that I did, though I doubt many of them said it as loudly.
The iPhone 4S features the same A5 processor as the iPad 2, leading to graphical performance up to 7 times better than the A4 processor in the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4S also has an 8 megapixel camera with improved sensor and lens components. The main new feature of the iPhone 4S is Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant function that understands natural language queries.
Update: As you can probably guess, the pre-order is going more smoothly for some customers than others, just like it seems to every year. AT&T pre-orders in particular have been a bumpy road for customers -- SURPRISE! -- while orders through the other US carriers have been hit or miss, but with more hits than misses compared to AT&T. Demand for pre-orders seems to be just as high as ever, so all the pundits predicting the iPhone 4S would be a flop seem to have missed the mark. Again.
As for the lack of unlocked iPhones on the US store, it's notable that Canada and Australia are both offering only unlocked models during the pre-order. I picked one up from Australia via one of my contacts there -- sure it costs more to go that route compared to picking up a US model, but it's better than waiting until November for US availability or December for the official NZ launch.