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Do We Expect Too Much of the iPhone 5?

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?