2012: Apple's quad-core iPhone 5 beats Android

By Jonny Evans

Apple's [AAPL] 2012 quad-core iPhone 5 promises power and performance no comparable Android device can ever hope to match, even as the iPad continues to incinerate all comers in the tablet space.


Chewing claim chowder

The latest claim from the iPhone 5 rumor mill tells us Apple has begun testing two iPhone models [Translation], one equipped with a dual-core, the other with a quad-core processor. In related news Apple is thought to be developing quad-core A6 processors to succeed its presently employed A5 and A4 chips.

The secret to a good iPhone experience is in the user interface and the touchscreen display. Expectation that Apple will migrate its iPhone to a 4-inch display (manufactured by Sharp) has been in circulation for some time, and now it's back: Resolution is now predicted to hit 1,280-x-720, or 365ppi. This is a very, very good thing for video, gamers, creative apps -- anything which might benefit from additional detail.


Input, input, input

Before I explain why Android devices will appear even more like the impoverished relatives of the next-gen Apple smartphone, here's a quick recap of other recent iPhone 5 rumors:

  • LTE support;
  • NFC support for payments;
  • Haptic Home button increases usable display area;
  • 8-megapixel camera;
  • Curved device (50:50 on this);
  • Ships in fall.

Naturally, the big selling points for the device, (other than its better security, freedom from malware, ease-of-use and wide number of available apps) will be the new iTunes-based Easy Pay system and the inclusion of 4G support, which should actually be useful in territories outside of a few hand-picked US cities by Q3 2012.

So, why will this release smother Android?

It's all about the user, stupid

Because, when it comes to the user interface, Android is rusty. Instructions lag because the UI side of the "experience" is based on legacy code originally designed to support a BlackBerry-style experience, rather than the iPhone paradigm Google hastily bolted onto its OS in its attempt to copy its one-time ally's innovation.

A former intern for Google's Android team, software engineering student Andrew Munn has revealed why in a post, ironically enough, posted to Google+.

He explains Android is challenged when it comes to touch because it handles rendering on "the main thread with normal priority". iOS treats these interactions with real-time priority.

What this means in practice is that websites and the movies apps will continue to load while registering touch input, which is the cause of that confusion you sometimes get when the device seemingly does something you didn't order it to do.

There's other limitations to Android -- and these are processor-independent OS decisions predicated by the nature of the software, not the hardware.

[ABOVE: A (quite interesting) review of the Dell Streak. If you missed the Dell Streak, don't worry. It was declared dead recently.]

Hardware and OS -- an imperfect marriage

-- Animation isn't "buttery smooth", for example. And, even when used on the best processors such as Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip, low memory bandwidth and lack of on-chip instruction sets also limit performance. In other words, even when both iOS and Android run on the same fast processor, iOS will be slicker, more fluid, and faster.

The solution?

Android needs a new UI toolkit, but in order to deploy this then everyone's apps would need to be rewritten. Meanwhile the effect (on Munn) is:

"The device no longer feels natural. It loses the magic. The user is pulled out of their interaction and must implicitly acknowledge they are using an imperfect computer simulation. I often get "lost" in an iPad, but I cringe when a Xoom stutters between home screens," he said.

(Others point to the far greater risk of malware on Android devices, or the privacy-abusing inclusion of software from Carrier IQ on some models on some networks).

That imperfect user experience at least in part accounts for the abject failure of Android tablets to build any kind of market presence so far. RIM and webOS (via HP) have fared little better. Most recently Dell withdrew the Dell Streak tablet from sale.

[ABOVE: Apple's iPhone 4S is flying off the shelves partly through word-of-mouth enthusiasm and partly through inclusion of Siri. Next year's iPhone may include LTE, NFC and Apple Maps support.]

The trouble with Android...

Next year, Apple will be able to make even better use of its UI advantage through introduction of faster iPhone models.

These devices won't just be software bolted onto a quad-core chip; they will be devices in which the software and the quad-core chip have been designed to perfectly complement each other.

Until Google undermines all of its Android partners when it moves to introduce devices made in-house through its soon-to-be-acquired Motorola Mobility arm, Android devices can never match this advantage. (I know Google says it won't do this, but what it says and what it does don't always match, and that's the kind of nonsense which is attracting regulatory interest worldwide).

Most Android devices must match an off-the-shelf OS (Android) with off-the-shelf components to deliver the best experience they can, at budgets necessarily constrained by the intense competition that exists between vendors within that space.

This means that side-by-side comparisons between Apple and Android devices are inexorably unable to score points to the Google OS when it comes to the UI. And since the essence of the smartphone experience is the user interface, this is why Apple's iPhone 5 will be so dangerous, delivering a bang for the buck others will find exceedingly hard to match.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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