Apple's #iPhone 5: The good, the bad, the ugly

It’s here: Apple [AAPL] today introduced its all-new iPhone 5 to an audience comprised of people who needed it now, people who wanted it quite a lot and a few people who said they’d seen it before while pointing to their low second-user value “it almost works” Android device (yes, I know I’m being unfair, but so are you). What follows is a brief whistle-stop tour of first instincts of what’s good, bad and badder about the new device.

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The good

Ask any line manager worth their salt and they’ll gladly agree that if you want to pour a little criticism on an otherwise outstanding employee, the way to start the session is with a little pampering. Everyone needs a little positive feedback now and then. Perhaps this is somehow connected to Attachment Theory. Perhaps it isn’t. All the same, here goes:

The best thing is that the iPhone 5 is full of outstanding new features. There’s loads: a much faster processor, faster graphics, a larger screen in a device that’s actually thinner and lighter (or bigger and smaller as I like to say) than its predecessor; international flavors of LTE/4G (of which more later) and that new Dock Connector that -- dare I say it -- plugs in the same AT BOTH ENDS. Woot, as the younger people say. 

The iPhone’s camera, while offering the same 8-megapixels is extremely attractive, its capacity to shoot video and still images simultaneously and its utility even in low lighting conditions make it the best pocket camera many of us will soon ever have owned so far. You can also share images instantly using PhotoStream; all told that’s going to deliver a lot of “thumbs up” emoticons across the Internet meme pool. And a lot more images on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. 

Our digital lives are a real social (networking) whirl, don’t you know?

Apple’s software demos displayed just how much thought it has put into the new screen real estate. It’s not a case of the same old apps running on a bigger display, but apps retooled to take advantage of what’s there. Apple sweats the detail and as everyone knows its not just about how many inches you’ve got, it’s about what you do with them when you’ve got them. In Apple’s case, those apps set a bar. Really they do. For a larger screen to be truly useful you want your apps to party like rock stars when using it. I think so, anyway. Apple’s used the new space, rather than simply expand the utility you enjoyed in the old. It’s given us more space and made that space useful.

Then there’s the aluminum and glass design decision which will immediately reduce iPhone breakage levels by 50 percent. There’s the inclusion of LTE/4G in a format that’s usable on more networks worldwide (more later). There’s the battery life -- this mini computer lasts even longer than the last one in between charges. There’s the many hugely impressive audio achievements. 

Put it all together and there’s a list of achievements you can consider, if you happen to be open enough to see it that way. I’m impressed by the device and yes, readers, I’m sure to end up with one. I’ll be happy (though not in any life-changing existential sense) when I do.

The bad

Of course it’s at this point your line manager coughs slightly and shuffles some paperwork. Looking briskly down at their desk they look across to you and say: “But there’s a few problems”. These aren’t major problems, but they’re going to be hurdles all the same.

First take the 1,800Mhz 4G/LTE support. That’s great because it will be supported on many of the world’s 4G networks, but once again in its ever so positive mind-set, Apple’s neglected to warn users that they should check really carefully which 4G frequencies their chosen carrier’s support before signing themselves away into a few more months of indentured slavery with the banking system through the vehicle of pulling out their credit card and laying their cash down. Not every network’s going to be compatible. 

Don’t worry, Apple has published a list of all the ones the phone does work with -- it’s right here -- but I don’t feel the company went far enough to explain the fragmented nature of 4G at this stage of the game. And, given the company’s focus on “Ultrafast LTE”, it really probably should have taken a few minutes to explain. I’d like to think Steve Jobs would have said something to the effect that: “Some carriers don’t support these bands. We’re working with them to ensure 4G support on their networks just as soon as possible.” Something like that, said in a positive way. 

Then there’s the new 9-pin Dock Connector. I’m quietly having words with iDevice accessory makers at the moment, but the first instinct from what I’ve learned so far is that there’s a few out there who felt a little upset that some company’s got an advanced look at what was coming, while others had to rely on the rumor mill. They feel they’ve been put in a difficult position to deliver new accessories for the device in time for the all-important Christmas shopping season. 

I don’t really blame them for feeling this way -- the existence of thriving third party product markets did wonders to boost iPod marketshare, after all. These people have been loyal. It might not have hurt too much to announce the interconnect at WWDC, giving developers a chance to at least get to grips with the technical capabilities of the new connection.

The ugly

The final point (it has only been a few hours, gentle reader, so give me a chance) also relates to the Dock Connector. In order to ensure older accessories continue to function with the device, Apple has introduced a range of interconnects. But in doing so it has focused on its bottom line far more than on the convenience of consumers. Why? Just look at the prices of these things...

In all three of these cases, I think Apple could quite happily have dropped its margins a little more to ensure these crummy little interconnects weren’t quite so expensive. No one wants to use a gadget to connect a gadget to a gadget, after all. To tax people for the privilege of doing this in order to support a transition they didn’t ask for seems to me to be a little bit tough. 

It would also have been rather nice if Apple had mentioned these things don't support video and "iPod out". People purchasing an iPhone 5 will not be at all happy once they find that amazing iPhone-compatible system they've put together for their entertainment system doesn't work even when they pop out to purchase one of Apple's over-priced adapters.

This doesn’t mean I don’t approve of the transition: far from it -- I believe the drive to make devices smaller inevitably demands the move, and the company hasn’t changed its interconnects for these iDevices for the best part of a decade. I’d just like Apple to stop taxing customers for interconnect cables today, please, not tomorrow. The cost of these things is my current biggest criticism of the company’s product introduction, at least so far. The company must remain connected to its customers.

I’m not that bothered at the lack of NFC support -- I’m fairly convinced this will appear at such a point as the NFC industry manages to become a little more homogenized around standards.

Conclusion

There’s lots to like in the iPhone 5. Apple’s going to sell millions of these things and the sheer quantity of technology packed inside is extremely impressive. I remain convinced the iPhone kick-started a wave of innovation which is rapidly transforming almost every aspect of modern living, to a greater or lesser extent. I think that’s amazingly interesting and as we watch the smartphone sector impact across numerous industries (healthcare to accountancy; education to etymology) I’m convinced that with this release the company has ensure it will remain a vital part of this transformative force for the next 12 months.

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