Apple unveiled its highly-anticipated next-generation iPhone, the iPhone 5, today. Here are some of the most notable changes that the iPhone 5 brings:
- Larger display: The 3.5″ 960×640 4:3 display (dubbed a “retina display” based on pixel density by Apple) found on previous iPhone models was increased to a 4″ 1136×640 16:9 widescreen display. The increased size is due to the display being elongated vertically; in other words, it remains the same width, but adds an additional 176 rows of pixels to the length of the display. While on a homescreen, this change adds another row of icons. Developers will be able to modify their apps to make use of the additional space, or current apps will be centered on the display with black bars on the top and bottom, akin to how widescreen movies looked on older4:3 television sets. The display also has 44% better color saturation than previous models.
- LTE capability: The iPhone 5 can now connect to faster 4G LTE networks. There will be GSM and CDMA versions, unlike the iPhone 4S which ran on both CDMA and GSM networks.
- Lighting connector: Apple has done away with the 30-pin connector that it introduced with the iPod and replaced it with a smaller connector that works whichever way one plugs it in. Apple said this was necessary to make the iPhone 5 thinner. It appears the Lightning connector will become the standard across all portable Apple devices, and Apple said audio manufacturers are already implementing the new connector in their clock radios, docks, etc. Apple will also sell converters for older devices.
- Improved camera: In what has become a standard Apple improvement, Apple has made the iPhone cameras better. The rear “iSight” camera remains 8 megapixels but adds faster photo capture, better low light performance, and panorama mode. The rear-facing camera will still record video at 1080p, but adds face detection and the ability to take photos while recording. Of note is that the iSight camera is protected by sapphire crystal, which is very scratch resistant and is the material used on luxury watches. The front-facing FaceTime camera has been upgraded from VGA (0.3 megapixels) to 1.2 megapixels, and it records 720p video.
- A6 Chip: Apple claims that the A6 chip used in the iPhone 5 will give it 8 hours of browsing time using LTE.
- iOS 6 and Apple Maps: The iPhone 5 will come with iOS 6, which has switched from Google Maps to an Apple mapping software which adds turn-by-turn navigation and flyover mode.
- Thinner and lighter: In what has become another Apple standard improvement, the iPhone 5 is 18% thinner (at 7.6 mm) and 20% lighter (at 112 grams).
- EarPod headphones: Apple redesigned the headphones that will come with the iPhone – they said it took 3 years! – and claim that they fit and sound better.
- A third mic: Apple added a third microphone to the iPhone – now there is one on the front, one on the back, and one on the bottom – that are supposed to work to cancel out background noise while on the phone.
All in all, I would say the iPhone 5 is a good, solid phone, but it is more of a catch-up with other smartphones than it is a standard-setting, industry-leading device. It does look beautiful, and the increased screen size and LTE capability were both necessary improvements at this stage. However, so many of the features can already be found on other devices: LTE has been on smartphones for a year and a half, 4.5″ and larger displays are really the standard, the pixel density found in the “retina display” is no longer that remarkable, there are already phones that are thinner and lighter, an 8 MP rear- and 1.2 MP front-facing camera is pretty commonplace, panorama mode was included in Android Ice Cream Sandwich almost a year ago, the ability to use FaceTime over a cellular network only catches it up to other video-conferencing programs, and I would say the booming headphone business makes the EarPods less of a draw.
And of course, the change in mapping software is also a catch-up in a way. iOS devices have traditionally had a stripped-down Google Maps that doesn’t include turn-by-turn navigation and has more limited search results (for example, if I search “restaurant” on my iPad Maps it will return only the ten nearest results, and if I want to see restaurants in a new area I have to re-center the map and search again, while on my Galaxy Nexus Google Maps will return all restaurants, and keep showing more results as I scroll to other areas.) I am not sure who is to blame for the stripped-down Google Maps, but better mapping software with navigation was much-needed, so in a way the new Apple Maps is an improvement. That being said, I think Google Maps is the best and most widely-used mapping software out there, and I think the iPhone 5 would have been better off with an improved Google Maps app.
Another area where the iPhone 5 really disappointed me is the lack of NFC (Near Field Communication). NFC allows for a variety of applications, most notably using a phone to pay for items at checkout by tapping the phone on the credit card reader in a store. Google Wallet is a popular platform for this, but NFC allows for a variety of software. While NFC hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet and stores that make use of the technology are in the minority, it is a technology that is being implemented more and more and has the potential to be revolutionary. I think Apple really dropped the ball by not including it. Maybe most customers won’t miss it, but for a company that prides itself on innovation, Apple should have included it.
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I understand that Apple can’t release a product that changes the industry with each new iteration of the iPhone, and perhaps the lukewarm reception the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 has seen is a result of Apple setting the bar very high for itself. But the bottom line is that the mobile industry is moving at a lightning-fast pace and releasing a thinner and lighter phone with beefed up specs each year won’t cut it in the long-run, and where a few years ago competitors would be racing to put out products that can compete with the iPhone after an iPhone announcement, now I can’t really see anything that Google or Android device manufacturers need to implement in order to compete with the iPhone 5. And from what I hear Windows Phone 8 is going to be very impressive when it is released in a few months.
The iPhone 5 will no doubt be a commercial success, and there is a huge market of people who are invested in the Apple/iTunes ecosystem and/or who think the iPhone is the simplest solution for them and/or are scared of change, but just like how RIM had so many invested users who fled when a better product came out, a f light from which RIM still has not recovered, the same could happen to Apple. I can see it now: people looking back at the iPhone the way I look back at my tiny BlackBerry Pearl, and laughing about how small the screen is and how dull the static grid of icons looks. Now, I’m being a little facetious, and Apple, unlike RIM, does have sort of an all-encompassing ecosystem that includes music, movies, TV, computers, and printers, and that ecosystem encourages people to stay with Apple, but I think my point is still valid. I would like to see Apple come out with something that sets a new standard in the tech world in this post-Steve Jobs era, because any company releasing better technology benefits the entire industry.