iPhone 5: Apple Is Just Playing Catch-Up With the Competition

 
 
By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-09-12
 
 
 

iPhone 5: Apple Is Just Playing Catch-Up With the Competition


The biggest news about the iPhone 5 is that it has a bigger screen. The iPhone 5 also has Long-Term Evolution (LTE) support, and it's thinner and lighter than previous iPhones. Some apps will take advantage of the larger screen, for example the Calendar app will show five days at a time.

In other words, what Apple announced for the iPhone 5 was exactly what many publications have been predicting would be announced for some time. Well, almost exactly. Most of us had been pretty sure that the iPhone 5 would have near-field communication (NFC), but it doesn't.

Considering that NFC is so ubiquitous that even older BlackBerry devices have this, that's kind of a surprise.

What this means is that the iPhone 5 really isn't a groundbreaking device, despite the mad statements of affection currently making their way around the social networks. The biggest differentiator in the hardware is the Retina display, which you can't get from other vendors, but the iPhone 4S had that already.

Apple lags everyone else in 4G support; it lags most of the Android phones with a quad-core processor; it features the same amount of memory as most Android phones, and less than a few. The iPhone 5 has a new and improved camera that includes a panorama feature, which is very nice, but it doesn't have the sophisticated stabilization system that Nokia announced for the Lumia 920.

So what does the iPhone 5 bring to the table that raises the bar, at least a little? Basically, it's very thin: Apple claims it's the thinnest smartphone available. And at 112 grams, it's pretty light. The 16:9 screen will help with watching movies but virtually every other smartphone already has that.

In other words, the iPhone 5 doesn't bring much functionality that other smartphones don't already have. It doesn't have some features, such as NFC, that virtually every other smartphone has had for a while.

Apple did finally make its FaceTime video conferencing app capable of working over cellular networks, but again, this is something you could already do, even with the iPhone, as long as you were willing to use Skype.

You Dont Need an iPhone 5 to Get iOS 6


Many of the changes that make the iPhone a nice device are really features of iOS 6. But the thing is, you don't need an iPhone 5 to get iOS 6. If you have any iPhone since the 3GS, or any iPad since the iPad 2, you'll get iOS 6 and all those features. This includes an improved version of Siri, Apple's new mapping and navigation software that seems nice, but which apparently takes away walking and mass transit support, and a new version of iTunes.

While Apple has done little beyond keeping up with the state of the art, this doesn't mean people won't buy it. There's no doubt that the iPhone will sell in the gazillions, partly because it's an iPhone, and partly because it's a very attractive iPhone. The new version is thin partly because it's moved away from the glass rear cover and now has aluminum on the back. It comes in two colors, white with a silver-colored aluminum back, and black, with an anodized aluminum back cover.

I think the black one looks a lot nicer, but that's just me.

Apple also bypassed the trend for ultra-large phones. In his presentation, Tim Cook explained that the iPhone 5 is designed to fit comfortably in your hand, and to be optimized so that you could type on it with one hand. This is not a trivial feature, especially if you're tried using some of the really big Android devices that seem as if they should come with an external keyboard so you could use them. Keeping the same width (in the portrait orientation) certainly makes the device remain useful for dialing the phone or typing email or social network messages.

In one sense, Apple's conservatism is probably a good idea. The company wants to hang on to its existing customers, and to get them to upgrade to the iPhone 5 as soon as their contracts will let them. Radical changes in design could have an adverse effect on some users, and Apple chose a safe path-at least in most things.

Where Apple's path was less safe was in the change to the docking connector. Instead of using the large connector that's been around since the days of the first iPod, Apple created a new, much smaller connector that can be plugged in without having to have a specific side up; it'll work either way. This makes everything from car audio systems to hotel radios obsolete, but Apple is also going to be selling adapters.

The iPhone 5 also isn't getting wireless charging, it's not getting Bluetooth 4.0, and you still can't use a micro-USB adapter. So what you've got coming on Sept. 21 is a very nice incremental upgrade for the iPhone that will sell very well precisely because it doesn't break any new ground. Apple aficionados will get exactly what they're used to getting, and the leading edge of technology will be elsewhere.

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