13/9/20122

Apple’s real iPhone fight is not with the competition.Comments

iPhone 5Having now had all the details of the iPhone 5 officially revealed, after using the iOS6 beta and seeing the hardware leaks, you can't help but feel a bit disappointed - it is an incredibly unfortunate situation for Apple to be in.

Apple is notoriously secretive so leaking information about upcoming products is akin to illegal base jumping, an adrenaline rush, with protagonists constantly trying to take greater risks and out-do each other.

Is Apple to blame?

We are our own worst enemies but we can't have our cake and eat it.

Was the iPhone 5 disappointing for some because of the software and device itself or because we already knew just about everything that was coming and were constantly waiting on that one more thing which didn't materialise - you can't call shooting panoramas in the camera app a "one more thing" even though it is nice to use.

I believe that the iPhone 5 is a stop-gap, evolutionary not revolutionary (some confuse the two) but with just about enough to have kept us happy had we not already peeked behind the curtain:

  • when you think about it, the 4 inch screen is a remarkable thing to happen on an iPhone (considering the previous reluctance to even consider it) and potentially stops users from defecting to larger Android devices
  • the 16:9 screen ratio will make it an even better device for watching movies
  • LTE connectivity catches up with the competition and follows Apple's pattern of not including something until they are happy it won't adversely affect battery life
  • 3 microphones is a good move and with wide band audio we now see why the Audience noise filtering system was dropped - Apple no longer needs it
  • Facebook integration throughout the OS, iTunes and AppStore places Apple in a strong social position by partnering with the largest social network in addition to the already present Twitter integration
  • the new finely machined housing looks gorgeous and is the refined quality we come to expect from Apple

I have 3 cases for my iPhone 4S but don't use them, they just feel wrong. I like how the device feels in the hand and the iPhone 5 will probably feel just as nice, if not better thanks to the extreme precision with which it has been crafted.

Technology journalism is incredibly US centric and many forget that with iOS6 users outside of the US will now have a lot more functionality available through Siri including local search which was sadly lacking for the rest of the world in iOS5.

But it's more than that

The iPhone and its software is evolving and it's as much about concept and direction as form and function. Apple have big ideas, time and technology were not in their favour but there is an expectation for an annual refresh to satisfy.

Dropping Google Maps and going for an in-house solution is brave and an illustration of things to come but there was too little time to realistically do anything with it.

I have no doubt that iOS7 will be a tipping point where we will see the culmination of what has been started with Maps and Siri, the iPhone will become:

  • location sensitive
  • contextually aware
  • intelligent

With iOS6 Apple has created a base on which to build bigger and better things but ambition is so often greater than time allows.

Context

Since the launch of Jelly Bean with Google Now, Apple have been left behind the competition and Siri needs to improve. We have some contextual data such as being able to ask for a petrol station whilst en route but there is so much more that needs to happen, I think we'll see it in iOS7, if not in some form of incremental software update during the next year.

Apple is currently gathering "data suppliers" rather than data and forming an amalgam with the mapping engine as a base. I would expect more acquisitions and developments so that Apple is not relying heavily on third-parties for its data (just as it now no longer relies on Google) and, once all this is in place, we will see a full context engine for Siri. This is why the new Maps app is not just about getting rid of Google, it's about building a framework.

Is it going to be a year to late? Some may say Apple is now too far behind the curve but I don't think so. To use Robert Scoble's terminology people are still worried about crossing the freaky line where software and social know what we are doing and, let's face it, the uptake on Google Now is currently minor and will take a while to roll out to a wider range of devices.

We have other applications such as Saga trying to so a similar thing but they're just not there yet. With a contextually aware Siri Apple will do its usual trick of taking an idea and popularising it - taking it to the masses in a way that everyone suddenly says "oh yeah, I see what you did there".

Keeping a lid on it

Apple's main fight between now and the next device unveiling is not against the competition, it is against the geek horde looking to reveal every facet and feature in advance, it is also, however, against itself in that we now have such high expectations.

Siri was such an incredibly well-kept secret prior to the launch of the iPhone 4S, despite iOS5 being beta tested by developers and eager enthusiasts. To wow us once again Apple needs that one more thing for iOS7, to really one-up itself, or risk being left behind for good.

Apple’s real iPhone fight is not with the competition.

Did the iPhone 5 need one more thing?

ThingsThe initial reaction to the iPhone 5 may have been one of disappointment but, now that the cameras have stopped rolling, the crowds have dispersed and people quietly gone their separate ways, a new appreciation for what Apple presented has bubbled to the surface.

I originally wrote that the latest incarnation would need one more thing in order to position itself ahead of the competition, otherwise Apple would only be seen as playing catchup.

Now that we've had 24 hours to digest what has been announced is this really the case?

Well, it depends on who you talk to.

Certainly the Android faithful are very much of the opinion that devices such as the Samsung Galaxy SIII are superior due to their larger screens and quad-core processors.

As we have seen with earlier iPhone models, however, specs do not necessarily account for speed - more, the close harmony between hardware and software can have just as significant an impact. Previous iPhones have shown that they can outperform supposedly "superior" devices due to this tight integration.

Windows Phone 7 & 7.5 has also proven that a well written operating system can be extremely fast on only single core devices which, if you believe what some will tell you, should feel like wading through treacle.

Is bigger better?

Apple has finally made the move to a 4 inch screen as it probably couldn't be held off and still be taken seriously any longer. The taller device allows for a longer battery which in turn can support the power needs of the LTE chip; Apple are well-known for not including connectivity options until it can be done without sacrificing battery life.

It has been suggested, however, that the only reason Apple made the move to a larger screen was so that the device could include a bigger battery and, therefore LTE, giving the illusion of improved up-time due to technological advancement. A pretty cynical view in my opinion.

The screen may be bigger but other measurements have shrunk - the iPhone 5 is thinner and lighter. Apple has been criticised for placing too much emphasis on the minor thing such as they new Lightening connector and smaller speaker assembly but each one of these seemingly minor items has allowed the device to be thinner, lighter and sleeker and Apple should get the credit it deserves for each innovation no matter how small.

One small step

I have mentioned before that iOS6 didn't include much to set it apart from the previous version and, post launch, that is still the case. Saying that, however, the improvements it does offer mean that I would not wish to return to iOS5. Perhaps this, in itself, means that iOS6 is a significant enough upgrade after all as you don't want to be without it once it has been experienced.

There is virtually nothing that iOS6 on the iPhone 5 gives us that we can't get on the 4S, unlike Siri in the previous update, so many will be perfectly happy to stick with their existing device. The iPhone 5 hardware is certainly an upgrade but it is doubtful if many 4S owners could actually justify shelling out for the new model - I know I couldn't even if I could afford to do so. Saying that it will still sell in the many millions.

It is widely recognised that the incremental updates suit a two-year upgrade cycle; one iPhone to the next is not a big leap but it is hard to resist the upgrade at the end of your two-year plan. It is with this in mind that I said the iPhone 5 is a stop-gap between the 4S and the next big leap which will probably come in software rather than hardware.

If Apple wanted to convince 4S users to part with their hard-earned cash then, indeed, one more thing was a must but sufficient numbers will upgrade so as not to require this. Any significant software upgrade in iOS7 would, no doubt, be available for the iPhone 5 so owners need not be alienated over the course of their mobile agreement.

Setting the trend

Where devices like the Samsung Galaxy SIII seek to redefine the mobile industry with size and raw power, Apple seeks to define it with style, with engineering and quality; by the reckoning of many, the iPhone 5 is not a class defining device. This would have required further advances but there is more than one way to be a success and Apple has been pretty good at it so far.

Image by Joe Shlabotnik

Did the iPhone 5 need one more thing?