Collected Thoughts on the iPhone 5

Posted on September 13, 2012

Yesterday, Apple released the latest version of the iPhone, aptly called the iPhone 5 despite being the 6th incarnation of the best selling smartphone. Below are a few thoughts from the Digital Possibilities team on what we saw yesterday.

Revolution versus Evolution

The very first iPhone when released was clearly a revolutionary product that went on to disrupt the entire smartphone market. Apple has had a strong track record of introducing revolutionary products: the iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, Apple TV and iTunes just to name a few.

Yet Apple is also great at evolving its products. Once it is happy with a form factor, Apple will tend to make small gradual improvements over many years without making major changes. Just look at what they have done with the Macbooks which have retained the same shape more or less for many years.

We’re now in an epoch where there are few revolutions to be had in the smartphone arena. What we can expect are various evolutions year on year that continually bring us better products without bringing the kind of step change that the original iPhone did. 2012 for Apple is another year of evolution.

Build Quality

If you pick up your current iPhone 4S or 4 and just feel it in your hand, it feels solid and very well put together. I would continue to argue that it is a thing of beauty that is just pleasurable to hold and look at. Without having seen or felt the iPhone 5, I think that the same aura of quality will be visible with this phone too. That continues to put Apple at a clear advantage when compared with their competitors.

Revolutionary Engineering Techniques

If you haven’t yet watched Apple’s video where they explain how they make the iPhone 5 it’s worth watching. The techniques employed to actually build iPhone 5s seems to me to be revolutionary, and I am convinced that Apple has invested a lot in making this work right. So much so that within the smartphone world I do expect these techniques to be revolutionary.

The Bigger Screen

The extra screen real-estate afforded by the new iPhone 5 will be subtly great. That extra space will trigger some new design concepts and will allow much more information to be presented “above the fold” yet without cramming too much into a confined space.

Applications will be able to take advantage of this extra space and present a greater quality of interaction with the user. Indeed for may applications it may be a great opportunity to re-evaluate their UIs to determine how they can be improved overall.

Also what’s telling is that Apple has decided on one major rule for the screen: you must be able to reach it all using one hand. This is not the case with the Android manufacturers and their larger screens, but it’s the core design value that Apple uses to determine what screen size should be permitted. Certainly, this idea was conceived during the early days of iPhone design when different prototypes were tried.

It’s Also About the Software

Yesterday’s Keynote focused on the hardware, with some space being given to Scott Forstall to provide a reminder on some of the new things coming in iOS6. But overall, the event highlighted the new iPhone design.

Yet to really experience the iPhone 5, you need to experience iOS 6 and the combination of these two innovations are what really makes the phone as good as it is.

Speed

The iPhone 4S is really fast. The iPhone 5 promises to be must faster still. Incredible. Although improvements in speed with each year are only to be expected. The downside though is that iOS and other applications can be expected to run increasingly slowly on older hardware.

Battery Life

With the new thinner phone, is the overall battery smaller? Apple are claiming that the new chip powering the iPhone 5, the A6, is much more efficient and therefore requires less power. However we’ll have to see when people do have their phones whether they last longer than the iPhone 4S which currently struggles to see the day through.

Camera

As expected, Apple improved the camera on the iPhone 5. Smartphone cameras are going to get better and better every year, although I expect that Apple wants to remain in the lead in this sector.

Nokia last week released their new Lumia 920 phone with an excellent camera too. The big question is how well each system will function in real life and I cannot wait for a side by side test. If Nokia can show theirs is better, then they have a marketable advantage over Apple. The Lumia has an 8.7 megapixel camera compared with Apple’s 8 megapixel. Yet there is far more to a camera system than just the sensor: the aperture, shutter speed, lens quality and software quality. Once the two phones are released, it will be interesting to see how they compare.

From: Apple.com

LTE

Finally the iPhone has LTE, which means it can connect to high-speed wireless networks. It is actually no surprise that it took Apple so long to incorporate LTE. It needed to make sure that the technology was reliable and worked well; and especially to ensure that it would not hog the battery. They seem to have done that by combining many radio systems onto one chip.

Should I upgrade to and iPhone 5?

The iPhone 5 is truly a beautiful phone, but it does of course beg the question of whether you should upgrade. For most people, there is no question of buying a new phone every year. If you do that, you are basically buying off-contract at a price of $699 plus tax minimum, which is a lot of money for most people.

As the iPhone 5 is more of an evolution, the two main features for which you would like to consider upgrading are the LTE support and the larger screen. The LTE support will make a big difference to day to day use, but 3G speeds are not awful either.

Hence for most people, it makes sense only to upgrade to an iPhone 5 once their current contract has run out. In the US that will be in two years maximum, in Canada about two and a half years.