iPhone 5: My thoughts

The Apple of 2012 is clearly a different Apple to that under the Jobs era. We felt it at the iPad 3 (or is it “The new iPad”?) announcement earlier this year. And it was evident at last week’s unveiling of the iPhone 5, the phone that quite literally sets the benchmark for all modern smartphones.

There was a number of interesting things that came out of that power-packed keynote, and much of it has been blogged about already (John Gruber over at Daring Fireball has an excellent overview of his thoughts on the new device).

There is one thing I need to clarify before I go further. Apple is a company built largely on the success of this very device – the iPhone. They place a large emphasis on industrial design, to the point that their Senior Vice President of Design, Jony Ive, was recently knighted for his efforts in innovating at 1 Infinite Loop. The form of the iPhone 4 was positively received, and was the centre of the courtroom drama that recently unfolded between Apple and arch-rival Samsung. So it makes sense, then, that they stick to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It must be noted that looks are always deceiving when it comes to the engineering and design marriage that converges upon a product. The iPhone 5 is no exception. Whilst it may look similar to its predecessors of two years, this beast takes Apple to a whole new territory. In some ways, we can consider this iteration of the iPhone as yet another “stepping-stone” to something much grander that’s yet to be unveiled. (Sidenote: it has been said that many of Apple’s future products yet to be released have been greatly influenced by Steve Jobs before his passing, so there is certainly the possibility that at least the next iPhone will still bear some of his influence).

Case in point: the new Lightning connector. This new (controversial) connector shakes-up Apple’s mobile product lineup by swapping the old 30-pin dock connector with a new, reversible 9-pin, tiny connector that will allow for designs to go as thin as the iPhone 5. This will loosen-up Apple’s design endeavors, and allow the company to pursue their trajectory of making products as thin and light as possible.

Quite simply, the device is beautiful. Yes, it looks similar to the old one. But it carries Apple’s trademark class and elegance. It packs power under the hood, and the camera is phenomenal for a smartphone. There will be the usual anti-Apple brigade that rains upon just about every release of an Apple product, but the fact remains: Apple still sells products – and they sell them exceptionally well.

But there is still that unmistakable feeling that things are changing at the Cupertino behemoth. CEO Tim Cook’s leadership is clearly having an effect on the company. For one thing, despite his comment that Apple would be “doubling-down” on secrecy, we knew quite a lot about iPhone 5 before it was launched – in fact, the night before the launch, we even knew what the new dock connector would be called. This perplexes me, but I do understand that having to cater for the incredible demand means ramping-up production earlier, leading to easier opportunities for various part leaks.

Then there is the actual format of the event. Gruber captured this quite well in his post, so I won’t go on about it too much, but Apple events are feeling a little different under Cook. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just very interesting to see how Cook leads this company, and in what direction he’ll take it. No doubt they will continue from strength to strength – Cook was, after all, the mastermind behind Apple’s initial success with the iPhone due to his strategist skills in controlling the manufacturing operations of the original Apple phone.

I have no doubt that iPhone 5 will set the standard once again for the smartphone market. However, the race is heating up: Android smartphones are packing more features in less time, and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 is looking promising (although the recent Nokia announcement was incredibly under-whelming). Let’s not forget BlackBerry: their take on the smartphone user interface is going to put pressure on Apple to innovate its iOS platform. The anachronistic touches to iOS (such as the graphics in Game Centre and the Address Book and Calendar) have been a topic of debate recently, reportedly splitting design teams at Apple into two opposing camps of opinion on the matter. So the competition will certainly be good for us consumers as these smartphone giants compete to deliver us the best products yet.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on the new iPhone; leave them in the comments below.

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