In a clear sign that the mobile world moves on very first, dust on Apple’s launch event last week has already settled. We now have two iPhones with us that will spearhead Apple’s expected assault on the still growing smartphone market. While the iPhone has barely evolved since 2007 when it first came out, it has seen incremental changes that have made it revolutionary at some point and backwards at another. Apple is no longer the solo master that it was five years ago. The competition has caught up with it and maybe even overtaken it, that varies with whoever you ask. The big question is: are iPhones still the attractive devices that we all loved and lusted after a few years ago?
The answer to that question if you ask me is a big NO! No because there is so much going on with mobile tech that apple only remains attractive because of the ecosystem that it has built around its devices and services over the last few years and not because of the devices it has been churning out of Foxconn factories in the East in the last two years. The last real head-turning iPhone was the iPhone 4. Though it was at first clouded by “antennagate”, the iPhone 4 was a stunner. It was a step forward from the then popular iPhone 3GS. Dropping the plastic and rubbery feel of the 3GS for a more classy combination of glass and metal (aluminium) made me cringe at the sight of any other device. It looked cool. Then things stagnated. Everything else since then has been just one feature add-on followed by tonnes of marketing to paint the device as being “truly revolutionary”. I doubt it is a coincidence that all the iPhones that came after the iPhone 4 were not designed and released under the strict eye of one Steve Jobs. I just finished reading his biography by Walter Issacson and there is no doubt that Steve was the life behind the iPhones. Being alive he gave them life. After he was gone they all became lifeless. Bland metals that were just hyped by the press and fanboys and helped by the fact that they came from Apple, a company known (thanks to Steve) for producing premium devices.
Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 were both standout devices on their own and thus they did well in the market but when you look at the substance, meh. There isn’t much to write home about. Yet these are the very devices that can be said to be the true foundation of the new kids on the block: the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c. While the iPhone 5c may be inspired by Apple’s desire to chart a new path and court a new breed (and generation) of customers, it is not an exception to the rule. It is still an iPhone through and through. And let nobody lie to you, it is not cheap by any means. It is equally expensive. Retailing at $549 unlocked (for the 16GB version) in the US and $733 in China, that is not what you call cheap. That is premium pricing and directly competes with devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, the two most popular Android smartphones this year.
Just like the iPhone 4S had Siri as the standout feature apart from the usual better camera and bumped up A[insert random number here] chip, the iPhone 5s also has one selling point that Apple will milk dry in its marketing campaigns for the next one year: Touch ID, the fingerprint scanner. There’s also that bit about the A7 chip being based on a 64-bit architecture. While there was a lot of hype initially about it after Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of Marketing spent some considerable time on stage singing its praises, that noise has gone down and the reality has set in that there won’t be much to do with it since as we know the RAM on the iPhone 5s can’t be more than 4 GB. As long as you’ll be able to play Infinite Blade 3 on your tiny 4 inch screen, that bit (see what I did there?) about 64-bit architectures should be the least of your concerns. It is futuristic but with the iPhone 5s’ specs any mention of it from the maker is pure marketing and nothing more. Touch ID? Many Android devices that are coming out are touted to have a fingerprint scanner somewhere either at the back or on the front. That has been the preserve of rumours and until we can see how influential it will be on the 5s and whether it will really add another layer of security to the device, it can pass. I’m not saying that Touch ID is a bad thing, all I am saying is that it is a cover-up spec of nothing but the same device with minor bumps everywhere. As someone noted, that Touch ID could come in handy when you need to reactivate your forgotten Yahoo! Mail account. Sigh.
The Galaxy S4 faced a lot of criticism for being just a bumped up Galaxy S III. We were all ready to call it out for its “gimmicky” features. Well, here we have something going for us: how about one standout feature for several hundred dollars every year? It doesn’t sound bad. Oh and finally that camera can now natively do burst shots without relying on a third party app. Plus Instagram-like filters. Yeah those are revolutionary features. Trust me, you have never ever seen them on any other phone before. If you have then that was in a Star Trek movie. Sorry.
Open GL ES 3.0? Good stuff. I have never doubted the graphics on the iPhones and this will just make gaming on the 5s a breeze. Android 4.3 came with support for Open GL ES 3.0 so devices that pack it will be just fine as long as they support Open GL ES 3.0. We know Apple is so good at optimizing its hardware and software to go hand in hand without any glitches so we can trust Apple to do a much better job at this. The problem is, unless you are really a fan of playing Dead Trigger on small screens, that is as far as it gets. There is a much better experience elsewhere. With competing devices in the same price range as the iPhone 5s now rocking Adreno 330 GPU, your guess is as good as mine.
iOS 7, the operating system that powers the latest iPhones and will soon be on all iPhones from the iPhone 4 coming up, isn’t much of an angel. Android used to be called out for many ills. The legendary lag, fragmentation, lack of a smooth experience (whatever that means), not many optimized apps, a cluttered UI… the list is endless. That is not the case today and the many cosmetic changes that iOS got as an overhaul are features that Android users have had for ages. There isn’t anything new. Save for the non-unified experience thanks to custom skins, iOS does not offer something that is heaven and earth between it and competing mobile OSs as was the case three years ago. Even Windows Phone can afford a challenge and entice the iSheep.
iPhone users are allergic to plastic. That used to be true until a week ago. Though I am not sure it has changed in the last one week, the few friends I have that have blatantly refuse to ditch their iPhones for anything related to a green robot still abhor the iPhone 5c. Why? The plastic and the bright colours. Look at photos of the Lumia 620 and compare them with those of the iPhone 5c. I will not get to that high price point again but trust me; there is an equal or much better experience at a much lower price point. If you really love your iPhone I think adding a few more dollars for the 5s is much wiser than getting the 5c. I am not obviously not a hater of devices with plastic casing (you know my background with various plastic Android devices) but for Apple being Apple, some concessions aren’t worth it. I can imagine the late Jobs having nightmares six feet under over some un-Apple designed iPhone. If it serves its purpose, which we will gauge in a few months’ time, then all is well. If it doesn’t then that was a bad gamble. Either way there is much going for iPhones these days as far as #iDisappointment is concerned than the customer satisfaction they were once famous for. I don’t need to quote recent customer satisfaction surveys to prove my point, you can Google that.
Despite my apparently open disdain for the most recent versions of the iPhones, credit has to be given where it is due. The two LED flash spots at the back, the camera and the M7 co-processor are pretty decent. No one can say anything to convince me otherwise about the perception I have about the iPhone camera. it is one of the best you’ll ever find on a mobile. Never mind that it is just 8 megapixels. Apple knows how to tune that camera to get the best out of it. I am sure it will put some 13 megapixel (and I’m sorry 20.7 megapixel) shooters to shame. Still that is the little I can find going for the iPhone. And emojis maybe
I know for most of us in third world countries we tend to highly regard the iPhone and the device is often seen as a status symbol (and rightly so bearing in mind those incredible prices) but if you know what you want in a phone, they are just phones. Nothing so special about them as was the case some few years back. For every feature that you think is a standout there is an equally great alternative elsewhere. Still, the choice remains yours. As a consumer it is your call to make. For me as an individual, it is another small screen device to give a pass.