MATTEO DALL'OMBRA

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The iPhone 5

September 13th, 2012

There are different ways in which I can start this article, all of which I’ve already seen around the internet between yesterday and this morning. “Apple is doomed”, “No more secrecy for Apple”, “Apple is no longer [insert something]”.

No, Apple is just a different company that has to face different times and different new ways of information handling. For those of you who are not aware, I’m referring to the tons of information leaked before the Apple special event of yesterday. The blogs out there (9to5mac, iMore and The Loop) already had all the bits and pieces that in the end formed the new iPhone 5.

Nothing like the complete leak of the iPhone 4 with Gizmodo, but very effective anyway. 9to5mac was even able to anticipate the name of the new 8 (or 9 if you count the ground) pin connector and the name of the new headset, called EarPod.

Nonetheless the iPhone 5 is going to be a fantastic device. It’s considerably thinner and lighter compared to the iPhone 4S, as confirmed by all the preliminary hands-on done by the press on-site and the new 4-inch display brings in more useful real estate.

Videos will run without letterbox, thanks to the new 16:9 format and in general new apps will have more space to present their contents. I could also give you lots of numbers regarding improved speed, graphics and so on, but I think they’re quite meaningless. Nowadays specs are no longer important. The important bit is how the device will perform and react in everyday usage and this is something I’ll only be able to tell you after a real life test (my credit card is ready for tomorrow’s pre-order).

The only spec I’ll discuss is the LTE implementation. The iPhone 5 has a new antenna that can handle many different LTE frequencies around the world, making this device compatible with almost every possible network. This is a pretty remarkable technical achievement.

Now, let’s get back to the new 4″ screen. It’s only taller than the 4S, maintaining the same width, meaning that developers will only have to stretch their apps. If not optimized, apps will float in the middle of the screen with a letterbox effect at the top and at the bottom. This I think will create some problems to the user. Apple said that the new screen being only taller won’t be difficult to use because the main interaction points (like keyboard and tabs) will remain where they used to be before. But if the letterboxed app will have to float in the middle, those input points will be higher and so more difficult to use than before. Then there’s the status bar question. It’s usually the element on the very top of the screen. With the letterbox it will float down or it will stay on top, leaving a gap between it and the app? If it stays on top this could be again a difficulty to overcome for some users.

As always when there’s a disruptive new element we have to allow developers to adapt to it, but I’m sure it will be a quick transition, because developers will be eager to take advantage of the extra space.

On the software side there isn’t much to say compared to what we saw in June during the preview of iOS6. New Maps, new VIP inbox, new Siri functionalities and social integration in the Notification Center. The only real news is related to the new functions in the Camera: Panorama mode and the ability to take pictures while recording a video. Nothing major but they’re nice additions.

Now, how the iPhone 5 will stack against the competition? I think it will do fine, especially now that it matches the others in terms of screen size. Sure, for many this iPhone will sound like a catch up phone but I think instead that is going to lead a new wave of designs.

Despite all the nice words I can spend over the iPhone 5, I think that the real revolution (at least in the USA) will be the iPhone 4. Why the iPhone 4? Because with the introduction of the 5, the iPhone 4 will become free with a 2-year contract on AT&T or Verizon. Free. You know what this mean right? It means that a gazillion people will be able to access a great device without any upfront fee. This is the biggest move against Apple’s competitors. Which are the phones you can get for free on contract? Nothing that can be remotely compared with an iPhone 4 and its Retina display.

Then, the other big advantage for Apple and the developer ecosystem will be brought by iOS6. Discontinuing the iPhone 3GS means that now every new device that will be sold from Apple will be equipped with iOS 6, making the shift towards the new OS easier and quicker than ever before. Developers will be able to embrace iOS6 almost instantly and it will be easier and less painful to drop support for iOS4.x for example, making sure to exploit all the new functionalities of the newer OS. This is defenetly a great (and very predictable) move from Cupertino.

Then there are the new iPods. As usual the iTouch will gain a bigger display, but surprisingly the old model will stick around. The Shuffle has new colors while a completely new Nano was introduced in the line. No more watch-friendly, the Nano resemble one of the past iteration but instead of a click-whel it now has a touch screen and a Home Button.

All of these new devices will have the new 8-pin connector that made possible to have thinner devices. The other great feature of the new connector is that it will be reversible. Much like the MagSafe connector of your Mac, you’ll be able to insert the connector both ways, making it easier to dock. There’s an adapter that will make the new devices compatible with legagy-dock accessories that is available as an optionally $30 purchase.

Now, this was just a preliminary look at the new iPhone 5 and what it will mean for consumers. To discover more about the new device we’ll have to wait for reviews and tests that will drop on us sometimes next week, probably when iOS6 will be released to the public. The same it’s true for internal components: with no mentions by Apple, we need the analysis from iFixit to see if the claims about the battery life and the improved antenna are really as good as advertised.

So, was it a boring announcement? Maybe, because we already knew pretty much everything about the devices.

Will it be a disappointing device? Absolutely not.

Will people buy it? I predict very long lines around the world as usual.

Will I buy it? Yes, of course.