Could the iPhone 5 threaten Apple’s mystique?

Robert C. Johnston.


THIS week Apple is expected to announce the much hyped and highly anticipated iPhone 5.

The just announced Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8

The just announced Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8

September also brings a host of other new smartphone announcements; Nokia and Motorola unveiled new devices last week, while HTC will follow later in the month. But it is safe to say that most attention will be on Apple.

With fingers in many pies, Apple has a diverse range of technology products – desktops, laptops, music players, tablets, tv set-top boxes – and while each Apple product launch is preceded by unrivalled buzz and expectation, perhaps that can be especially said for the upcoming iPhone 5.

Over the past few years we have seen various generations of the iPhone bring wondrous leaps forward in mobile connectivity and intuitiveness. Apple has earned a deserved reputation as setting, rather than following, market trends. It has dreamt up or refined mobile technologies that other companies may not have contemplated or had dismissed as unfeasible or unachievable with current technologies. It has recently become the most valuable company in history.

But it has been over two years since the last major generational update of the iPhone, the iPhone 4, was released. The most recent version, the 4S, was introduced in October 2011 but was only an incremental update inside an iPhone 4 body. Despite a mixed reception (many fanboys at the time expected an iPhone 5), the 4S still managed to break sales records and its Siri voice activated personal assistant is the current class leader.

The Apple iPhone 4S beside the Samsung Galaxy S3

The Apple iPhone 4S beside the Samsung Galaxy S3

With Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 taking hardware to a whole new level only a few months later, many onlookers saw the 4S launch as an Apple attempt to over-hype unremarkable specs and leech as many sales as possible. In a way, Apple was resting on its laurels.

That may not work again.

As we know, Apple – unlike Nokia or Blackberry, who are struggling to make it back into the smartphone race – is in no danger of folding. But it is in danger of losing its mystique. To many, this might seem almost as disastrous.

Therefore, Apple has years of speculation, expectation, and its own hard work focalised like a laserbeam on its September 12 event.

If leaked shots are anything to go by, the iPhone 5 – as it will supposedly be called – will be taller and thinner but will still remain the same width as its 4S predecessor. This is a good move – it allows the screen to be larger with an aspect ratio more suited to widescreen photos and High Definition videos, yet makes the phone no harder to hold and use with one hand (a complaint held – no pun intended – by some users of the larger Galaxy S3). It also allows old apps to be quite easily adapted to the new screen format.

The new iPhone will most likely feature a new, larger High Definition screen, NFC (which allows fast device-to-device sharing and eWallet capability), LTE, increased RAM and perhaps larger storage capacity, and an improved camera. The phone will apparently be fitted with a smaller dock connector which, in typical Apple fashion, is non-standard and will mean a flood of new accessory revenue for Apple (adaptors will be used to fit current accessories, and these adaptors could perhaps include a MicroUSB socket). There may also be an emphasis on Cloud storage, with perhaps a form of internet radio streaming, and a move away from having all user data – music, video, photos – stored on the phone itself.

What the iPhone 5 could look like

What the iPhone 5 could look like

There is no denying that the iPhone 5 will be an excellent phone, and Apple’s ability to integrate its various devices together so intuitively remains unmatched. It will be a good upgrade for users who love their current iPhones. People will want it and it will sell like hotcakes.

But the rest of the pack is catching up fast and Apple faces enormous pressure to dazzle. While impressive, the expected hardware specs are rather predictable, and upon the iPhone 5’s unveiling some may ask, “is that it?”

Let’s face it: Apple may be simply updating its previous iPhone, because there is nothing wrong with that and that’s how things are done. “Well duh,” some might say, the comment is blindingly obvious. But the point is that over the years Apple has built such a reputation as being unpredictable, that it faces huge pressure – especially with the iPhone 5 – to again deliver that “wow” factor that consumers so crave. Of any technology company in the entire world, people have come to expect it from Apple. It is the technology equivalent of a great artist expected to come up with something even more daring and exceptional with each masterpiece.

For Apple’s sake let’s hope that it has some incredible new iOS 6 software to go with its device. It is likely that Siri will be updated and its Beta tag removed, and it will be quite exciting to see what new features the sassy little assistant will bring. But the rest of Apple’s user interface is becoming a little staid and, for example, its app icon layout is quite boring. Apple, in this regard, could take a little note of how Microsoft’s Windows 8 icons give off a fresh, living and breathing impression, with its app icons constantly updating and animating. Nokia has also just announced City Lens which, augmenting reality, superimposes map data and shop information over a live camera feed captured by the phone. The Samsung Galaxy S3, moreover, uses the Smart Stay feature, which keeps the screen backlit by sensing when eyes are looking at it, and its camera allows photos to be captured while still filming video.

Nevertheless, even with just improved hardware and an updated Siri the iPhone 5 will be a huge success. Deep down, though, the dreamer in me still hopes and wonders if we may just happen to see something that we never saw coming, something that again delivers the Apple magic.

The iPhone 5 event in San Francisco is scheduled for 10am September 12, Pacific Daylight Time (3am September 13, Australian Eastern Standard Time).

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