iPhone 5, Despite Apple Hype, Will Be Disappointingly Conservative

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-09-09

iPhone 5, Despite Apple Hype, Will Be Disappointingly Conservative

You already know that Apple is launching its new iPhone 5 in San Francisco Sept. 12. You already know that the hype has reached levels unseen since, oh, the launch of the iPhone 4S (which everybody thought would be the iPhone 5).

Secretly, deep down inside, you probably also know that this new iPhone will not be as innovative as you'd hoped it would be.

While there are some very nice improvements planned for the sixth iteration of Apple's iPhone, they're still iterative changes. There do not appear to be any blockbuster features, and most of the features that are at least interesting are not as interesting as some of what Apple's competition is doing. In other words, Apple's conservative approach to hardware updates is putting a limit on what the company can do.

The new iPhone will have a bigger screen. This is information that's been out there for a while, and it's something that everyone has expected. The screen on the iPhone 4S and earlier is now tiny by comparison to what's available to Google Android and Microsoft Windows Phone devices. The emergence of video and imaging as killer apps for phones has made screen size matter a lot. But while the new screen will have a 16:9 aspect ratio needed by video, it will still only be about 4 inches.

The limited screen size is due to the fact that the iPhone 5 will be the same width as recent iPhones. It will simply be taller. Apple may have reasons for limiting the width, such as comfort, but those reasons still result in less viewing area. While the Retina display will still provide lots of detail, no matter how you look at it, smaller is still smaller.

The new iPhone will support faster networking.

The iPhone 5 will support Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+), depending on the version. Considering that virtually every other smartphone on the planet has been supporting LTE for a long time, this means that Apple is catching up with the rest of the world, but it's certainly not an innovation leader. Support for faster HSPA+ is also no surprise since every other recent smartphone is already doing this.

Likewise, Apple may also be including near-field communication (NFC) on the iPhone 5-something other phone makers from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion to Samsung have had for a very long time, but there's some dispute about that.

A Few Changes, Like the Use of Nano-SIMs, Surprise Analysts


One thing that seems to be catching many analysts by surprise is that the iPhone 5 will use nano-SIMs. These are about 60 percent of the size of the current micro-SIMs used by most smartphones. But there should be no surprise. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute approved Apple's design for a standard nano-SIM on June 1. This alone should have been a total giveaway. In order to get ETSI approval, Apple has agreed to license the nano-SIM to other phone makers, so you can expect to see more of them.

Apple is also changing the standard connector that supplies power and USB communications, according to rumors too numerous to list here. Again, this is no surprise as the old dock connector was fairly large, and could easily be inserted upside down. Using a smaller connector reduces the space required inside the phone, leaving more room for things like headphone connectors and speakers. But this does create another question: Why not just use a micro-USB like everyone else?

If I had to guess, it's likely that only Apple will sell docking cables for the new connector, and that Apple won't license them to anyone else. Ready for a cable patent war, anyone?

So what else can we expect when the new iPhone 5 arrives? It'll be thinner, it will probably have a quad-core processor, the screen may have stronger glass, and the back of the case will be metal again, which would be necessary for the structural integrity of a thinner yet larger phone. This means again that the iPhone 5 is playing catch-up to the Android and Windows devices already being sold or that have already been announced. No surprises here.

You also already know that the iPhone 5 will run iOS 6. Again, that's no surprise since it was announced months ago, and at the time Apple said it would be on the iPhone 5, as well as on earlier iPhones and iPads. iOS 6 will provide a number of useful features, including an improved version of Siri, the virtual assistant. But you don't need to buy an iPhone 5 to get iOS 6.

I'm sure that there will be some cool new features that iPhone true believers will find irresistible. But will they make the iPhone 5 something that people who might otherwise buy an Android or Windows phone change course? Probably not.

This isn't to suggest that Apple won't sell a gazillion iPhone 5 devices, because they will. But Apple's incremental change process isn't likely to produce any blockbuster changes that will drive sales away from Android devices or that will make the people who want the innovations in the new Windows Phone 8 devices change their minds. The cool features will be fun, and the iPhone fans will love them. But I don't see them adding to iPhone dominance when the most that Apple is doing right now is playing catch-up.

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