Apple's new iPhone 5 and iPods: First impressions


Today, Apple unveiled what will no doubt be its bread-and-butter products for the all-important holiday season and into 2013: an all-new iPhone 5 and revamped versions of the iPod nano and iPod Touch.

Thanks to the many leaked photos and generally accurate rumours, the iPhone 5 introduced by Phil Schiller and Tim Cook was almost exactly what we were expecting: A thinner, lighter, faster, taller and LTE-enabled smartphone. About the only feature that didn’t make it from rumour-mill to reality was the inclusion of NFC (Near Field Communication) which would have enabled the contactless-payment scheme that is currently being pursued by Google and others. For an explanation on why Apple left this and wireless charging out, see this interview with Phil Schiller.

Apple iPhone 5

In typical Apple fashion, the new iPhone has given potential buyers just enough to feel that it’s a worthy upgrade over devices that are now two generations old, yet not so much innovation that iPhone 4S owners will be left weeping over their now-obsolete cellphone. I call it the “leap-frog” approach to Apple’s product marketing and so far, it has held true for every new version of the iPhone.

But many argue that especially in today’s super-heated competitive market, “just enough” just isn’t enough. Samsung, Nokia, HTC and others have all made enormous leaps of their own, with many bringing features to the smartphone game that eclipse what Apple has offered. The big question is: Can the iPhone 5 compete against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S III, Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC One X?

My take on this is unchanged from yesterday. While Apple’s Android and Windows 8 Mobile-based competitors are giving consumers more choice than ever, Apple’s formula is still rock-solid. If you are an existing Apple iPhone user – and millions of you are – the iPhone 5 is a logical and satisfying upgrade. Here’s why:

  • You get a larger screen without needing to carry a device that feels chunkier. Thanks to Apple’s decision to preserve the iPhone 4’s width, while shrinking the thickness down to an impressively thin 7.6mm, the iPhone 5 will look and behave like a larger phone without feeling like one
  • With LTE on-board, the iPhone 5 is now just as fast – perhaps even faster – than any other 4G/LTE handset on the market
  • Improvements to the two cameras means that the iPhone 5 maintains its position as arguably the best mobile phone for taking photos and video
  • None of these improvements will hurt battery life. In fact, if you have an older iPhone, it might be a bit better
  • Improvements to the primary CPU – now an A6 chip – will make the iPhone 5 feel downright zippy
  • Price: Starting at $199 for the 16GB model (on contract) means that it costs no more to get a brand new iPhone than it did two or even three years ago if it’s time to renew.

If you aren’t already an iPhone user, these features make a good argument for becoming one. But not an airtight argument. As Reuters has pointed out, the iPhone 5 is impressive in many ways, yet lacks a “wow” factor. Unlike the iPhone 4 with its dazzling Retina display, or the 4S, which brought Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” Siri to life, the latest iPhone is an attempt to prove that if you take an already successful phone and optimize every aspect of it, you have a compelling new product. For some, that attempt may seem lacking.

Meanwhile, if you feel that bigger is better when it comes to screen size, there are several Android-based models that offer larger views of your content, the web, etc. They may not have a higher resolution than the iPhone, but sometimes there’s no substitute for square inches. Likewise, if you think a smartphone ought to come with a stylus for taking notes, interacting with the screen and getting finer control for tasks like painting/drawing, the Samsung Galaxy Note which appeared earlier this year, is still a great choice.

Apple iPod Touch, 5th generation

In addition to the iPhone 5, Apple also updated two of their iPod models. New for 2012 are the iPod Touch, which benefits from many hand-me down iPhone technologies such as a larger screen, thinner body, better cameras and a faster chip, while the biggest surprise of the day went to the new iPod nano which has actually gone up in size.

Apparently the diminutive square design of the previous nano didn’t work out as well as Apple had hoped, and proving once again that they’re prepared to get rid of something that isn’t working, they have re-imagined the  nano as a larger, multi-touch device that once again has the ability to play video – a feature that was dropped in the last generation. Also new to the nano is Bluetooth – something that fitness-addicts have been begging for in order to free themselves from the inevitable tangle that results from working out with wired earbuds.

Yet while Blutooth is great for the gym, so was the built-in clip that the older generation included, but that feature has been axed, sending future iPod nano owners back to third-party accessories if they want to keep their music players within easy reach.

Apple iPod nano

I think the decision to reformulate the iPod nano is a good one. They’ve given the popular media player some great new (er, old) features. But best of all is the price: unchanged at $149, which by the way, is for a 16GB model – the only memory option now for the nano.

And while I’m equally excited to see the iPod Touch pick up some very welcome improvements – especially the camera, which now has an LED flash and 5MP sensor – the price point is a big disappointment. Gone are the 8GB and 16GB options and gone too is the $199 entry-point price. Instead, the cheapest redesigned iPod Touch now starts at a heart-stopping $299 for 32GB.

Yes, they did drop the price on the older, 4th gen iPod Touch 16GB to $199, and yes, the new model gets Siri (the first WiFi-only device to do so) but that’s cold-comfort for those who have been waiting for a new iPod Touch redesign.

$299 is simply too high a price for a product that has become the go-to alternative to portable game systems like the Nintendo DSi/3DS or Sony PS Vita, both of which sell for less than the new iPod Touch. Even $249 would have been easier to swallow.

I would have preferred that Apple have discontinued the older iPod Touch completely, and offer up a 16GB (new) iPod Touch for $199 rather than this two-model, two-price points strategy.

Okay readers, that’s my take. What do you make of all of the Apple hoopla from today’s event? Excited for the new gadgets or feeling a little let down?

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14 comments

  1. Pingback: Apple launches iPhone 5, with larger screen and LTE | Sync™ Blog
  2. Jon

    Another poor offering for the latest upgrade (did they really have the nerve to call it that?). The prices quoted for a phone on a contract is simply misleading as the cost of the phone is built into the plan. Its just like free credit (except it’s not free).
    It’s no small wonder the Android platform, where new models appear every week, now represents 68% of the smartphone market,up from 47% a year ago, while Apple has slid to just 17% over the same period.

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    • Simon Cohen

      Well that’s not a very fair comparison is it? I mean putting several manufacturers with dozens (if not more) of handsets against one company with (depending on how you count) 1 or 4 handsets, seems a bit odd. almost makes it more surprising that they’ve been able to hold on to as much market share as they have, no? After all, they’ve only lost about 1.5% over a year, and that’s because folks have been waiting for the 5. Let’s take a look at the numbers again in January and see where they sit :-)

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      • Dimitri K.

        I would say that it is a fair comparison when comparing two different operating systems just like you can compare open source to closed source.

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      • Simon Cohen

        Hmm. Still not convinced the comparison is meaningful. It’s like comparing Apple’s share of the laptop or desktop market to all machines running Windows. Of course Apple’s share will be smaller. That said, I am incredibly impressed by Samsung’s emergence as the dominant player in the smartphone game. It’s one thing to sell more than Apple, but to sell more than Apple, Nokia, HTC and ZTE combined? Wow. http://sync.sympatico.ca/news/worldwide_market_share_for_smartphones/d8dfce7d

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      • Jon

        Simon the comparison was done based on the operating systems so is a true reflection of theie own market share place at present. With the rate of people buying the Android driven phones and Windows driven phones now once again entering the market place i doubt that their market share will change significantly if at all.
        Considering how important it is to their revenue it is surprising that they dedicate less than 3% of their profits to developing the product, although that seems to be reflected in the latest offering.

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      • Simon Cohen

        I hear you Jon, I think I was more surprised by the connection you made in your comment between prices and market share. On a related note, where did you get the 3% of profits going to R&D stat? Is that from Apple’s annual report?

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      • Jon

        Hi Simon it came from a report by an known anylist on a European site (i think it was in the Uk) that i came across while surfing for news of the new phone release. I also noticed that i made an error the R&D was i believe only 2%. Sorry my fault i should have proofed it before posting. I don’t have time to read financials but the source was a well known blogger. I will try to find it again when i have a little more time if you need it.

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      • Simon Cohen

        Think I found it: http://gigaom.com/apple/how-apple-gets-away-with-lower-rd-spending/
        What’s interesting is that while 2.8% of sales revenue might seem low, the percentage isn’t what matters. Dell spends less as a percentage and HP on slightly more.
        The more popular your products are, the lower your R&D budget will look as a % of sales. So you could argue that Apple is actually the king when it comes to getting bang for their buck.
        Maybe we should ask ourselves, why is Google, Nokia and Microsoft spending so much money on R&D? Not why is Apple spending so little?

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  3. Pingback: All the new gadgets Apple just announced | Sync™ Blog
    • Jon

      Hi Simon i see your point with % versus actual cash invested. I think most of us who are not iphone users don’t see the value in the small differences they are making to their products when they release them. I have not seen the need to upgrade my phone every year just because HTC brings out new models but them most other phone manufacturers do not restrict the inner working so the phone to gouge people at a alater date. I personally prefer a phone manufacturer who provided a phone that serves my needs without constantly having to update just for a quick cash grab. Still at the end of the day the consumer decides which is how it should be i think.

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  4. Mick

    Another meaningless review from a self proclaimed expert. Too expensive for what it does … it’s just a phone ….”zippy” is that technical term
    Don’t drink the apple cool aid … just a phone that costs alot.. but the lemmings 20 somthings will lap this up and buy their little slice of the fruit world.
    out

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  5. Dan White

    While it seems that Apple maintains its position of having a solid device, there was nothing that would cause me to consider buying one. I guess mostly because I am not a fan of the company. I think Samsung is more focused on value than Apple which is more about marketing.I still think Android devices are the best overall answer. I have a Galaxy S 11 and a Goole Nexus, I see no reason to consider an Iphone.
    Dan

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