The early numbers are in, and they are impressive. Apple (AAPL) has sold more than 4 million iPhone 4S handsets during its first three days on the market. So much for the sourpusses who lamented the Mac maker's inability to release an iPhone 5 ahead of the holiday shopping season, eh?
Breaking Records but Not Budgets
This isn't mere fan enthusiasm. Last summer, Apple needed three weeks to sell 3 million iPhone 4 handsets. Fifteen months later, the Mac maker is once more breaking records -- only this time, the economic picture is bleaker. The message? Populist rebels and well-heeled Wall Streeters may disagree on just about everything else, but they both need their iFix.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's also an iBargain. Buying a 4S could actually be a smart money move. Unlike past iPhones, the 4S isn't just another well-designed handset -- this one promises tangible productivity gains that could, in fact, save some serious moola.
1. Free texts = up to $200 a year in savings
Subtle changes have long been an Apple forte. A slightly brighter or larger screen. A clearer app navigation menu. A sleeker curvature of a new handset or Mac. The late Steve Jobs saw art in such minimalist changes, and that's what users get with iMessage in iOS 5.
The app itself doesn't look different. The same green dialog bubble that's been common to all iterations of the iPhone remains on the 4S. But click through to the app and you'll see two types of messages. Green, for texts delivered via a carrier network -- which aren't free -- and blue, for texts sent via iMessage to other iOS users, which look like email to AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), and Sprint Nextel (S). Texts sent via iMessage are free.
And that adds up. Carriers tend to either charge $20 or more for unlimited texting plans, or $0.10 apiece for every text sent. You can only use iMessage to send messages to people who have another iOS device, but if you can move even half of your instant messaging to iMessage, it could cut your telephone bill by $100 to $200 a year.
2. Free directions = $100 savings
Global positioning systems have been under attack ever since Google (GOOG) brought mapping software to smartphones, but it's the 4S that may have delivered the deathblow. Voice-activation powered by Siri allows U.S. users to verbally ask for directions.
Admittedly, we haven't seen this work on a mass scale yet, but the idea is incredibly powerful. And if it does work as advertised, the hassle of entering an address in the iPhone's "Maps" app goes away. No more looking at the screen, either: Siri does the work instead.
And the savings? Let's say at least $100, which is the bottom-line price I found for Garmin's (GRMN) cheapest nuvi GPS devices sold through Amazon.com.
3. Smarter shopping = on-the-spot savings
Localization has been part of the iPhone ethos for a while now. So much so, in fact, that both Apple and Google got into trouble some months ago when media reports broke the news of how both iOS and Android devices were collecting location data without our explicit consent as users.
The controversy may be over, but localization is still a hot issue. Most iPhone apps use it to a degree. For instance, Facebook and Foursquare famously allow users to "check in" where they are. On Foursquare, the ability to show ourselves in this way has given rise to on-the-spot offers. American Express (AXP) is participating in the program as a credit card partner.
Now imagine what happens if you don't need to check-in before an offer shows up in your notifications, organized neatly on your home screen. True, this isn't available yet, but it shouldn't take much work for Yelp to make it happen. Just update the app to "push" notifications when you're near a deal. The built-in GPS would do the rest.
Have another smart money tip for new iPhone users? Leave it in the comments box below.
Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of AT&T, Amazon.com, Apple, and Google, as well as creating an iron condor position in Garmin, a bull call spread position in Apple, and writing a covered strangle position in American Express.