You can read reviews detailing every aspect of the iPhone 5 over at The Verge, Daring Fireball or other places and so I will just concentrate on how the iPhone 5 feels, what it brings to the user and if it is a success. I have only had 2 days with the phone so far so I don't pretend this to be comprehensive look at how it works over time.
The general reception for it so far has been extremely positive, particularly in regards to the design, but I have found myself slightly underwhelmed by the styling. All of the talk about special cameras used in the production process, feeling like an expensive watch and so on doesn't translate to my experience. It certainly feels well built and is great to hold, but the black version is somewhat boring in appearance in my opinion. Strangely, against the general flow I prefer the look of the white one because it has more to it compared to the all black version from a visual perspective. I also prefer the 4 / 4S design, but of course that is just my view.
In a discussion over the weekend Peter M. came up with a point about the design-
"Regarding the look of the iPhone 5, it just occurred to me that Jony Ive just achieved a long time goal - making the device completely disappear. By making every detail of the phone black and using a screen technology that puts the images right up against the screen, you have the most direct connection to the software possible. The phone fades away. Ive follows the design principles of Dieter Ram. One of those principles is "Good design is unobtrusive"."
The form factor is a different matter altogether. The larger screen is almost unnoticeable in normal use which is testament to the care that has been put into creating a larger iPhone that still feels entirely portable. Strangely, when using third party apps that have not been tweaked for the larger screen, which is most of them at the moment, it does become noticeable quite quickly how small they seem. The natural progression to getting used to the larger screen crept up on me and this is a very good thing. To have a phone that is bigger, but which does not feel gargantuan in the hand or pocket is a positive step forward and I get what Apple is doing here. One thing that has been talked about a lot is the improvement of screen quality thanks to the reduction of a screen layer. Well, this flew past me because if you had not told me that it was better I wouldn't have noticed it. It is very slightly noticeable when the brightness is cranked up, but my eyes could barely detect it. And I had an eye test last week before anyone pops up with a 'Specsavers' comment.
Overall I love the form factor of the 5 and feel that it could not have been made any better. My thoughts surrounding the styling matter little because ultimately it is the way a phone works and how it can be used every day that counts and in many ways this iPhone is an improvement over the 4S.
The general performance is breathtaking once you realise what is happening. It is so fast that I didn't even think about it for the first few hours, but eventually realised that it does indeed outperform my 4S which was already incredibly quick. The iPhone 5 has reached a level of performance that makes all other phones I have tried feel positively pedestrian apart from maybe the Galaxy S III. Peter M. summed it up in another email over the weekend-
"Yes, somehow, everything seems faster - just totally rapid. Never used a computer, let alone a phone, with this kind of instant response time to the user's actions."
When I thought about it I realised that he was right, but not even noticing it at first is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to the performance on offer here. The browsing speed through Wi-Fi is quite unbelievable. Seriously, never have I been able to browse the web at this speed and it feels completely instant on almost every site I visit. The same is true for Twitter and other apps that require internet connectivity.
I did suffer from a problem connecting to my WPA2 secured router which seemed to be an issue talked about a lot on the Apple support site. Connecting via WEP with a password or WPA2 with no password was fine and oddly, everything else connects to the same router fine; iPad (iOS 6), Apple TV etc. so I think it may be a hardware problem affecting some units. Still no resolution for this and quite disappointing because the rest of the setup was pain free.
So the performance is great and the form factor is superb. Let's take a look at the camera. There is a difference here and especially in low light conditions. Again, for a 4S owner the improvements are marginal for most snaps and potentially a bigger step could have been taken here. However, it is by far the best smartphone camera I have used to date. The panorama function works perfectly and is better than I have used on third party apps in the past, but it isn't exactly groundbreaking.
I have noticed a few quirks with the software, presumably due to iOS 6. Typing isn't quite as accurate as before which may be due to a faulty review unit and at times I struggled to hit the screen as I would the 4S. It seems as though a slightly harder touch is required on the 5. Some apps simply did not work in iOS 6 and a couple closed on me for no reason, including the stock camera app. To call the software unreliable would be ridiculous though because it is, on the whole, as smooth and peerless as it always was.
I love the new lightning connector. It is incredibly easy to use and the simple fact of slotting it in either way makes a difference. When charging through the mains it fills back up to 100% very quickly, but through USB it was much, much slower than my 4S ever was. Indeed, it took an hour to charge 20%. The fact that you get one lightning connector cable in the box and that it is very difficult to purchase replacement cables or 30-pin connectors at the moment is an oversight by Apple. It leaves me wondering how I will charge the phone at night and is somewhat inconvenient at this time. The Lightning to Micro USB Adapter is probably the best choice and something I will look at should I decide to keep the 5 I have been sent. The subject has been discussed at length, but the cost of adapters and charging accessories for the 5 is not fair at all. Loyal customers who have upgraded from previous iPhones and who have purchased many accessories have been screwed over here. I understand the need to change the connector, it was long overdue, but the cost implications feel like Apple is taking the rise somewhat.
The iPhone 5 still requires a charge at night for me because the battery has so far proved to be worse than the 4S. I am giving it a pass, however, because it is new and these things can take time to bed in. I do expect the battery performance to be roughly equivalent to the 4S in the long run which in my opinion was never really good enough, but many of you disagree with me on that subject.
The external speaker has been improved which is impressive because it was great before and I can listen to podcasts, music and share whatever else I like with others even in noisy environments. The new ear pods have received much attention from the press and public alike. Here is the description from Apple-
"The Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic are designed to rest comfortably inside — and stay inside — a variety of ear types. The audio quality is so superior, they rival high-end headphones that cost much more."
In my experience this is complete nonsense. They fall out all of the time and the sound is far too bass-driven to be comfortable. If anything I prefer the previous iPhone headphones and my Sennheiser CX 200's sound more rounded and are able to recreate music much more clearly. They cost £24 on Amazon. No phone matches the iPhone for external speaker quality, but for headphones Apple still has some way to go. Of course all of this is my personal preference, but it highlights that the marketing, or indeed the design, will not always cover all eventualities.
I use an iPhone every day and have done for some time so the iPhone 5 is likely a no-brainer for me. I love the simplicity, the power behind that simplicity and most of all the 'get things done without fiddling' environment that iOS brings.
The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, much more powerful and the big screen is an advantage from the moment you start using it provided you don't have very small hands. There is nothing surprising in my thoughts about the 5, but I have to say that I am still slightly underwhelmed by the device as a whole. It takes all that is good in the 4S and improves upon it, but it is still very similar to its predecessor. If you upgrade from the 4S and have to take a route that costs a lot of money, you may feel slightly short changed because it is not a huge leap forward.
If you love the iPhone experience and enjoy the fact that Apple is concentrating on the practical areas that don't always receive the most headlines you will be more than happy with the result. It is of course the best iPhone ever made and for me, it is the best smartphone ever made. There is a price to pay for such a device, but the rewards just about make it worth it depending on how you buy it.
All of the above is said with the continuing sense that Apple cannot continue on the exact path it is treading now and so we come to the second part of this article.
Apple: 80% right, 20% wrong
For those of us who own Apple products, it is very easy to become attached to the wonderful craftsmanship of the hardware. The iPhone is a stunning device with a feel and build quality unlike no other. The iMac is a powerhouse of a computer that just works for me day after day and I have come to rely on it a great deal. The iPad does everything it needs to even if I rarely pick it up these days and then there is the Apple TV which brings them all together to create a near perfect entertainment environment in my living room.
I own all of the above products and do not regret purchasing them for one moment, but all of the great design, reliability and joy I get from them does not excuse the series of mis-steps that Apple continues to make in the software arena.
What a disaster Apple Maps turned out to be, a disaster that completely overshadowed the otherwise impressive iOS 6. We do not know what caused Google Maps to disappear from iOS, but John Gruber summed up the possibilities well (daringfireball.net/)-
"Seems pretty clear the new Maps is going to be the biggest problem with iOS 6. Here’s the thing, though: we don’t know how much of this decision to switch was Apple’s alone. We do know that Apple’s existing contract with Google for Maps expired this year. It’s possible Apple tried to renew for another year or two and Google either refused (unlikely, I’d say) or offered to do so under terms Apple found unacceptable (possible, I’d say).
Could well just be arrogance on Apple’s part, too. Just saying, we don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for Google to release a standalone Google Maps apps in the iOS App Store, as they did already with YouTube. What if Google doesn’t ever release a Google Maps app, to paint iOS as the platform with crappy maps?
Anil is right about the bottom line though: the maps experience in iOS 6 is a downgrade. Users shouldn’t (and won’t) give a rip about behind the scenes negotiations."
The fact that Steve Jobs made some very negative comments about Google in the past won't help the notion that this may be Apple's decision, but it still stands that we do not know how it came about. No matter how, Apple's Map solution is really poor. You don't need me to tell you what's wrong with it, but it is an example of a company that is on the outside completely in control letting something out that they MUST have known was broken. It is a feature that many people rely on every day and on iOS it is completely broken. I always believed that a decent mapping service that could compete with Google Maps was beyond Apple and it could take years to fix. Don't underestimate how important this is and what happens next will have a big impact. If the money involved in mapping is high enough, Google will roll out a standalone app (which Apple would dare not block), but if Google doesn't (unlikely) where does that leave iOS? It would put a magnifying glass on Apple's attempts to control everything and to the outside world it would appear to be pure profit over user experience.
This control extends to the little niggles that continue to annoy. If Google makes a Maps app, the default will still be for iOS to jump to Apple Maps. eBooks readers have to make their users go elsewhere to buy the books they want to read on an iPhone or iPad and the infuriating silences that deafen from Apple whenever there is a big problem such as iCloud not working. The sense of arrogance is plainly felt by those of us who do not feel that every Apple does is wonderful and it is these small things that continue to rankle. Apple's need for control is the main weakness that I can see in a machine that produces exceptional hardware, brilliant operating systems and an eco-system which is unparalleled at this time. Control over certain aspects is one thing, but I am talking about control over areas that Apple sees as profit-driven and the decisions that are taken stem from that rather than from user experience.
Back to the iPhone 5. All of this comes together to create a smartphone that is beautifully made and one that pushes the boundaries of performance for 'any' computing product. The design is good, but certainly not to the level that Apple sells it and to what some believe. As good as the components are, it is still an iPhone and in the hands of the majority will feel like that- just the next iPhone. The fact that we cannot do everything we want with iOS is down to Apple and I can only dream of sharing my data with any app I like and having much more flexibility. And the fact that I still choose an iPhone over devices that allow me that flexibility shows that Apple is getting it 80% right.