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

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.

  1. […] 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 […]

Mentions

  • Online maps need standardised addressing.
  • Did the iPhone 5 need one more thing?