If you were taking a college course called iPhone 101, your professor
might identify three factors that have made Apple's smartphone a
First, design. A single company, known for its obsession
over details, produces both the hardware and the software. The result
is a single, coherently designed whole.
components. As the world's largest tech company, Apple can call the
shots with its part suppliers. It can often incorporate new technologies
- scratch-resistant Gorilla glass, say, or the supersharp Retina screen
- before its rivals can.
Third, compatibility. The iPhone's
ubiquity has led to a universe of accessories that fit it. Walk into a
hotel room, and there's probably an iPhone connector built into the
If you had to write a term paper for this course, you
might open with this argument: that in creating the new iPhone 5 ($200
with contract), Apple strengthened its first two advantages - but handed
its rivals the third one on a silver platter.
Let's start with
design. The new phone, in all black or white, is beautiful. Especially
the black one, whose gleaming, black-on-black, glass-and-aluminum body
carries the design cues of a Stealth bomber. The rumors ran rampant that
the iPhone 5 would have a larger screen. Would it be huge, like many
Android phones? Those giant screens are thudding slabs in your pocket,
but they're fantastic for maps, books, Web sites, photos and movies.
it turns out, the new iPhone's updated footprint (handprint?) is
nothing like the Imax size of its rivals. It's the same 2.3 inches wide,
but its screen has grown taller by half an inch - 176 very tiny pixels.
a nice but not life-changing change. You gain an extra row of icons on
the Home screen, more messages in e-mail lists, wider keyboard keys in
landscape mode and a more expansive view of all the other built-in apps.
(Non-Apple apps can be written to exploit the bigger screen. Until
then, they sit in the center of the larger screen, flanked by
unnoticeable slim black bars.)
At 0.3 inch, the phone is thinner
than before, startlingly so - the thinnest in the world, Apple says.
It's also lighter, just under four ounces; it disappears completely in
your pocket. This iPhone is so light, tall and flat, it's well on its
way to becoming a bookmark.
Second advantage: components. There's
no breakthrough feature this time, no Retina screen or Siri. (Thought
recognition will have to wait for the iPhone 13.)
Even so, nearly every feature has been upgraded, with a focus on what counts: screen, sound, camera, speed.
iPhone 5 is now a 4G LTE phone, meaning that in certain lucky cities,
you get wicked-fast Internet connections. (Verizon has by far the most
LTE cities, with AT&T a distant second and Sprint at the rear.)
itself runs faster, too. Its new processor runs twice as fast, says
Apple. Few people complained about the old phone's speed, but this one
The screen now has better color reproduction. The
front-facing camera captures high-definition video now (720p). The
battery offers the same talk time as before (eight hours), but adds two
more hours of Web browsing (eight hours), even on LTE networks. In
practical terms, you encounter fewer days when the battery dies by
dinnertime - a frequent occurrence with 4G phones.
The camera is
among the best ever put into a phone. Its lowlight shots blow away the
same efforts from an iPhone 4S. Its shot-to-shot times have been
improved by 40 percent. And you can take stills even while recording
video (1080p hi-def, of course).
So far, so good. But now, the third point, about universal compatibility.
days, that decade-old iPhone/iPad/iPod charging connector is
everywhere: cars, clocks, speakers, docks, even medical devices. But the
new iPhone won't fit any of them.
Apple calls its replacement the
Lightning connector. It's much sturdier than the old jack, and much
smaller - 0.31 inch wide instead of 0.83. And there's no right side up -
you can insert it either way. It clicks satisfyingly into place, yet
you can remove it easily. It's the very model of a modern major
Well, great. But it doesn't fit any existing
accessories, docks or chargers. Apple sells an adapter plug for $30 (or
$40 with an eight-inch cable "tail"). If you have a few accessories, you
could easily pay $150 in adapters for a $200 phone. That's not just a
slap in the face to loyal customers - it's a jab in the eye.
with the adapter, not all accessories work with the Lightning, and not
all the features of the old connector are available; for example, you
can't send the iPhone's video out to a TV cable.
Apple says that a
change was inevitable - that old connector, after 10 years, desperately
needed an update. Still, Apple has just given away one of its greatest
The phone comes with new software, iOS 6,
bristling with large and small improvements - and it's a free download
that also runs on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S.
attractions of iOS 6 are a completely new GPS/maps app (Apple ditched
Google Maps and wrote its own app); new talents for Siri, the
voice-activated assistant (she now answers questions about current
movies, sports and restaurants); and one-tap canned responses to
incoming calls (like "I'm driving - call you later").
new panorama mode for the camera, too, that comes in handy more often
than you might expect. As you swing the phone around you, it stitches
many shots together into a seamless, ultra-wide-angle, 28-megapixel
photo. Unlike other apps and phones with panorama modes, this one is
fully automated and offers a preview of the panorama that materializes
as you're taking it.
Should you get the new iPhone, when the best
Windows Phone and Android phones offer similarly impressive speed,
beauty and features?
The iPhone 5 does nothing to change the pros
and cons in that discussion. Windows Phones offer brilliant design, but
lag badly in apps and accessories.
Android phones shine in choice:
you can get a huge screen, for example, a memory-card slot or N.F.C.
chips (near-field communication - you can exchange files with other
N.F.C. phones, or buy things in certain stores, with a tap). But Android
is, on the whole, buggier, more chaotic and more fragmented - you can't
always upgrade your phone's software when there's a new version.
don't offer as much choice or customization. But they're more polished
and consistently designed, with a heavily regulated but better stocked
app catalog. They offer Siri voice control and the best music/movie/TV
store, and the phone's size and weight have boiled away to almost
If you have an iPhone 4S, getting an iPhone 5 would mean
breaking your two-year carrier contract and paying a painful penalty;
maybe not worth it for the 5's collection of nips and tucks. But if
you've had the discipline to sit out a couple of iPhone generations -
wow, are you in for a treat.
It's just too bad about that connector change. Doesn't Apple worry about losing customer loyalty and sales?
Apple has a long history of killing off technologies, inconveniently
and expensively, that the public had come to love - even those that
Apple had originally developed and promoted. Somehow, life goes on, and
Apple gets even bigger.
So if you wanted to conclude your term
paper by projecting the new connector's impact on the iPhone's
popularity, you'd be smart to write, "very little (sigh)." When you
really think about it, we've all taken this class before.
Copyright 2012, The New York Times News Service