Hey Apple, Better Get Cracking on an Amazing iPhone 6
On the surface, the iPhone 5 is little different from its predecessor. Much of the difference lies inside, and that difference is considerable. Still, if Apple wants to continue to delight and amaze its customers, its engineers had better start working now on the next incredible thing. They've set the bar that high for themselves.
09/13/12 5:00 AM PT
When Apple introduced the iPhone 4S, I skipped it in favor of keeping my iPhone 4. So no day-to-day Siri for me. But wow, am I glad I held off and waited. The new iPhone 5 is definitely the best ever, the most usable creation to come out of Cupertino in years. And the attention to design -- love it. All of it comes together as if the pieces and parts were created from an organic DNA master plan, and when I hold the iPhone 5 for the first time, I'm utterly confident it'll feel great in my hand, which is more important than you think -- after all, most people touch their smartphones more than anything else in their lives. Even soft, furry puppies.
But there's a dark side to the iPhone 5, and as a long-time Apple fan, I see it clearly; however, I can't bear to address it until I work the current joy out of my system.
The iPhone 5 Is the Ultimate Oxymoron
On the surface, the iPhone 5 seems remarkably similar to the iPhone 4S. It shares a similar design and while it has an 18 percent larger 4-inch screen, the overall shape is unmistakably an iPhone. And yet, it seems to have been utterly redesigned. It's 18 percent thinner, 20 percent lighter, and it has 12 percent less volume. It has the larger screen, as well as a faster A6 CPU that's up to twice as fast as the old A5.
And what the about the "phone" part?
The iPhone 5 boasts a single-radio LTE solution that supports both LTE and DC-HSDPA, which means it'll get to play all over the world as well as take advantage of blazing fast speeds. So the new iPhone won't be slower than other new competing devices.
It has a new 8-pin Lightning connector, which is smaller and more durable. Have you ever busted one of the teeth in the old 30-pin connectors? I have. They are extremely hard to fix. Besides, the 8-pin will likely collect less lint, so that's a step forward. And what about all the old cords you have that won't work? There's an adapter, sure, but more importantly, the iPhone 5 cord won't work for older units, and that's fantastic: The darn kids and visitors won't be sneaking off with my iPhone 4 cord anymore -- at least for a few months.
The camera's brains are faster and smarter, and the built-in Camera app features a 40 percent faster photo capture, which means I'm more excited about this feature than anything else. There's also a new panorama feature that lets you wave your iPhone around and shoot up to 240 degrees, which creates a panoramic photo up to 28 megapixels.
If you're not excited about this panorama feature, you probably don't get outside much.
What about the headphones? The iconic white earbuds? New! It seems to me that most consumers are too lazy to research a great pair of headphones and so they've stuck with the marginal old earbuds. I tend to fall into this camp, especially when it matters most -- after I've dropped US$200 and signed up for another two years of cellular service contract. I don't want to buy new headphones then.
But Apple's new "EarPods" have been totally redesigned. Apple says they started with ears, which are notoriously shaped in different ways, and tested more than 100 prototype designs to find something that rests comfortably inside the ears and stays put. Finally. I've long felt that Apple has been ignoring this, and I can't wait to try them out.
There's more, though. Apple might have finally made a serious leap in the audio quality of the iPhone. The iPhone has three microphones, one on the front, the back and the bottom, and these now work together to achieve "beamforming" which is a fancy-pants term to describe how the iPhone 5 should now be able to deliver crisper audio of spoken voices, despite background noise.
Is the iPhone 5 New or Not?
Essentially, the iPhone 5 is entirely new. Despite the incremental evolution of the outside, the whole unit has been updated. It's a new phone. It just looks like an iPhone 4, and therein is the dark side: Has Apple, with the iPhone 5, reached the pinnacle of smartphone form and function? Is the screen the perfect size for one-hand use and ultimate pocketability? Is the slightly rounded edges with a hard 90-degree side the strongest, most easy-to-hold design?
Can Apple re-imagine a new smartphone?
Are we looking at a bleak future of incremental upgrades? Will the next iPhone 6 come in 6 snazzy new colors? Will Apple try to offer new paint and tires with the next version of the iPhone?
Unfortunately, while I'm wowed and excited about the new iPhone 5, I have long-term nagging doubts.
Has this basic overall design cycle played itself out? After all, we're talking about a consumer device. Apple created a world where people care about design, but can Apple continue to be insanely great with the overall design of the iPhone?
No doubt, the iPhone 5 will break every smartphone record known to man. It will. But what about next year? What if Apple comes out with an iPhone 6 that is 20 percent thinner, 18 percent faster, 40 percent greener, and 100 percent more colorful and yet looks like the iPhone 5?
The iPhone 5 should be the end of this cycle, but it might not be. That's the dark side I'm wondering about because even me, an unabashed Apple fan, occasionally buys something else. Some designs are classic, but I like fresh, too. I appreciate great design even if it doesn't come from Apple.
Confusing Massive Sales for Success?
Thank you, Apple, for this great iPhone 5. Seriously. We love it, and we'll eat it up. It will sell like crazy.
Just please don't confuse massive sales and happy customers for success because you're treading close to the edge. I get the impression that Steve Jobs never confused massive commercial sales with success. Sales is not the end goal. Sales is not success. Being the leader means creating products that delight, amaze, and compel the world to pay attention. Commercial sales success is a byproduct of a great product. It's just one proof point, but that's it, a proof point.
Being the leader, no matter what the market numbers say, means inciting desire, pure and simple. Hmm. How can I explain this more clearly? I want the iPhone 5 and I'll appreciate the iPhone 5, but lust? No way. That's the critical piece. Can Apple still create products that incite gadget lust?
What's our timeline here? Apple can afford to coast, but not forever. Next year Apple can coast if it has to, and we'll be marginally disappointed, but it won't matter so much because we'll all be stuck in two-year contracts. But by 2014, the game is up: Start planning to dazzle us, please. Nothing corporate. Something freaking amazing.
A revolutionary iPhone for 2013 would be great but 2014 will mark the line in the sand. With the iPhone 5, Apple has guaranteed my smartphone happiness for another two years, but it has also cracked open the door to a sliver of doubt.