Do We Expect Too Much of the iPhone 5?

September 14th, 2012

If you just look at the changes and improvements in the new iPhone, it’s fair to conclude that Apple did a lot of work to make things a lot better. And that’s before you consider the elaborate construction processes and the usual high level of fit and finish. All told, it’s faster, looks better, has a nicer display and runs faster. And that’s before we get to the 200 or more improvements in iOS 6.

How can Apple miss?

Certainly, Apple’s stock price has been soaring, despite the silly claims of one online publication that implied otherwise. But facts never get in the way for those who have an agenda to push. Besides, attacking Apple may be good business as far as hit counts are concerned.

But that claim is part of the meme that Apple, under Tim Cook, is incapable of innovation, that all the new products are simply minor upgrades of previous products. Sure, maybe all or most of the raw components are different, even if only later versions of existing parts, but that’s not enough.

One criticism, for example, is that Apple is late to the game with LTE wireless networking support. Apple should have added that feature last year, since makers of Android OS phones have been there already. Of course, they forget that Apple isn’t going to add a feature just because it’s new, something other companies haven’t grasped. Early LTE chips used more power, and hence had lower battery life. In fact, Motorola has one smartphone with a much larger battery to compensate, making for a thicker, heavier smartphone.

Do you recall when the first iPhone came out? It supported the 2G or Edge network, and not the fledgling and much faster 3G technology. Apple waited until the rollout had expanded to more cities, and the chips were perfected,before coming out with a 3G iPhone. So not adding LTE to the iPhone 4s is par for the course for Apple.

When it came to a larger display, Apple clearly considered the downsides, particularly if the handset is made too large. Make the unit thicker and one-handed use becomes more difficult except for basketball players. If too tall, it won’t fit so comfortably in your pocket. Apple’s solution was to make the unit taller, but not that much taller (about four tenths of an inch), using a 16:9 aspect ratio for seamless playback of widescreen content. Apple took pains to make sure the resolution increased in proportion, keeping the same pixel density. Apple also claims 44% better color saturation, helping images to almost pop off the screen.

Yes, there was a singular compromise with the larger display. Apps that aren’t updated using the iOS 6 developer tools will be letterboxed. Once updated, they will inherit the changes. No silly scaling or other clumsy image manipulations. Again, Apple didn’t make changes just to make changes. They wanted the improvements to make sense. But that still won’t stop people who claim Apple has opened the door to platform fragmentation, which remains a serious problem with Android.

The rest of the changes, such as the A6 processor with the promise of twice the performance, a better speaker, superior camera, dual-band Wi-Fi and all the rest, are natural changes one would expect as a product matures. And, despite the seemingly higher current demands, total battery life has, according to Apple’s estimates — which tend to be realistic — improved.

Prices are unchanged, but there are three iPhone 5 configurations that depend on your chosen wireless provider. There are too many variations of 4G and LTE around the world to allow for a single product lineup.

I suppose some might quibble over the Lightning connection port, since it makes existing iPhone accessories obsolete without a $29 adapter. Even then, Video and iPod Out aren’t supported. At the very least, Apple should have considered including the adapter in the box, or offering it free to customers who need one. Maybe that situation will change by the time the iPhone 5 ships at the end of next week, assuming enough customers complain.

Now I have to admit I am doing nothing more than window shopping. I’m evaluating the improvements in the iPhone 5 based on Apple’s media event, published reports, and stories describing brief hands-on encounters. It’s also true that not all features some might have hoped for turned up. There is no wireless charging, for example, although you’d still have to plug the main unit in the wall, so it’s not necessarily the best choice. That’s something that can be left to third parties to deal with.

Obviously the changes are evolutionary. The actual revolution came with the first iPhone in 2007, and everything from Apple since then simply refined the product. You can say the same thing about the iPod, an iPad, or even a Mac. The originals set the standard, and the upgrades, well usually at any rate, were designed to make everything better.

That doesn’t mean Apple can’t take their mobile initiative in a new direction. I suppose there are product concepts out there, and Apple might have a few of them under development, that render the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Mac totally obsolete. Yes, I suppose you might regard an iPad as a potential Mac successor.

But expecting Apple to somehow revolutionize a tried and tested product every single year is downright absurd. The reviews aren’t in yet, but it appears to me that Apple did what they had to do to make the iPhone excel against growing competitive pressures. What’s wrong with that?

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12 Responses to “Do We Expect Too Much of the iPhone 5?”

  1. DaveD says:

    As I see it, dumbness is in. It’s all around us, on the radio and TV. It hard to accept when this is creeping into the tech media where there are supposedly smart people writing dumb stuff. I’m still thankful there still are a few good tech writers like Gene who exposes the flaw/weakness in the statements made by other tech pundits.

    The shock I received when Apple announced that the Macs were moving to Intel processors was repeated when Apple introduced the iPhone. Why make a cell phone? What I finally saw was that Apple was not just selling a new device, but a device with the best user experience. What Apple has done every year was to incorporate a mix of hardware, software, and services into the iPhone that improves the experience and make it available on more networks around the world. With the Macs, the user experience has been enhanced by OS X and fast Intel processors.

    The one change I would like is improving the battery run time. It would be real nice to have a MacBook or an iDevice that I can have in my possession for weeks on end in between charge cycles.

  2. dfs says:

    Would it be amiss to indulge in a small rant about the new Lightning connector?. I’m not personally affected by the fact that this smaller plug doesn’t permit video connectivity (although I can sympathize with those who are). The far more serious problem is that there are about a gazillion iPod docking products on the market and at a stroke Apple has rendered them obsolete. Yes, I know that Apple says it’s going to market an adapter (at thirty bucks a pop), but I worry that if I have, say, a clock radio plus an adapter plus my iPod the whole thing is might get rickety and unsafe. Even worse, with other connectivity innovations such as Thunderbolt, Apple can point to advantage in their new solution. In the case of Lightning, as far as I know, Apple hasn’t bothered to explain to consumers how exactly Lightning provides any advantage at all (on the Apple Store page touting the improvements in the fifth gen. iPod the only explanation is “it’s smarter,” whatever in the world that might mean. So it at least has the appearance of being nothing more than a scheme to sell those adapters. Maybe I’m wrong and Apple has a good justification, but if they do they sure are keeping it under wraps. At least at first sight, Lightning seems like a slap in the face, both to consumers and to all the third-party developers who have invested in bringing out devices that rely on the old thirty-pin connector. Unfortunately for us all, if Apple can make their products obsolete overnight, they are going to be much more hesitant about bringing out products that expand the usefulness of Apple’s mobile gear.

    • @dfs, I think you need to sit back and check out the Lightning setup a little closer. I’m also sure that the specs aren’t fully available, though licensed third-party accessory makers no doubt have them. Over time, it may become obvious why Lightning was introduced.

      In addition, don’t forget that the previous dock adaptor lasted nine years. Apple didn’t change things just to sill accessory plugs; that’s just absurd. Don’t forget there are also development costs in creating a new connection scheme. Other than size, and the fact that the plugs are reversible, they may have what they regard as solid engineering reasons to switch to a new technology.

      Best thing to do is wait for more information to come forth. Regardless, after a few months of disruption, as people buy newer accessories, things should settle down.


  3. javaholic says:

    From all things digital:
    As for why the company is changing the dock connector that has been on nearly all iPhones and iPods since 2003, Schiller said it simply wasn’t possible to build products as thin as the new iPhones and iPods without changing the cord. Hence, the new “Lightning” connector. That said, Schiller said that Apple doesn’t take changing the connector lightly.
    “This is the new connector for many years to come,” he said.

    Like the removal of Firewire, USB and the dvd drive, that’s the price we pay for thinness.

  4. dfs says:

    Javaholic may be right. If so, I can’t help wondering how many customers there out there who are screaming for ever-thinner mobile devices (thicker devices might turn out to be easier and more comfortable to hold in your hand). More likely thinness is an irrational obsession of Apple’s design staff, kind of an electronic equivalent of anorexia. On the other hand, as I’ve already said, the Apple Store’s “features” page makes the cryptic claim that Lightning is “smarter,” whatever that may mean, and the very name Lightning suggests additional speed (something said in a recent Ars Technica article, although no facts are given to back up this claim). Who knows? At this moment, all I know for sure is that by marketing an expensive 30-pin adapter Apple is socking me with a “thirty bucks to keep on using your stuff” tax for buying one of their new mobiles.

    • @dfs, I do think Apple should be bundling an adapter plug in the box, or providing one free to customers who request it. It’s not as if they can’t afford it.

      It’s also early in the game for Lightning, so there may be future capabilities that will only be addressed over time.


  5. Jon Schoen says:


    Overall, I am happy with the upgrades in the new iPhone 5. I will keep my review brief.

    1. I like the new styling and screen size more than I thought I would.
    2. I really like the new mag-safe type power connecter. I know, people are upset that the connector has changed from the usual 30 pin connector we have had for nearly ten years, but it’s a smart move.
    3. I am NOT happy that the Sprint and Verizon models of the iPhone 5 DO NOT support data and voice at the same time. What kind of 4G phone doesn’t support both at the same time. ALL other 4G smartphones do, Apple’s iPhone 5 is the only exception.
    4. I won’t be upgrading my iPhone 4s to iOS 6 until someone Jailbreaks iOS 6, becuase I am sick and tired of Apple putting stupid limitations on the phone.

    5. I miss Steve Jobs. R.I.P. Steve.

  6. Jon Schoen says:


    In regards to my comment about “Stupid Limitations”, what I’m actually referring to are “things I am fully capable of customizing on any Android phone but Apple likes to control their ecosystem so closely as to prevent people with actual technical knowledge from easily changing things.

    Such as:

    1. The inability to put the icons where “I” want them. I got tired of Apple’s forced 4 x 4 placement of icons, oh.. about 1 day after I bought the original iPhone for $600 some dolllars back in 2007. People should be able to place icons wherever they want them.

    2. The inability to create “Profiles” for sound. It’s either on or off for the iPhone, Sound on or off, vibrate on or off.

    3. The inability to create multiple docks whcih can hold more than a total of 4 icons.

    4. The inability to create Folders Within Folders. Every basic Android phone can do this.

    5. The pain in the ass way that Apple instutes their “locked down” aproach to Ringtones. Why isn’t the iPhone capable of USB / Disk Drive Mode, like EVRY OTHER SMARTPHONE? It’s utter nonsense. I should be able to use any song in itunes, synced to my iPhone, as a ringtone, without having to purchase third party software or Jailbreak the phone.

    6. MICRO USB. Why does Apple feel the need to create a proprietary connector for eveything? Apple has already been forced to provide a free adapter to Micro USB in Europe. Why? Because it’s THE world standard for smartphones. I can’t think of another smartphone right now that uses a proprietary connector.

    7. Apps. Why the heck do I have to enter my App Store password every single time I want to purchase or update an app? I think I have reset my Apple ID about 20 times this year, and they never let you use an old password. The Google “Play Store” (while having a stupid name) doesn’t require this.

    8. Alerts: Same as Ringtones, can’t add them without buying them.

    9. The physical button at the bottom of the phone. It’s archaic, and no longer necessary. They haven’t heard of capacitive touch buttons?

    10. Micro SD: How hard would it be to put a 2nd tray next to the sim tray, to put a 16, 32, or 64GB micro sd card in. We shouldn’t be limited to the amount of storage space that Apple determines is appropriate. Micro SD cards are dirt cheap. I should be able to upgrade memory without any hassle at all.

    11. Why can’t a create an email in Mail, and attach one or multiple photos, documents, etc, and send them as attachments? I shouldn’t have to go to Photos, and then send ONE photo at a time. File Manager anyone?

    12. I could go on forever, but you get my point. I LOVE Apple, and have used them since the Apple II, but I have never loved Apple’s control issue. Why can’t I change my cursor on my MacBook Pro? Seriously, PC’s have been able to do since since as far back as I can remember. Why do you think ResEdit was so popular back in the day? Why were third party utilities (and today, Jailbreaking), so popular? To overcome prohibitions/limitations that Apple places, unnecessarily, on all of it’s products.

    • @Jon Schoen, Remember that, because a feature exists, doesn’t mean that it works efficiently, or that it won’t make an OS harder to use. Take Windows, for example. The Control Panel has more options than System Preferences on a Mac, but most of the features aren’t always well executed or easy to use.

      With ringtones, there are licensing issues involved with the ones you buy from the iTunes. So it’s not just a matter of letting you do what you want.

      Micro-USB? Not so simple. Apple expects to have more features in Lightning. Besides, I’ve seen one or two micro-USB ports break because someone tried to force the cable in the wrong direction. It’s much, much too fragile.

      As to jailbreaking, other than to move an iPhone to a carrier that doesn’t support the thing, such as T-Mobile in the U.S., what percentage of owners ever jailbreak? If you want the power, jailbreak and be done with it. Most people don’t want it that way. If they do want the flexibility — and are aware of the dangers — they can buy a different brand.


  7. Jon Schoen says:

    Again, we will have to agree to disagree regarding what people want in technology. I guess for the ‘average’ dumb consumer, they don’t do things like Jailbreaking, because they don’t know what they are missing. I think you missed my points entirely, such as with ringtones, but that’s ok. That’s why every iPhone I’ve ever owned has been jailbroken, because I want the phone ‘my way’ and to heck with Apple. When I buy it, it becomes my property to do with as I wish.

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