Quick thoughts on iPhone 5

1. The most compelling reason to upgrade to the iPhone 5 is the camera. I think this is true for anyone looking to upgrade from an older smartphone. The camera technology on the top-tier smartphones has really taken off in the last few years, and the iPhone 5 should be at the top for camera quality. My iPhone 4 is the No. 1 camera in my life, despite not being as good as I’d like. While I really like the photos I get from my DSLR, the convience of having a camera with me at all times trumps the camera quality from a DSLR. The iPhone 4S was a big upgrade over the iPhone 4 in terms of camera quality, and I hope the iPhone 5 takes a bit better photos still, particularly in low light situations where smartphone cameras have traditionally struggled. There is no such thing as a camera that takes too good of photos. I don’t see a device supplanting smartphone for photo taking anytime soon, and as long as that is the case, we need much better smartphone cameras. These are devices we are using to document our lives, and these photos need to stand the test of time. If I get a new smartphone this year it will because I want to be able to better capture the important moments in my life, the spontaneous moments in life and the quirky moments I never want to forget.

2. The screen is bigger. I’ve been someone who has argued against the need for bigger and bigger smartphone screens, especially since the reason for bigger screens originally began as a way to fit larger LTE chips into phones (and the larger batteries needed to support the power draw). A lot of people have smaller hands. Older people have less dexterity and a phone that is smaller is easier to operate as a touchscreen. I’m very curios to see how the iPhone 4 screen is to use. Is it still in the usability sweet spot or has it begun to creep into the two-big range. Apple didn’t make the screen any wider, just taller, unlike other manufactures. Apple claims that just making the phone taller keeps it comfortable and easy to use because it is width that makes phones too hard to use one handed. I’ve found many of the larger screen smartphones to be uncomfrotable to reach all areas of the screen (and I’m a 6’1 adult male). Will not making the screen wider keep this phone comfortable and easy to use? A 4 inch screen isn’t that much bigger than the 3.5 inch screen in the iPhone 4S. Maybe Apple has found the upper limits of a bigger screen that remains comfortable.

3. I hope Apple keeps around 3.5-inch screens for years to come. My hunch is that 3.5-inch screens will still remain easier to use for children, people with smaller hands and people with less dexterity and motor skills. In addition, the smaller screen allows for smaller and cheaper devices. Perhaps 3.5-inch iPhones could target the lower ends of the market. Apple is keeping around the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 and 4S, but I hope they continue to develop feature iPhones that have both the new larger screen and the older 3.5-inch screen.

4. What is the Apple A6 based on? On this week’s podcast I speculated that it’s either an upclocked ARM A9 Cortex (the CPU base used in Apple’s A5) or the new ARM A15. Anand Tech is saying that it could be Apple’s own ARM core design. Apple has been making their own SoC for two years, but developing their own ARM core would be a big step forward in creating custom silicon that only Apple has access to. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. If this CPU is twice as fast as the A5 in the iPhone 4S, while allowing for better battery life, that’s all that matters. What matters is how responsive the OS is, how well apps and games run and the total user experience.

5. A metal back is most welcome, even though the iPhone 4 and 4S are stunning devices. It’s a timeless design. But metal, especially unibody metal, is much more rugged than glass, even the Gorilla variety. The iPhone 5 should prove much harder to break than the iPhone 5. And while this metal back may be easier to scratch than the outgoing glass back, I find that metal that gets scratched up acquires a bit of a patina. It shows that you’re using your device. It shows that your device has been around and is surviving. But the metal holds up and stays strong despite the imperfections.

6. LTE isn’t something that most people will care that much about, at least in the U.S. The U.S. is a very suburban country. Most smartphones users find themselves on wifi a lot because of their living, work and transportation habits. If you drive to work and live in the suburbs, you’ll most likely be on wifi at home and wifi at work. But if you take public transportation and find yourself going out of a lot (people who live in urban areas tend to stay home less because they trade larger personal living arraignments for access to third places) LTE will be a welcome change. LTE can deliver wifi-like speeds and better. LTE development is still in the nascent stages. As LTE is deployed wider and its speeds get faster, it’ll be harder to settle for 3G speeds. But I think tablets and personal computers will benefit more from LTE than smartphones.

7. Personal hotspot just got a lot more useful. The biggest advantage of LTE is that users can now have a really fast connection for when they’re using the personal hotspot feature to share their Internet with other devices. If you’re someone who relies heavily on using your smartphone data plan to send Internet to your laptop to do work on the go, getting wifi-caliber speeds will be a big help. 3G isn’t bad, and in some situations it can be pretty fast, but there are times when you need a lot of speed.

8. The smartphone market is reaching adulthood. The iPhone 5 looks to be a great computing device, but it’s not some huge revolutionary leap over older iPhones or other smartphones. It’s just a better phone. It’s faster, has a bigger screen, has a better camera, has next generation networking and other features, all while being lighter. It’s just a better device than the iPhone 4S. Looks at how much better it is than the original iPhone from five years ago. Each new years won’t bring smartphones that totally blow away the years before, but when you look back over multiple years, you’ll see how far the market has come.

9. Smartphones will continue to improve year-over-year, just as personal computers have, but the real gains in the coming years will be from software. New APIs and features in smartphones OSes will allow smartphones to do new things and enable apps to become more powerful. iOS 6 still lacks background APIs and syncing that could really benefit third party apps. Third party apps in iOS also can’t really share data with one another. These under-the-hood enhancements are needed in iOS, and will eventually come to the platform as it continues to mature. Next year’s iPhone will be faster, have new features, etc. etc. etc. but the real gains will be in iOS 7. Smartphone OSes have a lot more maturing to do than smartphone hardware.

10. I’m glad Apple didn’t change the design of the iPhone that much. I know some tech pundits get bored using similar looking and feeling phones and want to see something radical, but the iPhone 4/4S design is a classic design. It’s incredible looking. It feels great. It makes for a very beautiful and usable product. The iPhone 5 keeps much of the same design language as the previous two iPhones, but uses more aluminum to strengthen and lighten the phone. This looks like another classic design.