If the rumours are true, then September 9 will be the date that Apple reveals what’s next for the iPhone. When that day rolls around, some have predicted that Tim Cook will show off all kinds of new toys including an updated Apple TV and a device that industry watchers insist on calling an ‘iPad Pro.’
A new Apple TV almost seems inevitable, but I’m not going to hold my breath on the iPad announcement – typically Apple reserves a separate event for iPad launches so even if there’s some truth to an iPad Pro (yuck, I hope not), it won’t show up at an iPhone event.
With that said, here’s what I’m hoping for–with the caveat that Apple almost always delivers something else–for the next iPhone:
- Wireless charging: This has shown up on Samsung phones like the S6 line and it’s a great convenience for devices that need daily charging. Granted, Apple took some of the pain of charging away with the reversible Lightning connector (something that almost all Android phones lack thanks to microUSB), but given the high degree of interest in wireless charging (you know something is mainstream when IKEA decides to back it), this one just makes sense.
- Hi-res audio support: It’s always felt a little weird that Apple, a company that pretty much single-handedly created the market for legitimate purchases of digital music downloads, has been so reticent about supporting hi-res audio formats. They don’t sell them and their iPod, iPhone and iPad devices won’t play them natively. And yet, they own Beats, a brand of luxury-priced headphones and audio accessories aimed at exactly the kind of people who would appreciate hi-res. I’d really like to see a built-in 24-bit capable DAC in the next iPhone so that music fans don’t have to resort to clunky external DAC/amp accessories just to get a better portable listening experience.
- Water resistance: While it’s true that Apple probably makes a nice little business on repeat iPhone sales thanks to its users being butterfingers around toilets and other bodies of water large and small, surely that would be eclipsed by the number of people who would happily upgrade their existing non-water resistant iPhone to one that could handle the occasional immersion in water. Now, keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be as water proof as the Sony line of Xperia phones (though man, would that be nice!)… instead, it merely needs to offer the same resistance as the budget-priced Moto G 3rd Gen which, at $199 offers better water protection than an iPhone costing 6x that amount. We just bought one for our daughter as her first phone and the price was only one consideration – the water resistance was the other.
OK, there you have it–3 features which I think would be big, beneficial improvements to the current iPhone design and which, unless I’m badly mistaken, shouldn’t even drive up the cost to Apple by a huge amount, given that some or all of them are already in-market on phones that cost less than the iPhone.
What would you like to see on the next iPhone?
When you love tech (sometimes just for tech’s sake), it can be pretty heady stuff to read up on the projects that Google has on the go. Consider this incomplete list, it’s really quite extraordinary:
- Google “X” Robots
- Driverless cars
- Space elevators
- Clean energy
- Extending human lifespan
- Android Wear
You’ve got to hand it to Larry and Sergei. When they dream, they dream big. How cool is it that a couple of guys who came up with a better way to index the web are now in a position to influence the course of human history?
But when you roll the dice on monster concepts, you’ve got to be prepared when some of them don’t pan out. Of the items on the list above, there’s a good chance that all but the space elevator and human lifespan will make it from concept to reality. Even the driverless car–an idea that we were scoffing at less than 6 years ago–is real, and it works and they’re even legal in some places.
What I like about all of these projects is that there is a strong chance that if they work out as planned, they will see mass adoption. A lot of people are going to want the benefits these projects will offer.
But I can’t say the same for Google’s most recent foray into the future: Project Ara.
Project Ara is Google’s concept for a modular smartphone platform. You may have heard of this already under the name PhoneBloks. Turns out, they were once separate efforts that are now united under the combined Google/Motorola banner (even though Google has agreed to sell most of that company to Lenovo).
It’s a fascinating and wonderful idea: What if, instead of having to trade in, sell, or giveaway your old phone when newer features hit the market e.g. a fingerprint scanner or better WiFi, you could simply upgrade just that component, leaving all of the phone’s other features and functions untouched? Moreover, what if you could choose from several sizes of device and then customize exactly which of these modules it came equipped with when new, knowing you could swap the modules later if you needed something different?
It sounds like techno-nirvana, especially for those of us who grew up playing with LEGO and admiring the component Hi-Fi systems our parents had lovingly assembled in the family room.
But as appealing as this concept might be for the small percentage of folks who value versatility and upgradeability over simplicity, PhoneBloks will never reach a mass market and that’s why its future is bleak.
Don’t get me wrong, I would like PhoneBloks to succeed, but after watching industry trends for the last 20 years, these are the factors that are going to work against it:
Though the name makes it obvious (as do the product renderings), let’s not forget that these phones will be well, blocky. Even if the modules themselves end up with gently curved corners and are made as low-profile as possible, it’s physically impossible to create a phone using swappable modules that can be as thin and light as a phone that embeds these components internally. If the PhoneBloks concept takes off, after a few generations the modules might actually evolve to the point where they don’t protrude from the phone’s frame. But even if that happens, the overall product will remain larger and bulkier than an equivalently equipped embedded-design.
The Myth Of Upgradeability
One of the core beliefs that the PhoneBloks concept is based on is that consumers really want to be able to change their phone’s capabilities over time. And while that might be true of certain elements (like wishing you could have a better camera or be able to access Siri) the market has proven itself exceptionally willing to forego features like expandable storage or even replaceable batteries. Just think, back in 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone, people who were used to having BlackBerrys and feature phones scoffed loudly at the iPhone’s sealed battery (not to mention its pathetic battery life). Once BlackBerrys and other competitors started shipping with expandable storage via MicroSD cards, these same people scoffed again at Apple’s apparently disdainful decision to only offer the iPhone in set storage sizes (8, 16, 32 etc.) But we’re all familiar with what happened. The market decided, much to the surprise of tech pundits and Apple’s competitors alike, that these things just don’t matter as much as everyone thought. Did consumers wish that Apple had offered these two features? Perhaps. But you’d never know it by looking at the sales numbers.
The Myth Of Customization
It seems especially true in western countries—and no more so than in the U.S.—that a person’s individual nature is considered holy. We are all unique, with our own personalities, and thanks to our freedom within our wonderful democracies, we get to express these personalities any way we see fit. Or so the theory goes. From that belief comes the notion that what people value is the ability to make an object “their own” through customization. And sure enough, this is true in areas like people’s homes, their choice of clothes, makeup, vehicles and consumption of the arts. Everyone picks what she or he likes. Everyone’s different, right? Actually, no, we aren’t.
The truth is, while we might have differing tastes on small things like the colour of our walls, or brand of footwear we’re loyal to, on a massive scale, we’re far more alike than we’d like to think. Not convinced? Just look at the success of a store like IKEA, or a movie like Frozen, or a musician like Bruce Springsteen. We might not all like the same things, but when we do agree, we agree on a massive scale. So it follows from this that, despite our whining about wanting choice and customization, what we really want is the same thing that a lot of other people want: a really good experience. We happily join the crowd when we find one.
We even have a recent example of customization’s failure to win over a mass market: Last year, Motorola debuted the Moto X, a really well-built, well-designed Android smartphone. It had a competitive feature set, it scored highly with reviewers, and it had a killer feature that should have catapulted it to dominance: In the U.S. you can order it online and pick from a wide variety of case colours and materials including real bamboo and wood. If there was any truth to the notion that the market was being heavily underserved in the area of choice, the Moto X should have been a runaway success. After four months on the market, it had reportedly only sold 500,000 units – a tiny number when compared to the 33.8 million iPhones Apple sold during a similar period. So much for wanting to be different.
The Enduring Appeal Of “New”
PhoneBloks should be lauded for their environmentally-conscious goal of not tossing out a phone simply because you want a feature upgrade. So-called “built-in obsolescence” is a drag. Why won’t my first generation iPad run Apple’s latest version of iOS, for instance? It just makes a ton of sense to stick with the product we bought and then, over time as things change, we just upgrade the parts that need upgrading.
Except that human beings are a peculiar species. We can simultaneously acknowledge the logic of such an idea, while we gaze longingly at the brand-new, shiny model. It’s possible to upgrade a car through the dizzying array of aftermarket products. But most of us don’t. It’s possible to upgrade the components of a desktop PC (as long as it’s not an iMac!) but apart from more RAM, most of us don’t. Even when faced with one of the most popular upgrades of all time: the home reno, it’s amazing how many people will opt to sell their house and buy one that already has the features they want.
We love what’s new, even when it’s only a little better than what we currently own. Especially when buying new won’t break the bank. We see this every time Apple releases a new iPhone model. A huge chunk of the early buyers are always existing iPhone owners, many of whom are upgrading from the immediately prior model.
So despite being able to soup-up a PhoneBloks phone hot-rod style, the mass market will continue to value a shiny new phone over a shiny new Blok.
So What, Who Cares?
If you’ve been thinking throughout this piece that I’m being thick, and that of course the PhoneBloks concept isn’t for everyone, I know what you mean. After all, why get all negative over a new idea just because it won’t resonate with a mass audience? And how do you really know? After all, it hasn’t even hit the market yet and the idea has almost a million supporters. Plenty of successful ideas started small, right? Ahem, Facebook! Yes, yes and yes.
It’s absolutely true that PhoneBloks needn’t achieve iPhone-like sales figures in order to prove itself a successful model for the smartphone industry. But it’s also true that it must nevertheless achieve a minimum level of adoption in order to simply stay alive. Given what I’ve outlined, I just don’t think this will happen. And it’s a shame, because ideas like PhoneBloks are what we need to spark the next round of innovation in an industry that has become dominated by two giants.
iOS 6 is now officially available for downloading to your favourite iOS device, and for the most part it’s a worthy upgrade to Apple’s mobile operating system.
I’m still a little peeved by the elimination of the Google-powered Maps app, especially the super-convenient Street View option which, for now, remains a Google exclusive.
But what Apple takes away on the one hand, they also give with the other. Case in point: Inserting photos and videos into emails.
In past revisions of iOS, adding a photo or video to an email required you to know that you wanted to include one first – before composing your message. You needed to start in the Photos app, and then select the appropriate photos or video from your collection and then choose to share them via email.
The files would “fly” into a new email window and you could begin the somewhat tedious task of trying to arrange your text around these inline elements.
It wasn’t a bad system if all you wanted was to blast off a few pics to a friend, but if you actually wanted to describe a situation using multiple photos, with text in between, it lacked the kind of flexibility that other email systems offer.
But with iOS 6, all this has changed – and for the better.
Now, when you want to include photos or video, you don’t have to pre-plan.
Simply start composing a new email, then, when you get to the spot where you want to insert your file, simply tap-and-hold on the screen – the same way you would if you were going to copy/paste some text, and look at the dialog box that pops up.
You’ll notice that there is a small arrow to the right of the displayed options. Tap that arrow once, and you’ll see the brand new “Insert Photo or Video” option.
Tapping it takes you straight to your Photos app, where you can select your item (just one – no multi-select is available). Once chosen, the item gets dropped into your message, exactly where you tapped.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I’ve got some bad news for folks who are expecting the next iPhone – widely predicted to be launching next month – to be a total ground-up redesign of the iconic smartphone. It won’t be.
But I’ve also got some good news: It doesn’t need to be.
Take a look at these photos pulled together by Chinese repair shop iLab. They tell a story of an iPhone that is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Surprised? Don’t be. This, for the foreseeable future is going to be Apple’s approach to their existing products.
Here’s why I think Apple will be “doubling down” – to employ an over-used expression – on their established formulas instead of ushering in completely new devices.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it
The first iPhone was a surprise. Not just to the industry but to Apple as well. They knew they had created something that was different and unique, but the degree to which consumers started rabidly buying up the iPhone was a shock – even the iPod, Apple’s most successful product in terms of sales, had never enjoyed this degree of enthusiasm.
After that, the course was set. Apple’s belief in the power of an all-touchscreen device and the versatility of downloadable apps had been vindicated by consumer demand. From here on in, the challenge was to find ways to improve on that formula, without disrupting what had become the hallmarks of iPhone’s design language.
Faster chips, better screens, a sleeker case design, better software, improved cameras… each and every part of the iPhone has undergone incremental improvements while maintaining an experience that would be as familiar to an owner of a first generation device as it would to someone whose first iPhone was the 4S.
Especially when you consider that a) the iPhone 4 and 4S have been ridiculously successful despite being identical on the outside, and b) nearly every Android phone on the market is simply a variation on Apple’s design, what would compel Apple to rethink their most profitable product along dramatically different new lines?
Just Enough To Make You Want One
These photos have already garnered criticism amongst Apple die-hards. They feel the design isn’t revolutionary enough, given how similar it looks to the current iPhone. But by now, these people should know that Apple prefers to tweak successful designs instead of reinventing them. Here’s how the next iPhone will offer up improvements over the current model:
– Slightly bigger screen. Apple already has one of the best mobile screens on the planet, so the trick will be to give it more real-estate without compromising the measurements of the phone itself which Apple spent a great deal of time and money developing. You’ll notice that the home button now has a little less breathing room above and below it, and the FaceTime camera has been relocated above the ear-piece speaker grille from its current side-car location. These changes, plus a slight lengthening of the phone’s body itself could yield a small but nonetheless noticeable increase in overall screen real estate. The current size is 3.5″ diagonal. A new iPhone could hit 3.9-4.0″ with the re-jigged design.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple manages to bump the specs of the screen too. Better contrast, better brightness, better off-angle viewing? All likely. It doesn’t take a lot to make a screen better when compared to an earlier model. When Apple released the iPad 2, they didn’t even mention that the screen was better than the first iPad – yet to anyone looking at it, it was obvious that they had made some improvements.
– 4G LTE. 4G, or LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the latest standard in high-speed data connectivity for mobile phones. Where supported by carriers, it enabled speeds of up to 150Mbps which is significant leap over the previous 3G standard. As such, this one is the most obvious feature for the next iPhone. The new iPad already has it, and given the increasingly wide-spread availability of the new high-speed wireless standard, it’s time for the iPhone to get the new technology too.
– Bigger, longer-lasting battery. Increasing the size of the case doesn’t just allow for a bigger screen, it means a bigger space for the battery too. And if the next iPhone is going to have LTE, it will need a bigger battery. LTE is fairly power-hungry technology and presumably Apple doesn’t want battery life to suffer. So while the next iPhone may last longer between charges if you restrict it to 3G, running LTE will probably result in the same life you’re used to now.
– NFC. NFC or Near Field Communication is a relatively new technology which lets devices communicate with one another over very short distances, without using WiFi or Bluetooth. In mobile phones, NFC can be used to let people “tap to share” (e.g. photos or web links) or “tap to connect” (instead of needing to configure a Bluetooth speaker – just tap it), but the biggest feature of NFC is its ability to enable mobile wallet applications. This is how you can pay for purchases using nothing but your smartphone at retailers that can accept NFC payments. NFC on the next iPhone might be a long-shot, especially given that the technology has so far been very slow to be adopted at retail in North America. However, it is progressing and there’s no question that if Apple wants to play in the digital wallet space as they undoubtedly do, NFC is pretty much mandatory.
– Smaller, possibly mag-safe-based dock connector. There have been far too may rumours pointing to this: The new iPhone will absolutely have a new, smaller dock connector. Yes, that will mean that all existing docks and accessories will now require adapters in order to work with the next iPhone, but the 30-pin dock connector is now 10 years old and wireless technologies like Bluetooth and AirPlay have made it largely unnecessary for anything other than charging. A smaller connector also means they can now move the audio-jack to the bottom of the phone.
– Audio jack on the bottom. Why does this even matter? Well, for folks who never use the jack, it doesn’t matter at all. But those who do will have noticed that it is kind of inconvenient to stick your iPhone in your pocket with the bottom of the phone facing down. Not only do you have to flip the phone around when you pull it out, but it’s much harder to reach for the home button quickly. And given the importance Apple has placed on Siri, being able to grab that home button when you’re on the go is definitely a benefit.
– A little thinner. The newest Android phones from HTC and Samsung have put an emphasis on ever thinner dimensions. The next iPhone will lose a few millimetres too. Take a close look at the photos above. They clearly show that the metal sides (which double as the phone’s antennas) will be bevelled and the front and back surfaces will sit flush to the edge. The current design is 9.3mm thick, with at least a millimetre or two of front and back surface extending beyond the metal rim. The new iPhone could easily come in at 7mm or less. Given that the world record holder, the Oppo Finder comes in at an anorexic 6.65mm, 7mm seems realistic for a new iPhone.
– Another spec bump on the processor, possibly to quad-core, and more memory. This will be mostly to keep pace with the rest of the industry and because faster chips means more powerful applications – the life-blood of the iPhone post-sale revenue.
Am I convinced that these photos are 100% what the new iPhone will look like? No. There are a few details that don’t seem right:
– The power/wake button at the top looks like it has almost no height to it at all, which would make it difficult to press.
– In picture 6, it looks as though the front face of the phone starts flush with the metal sides at the top of the phone but then progressively ramps away from the sides as it meets the bottom edge. That definitely seems out of place. It may be that the folks who assembled this mockup didn’t fit the pieces together quite right.
– There are visible seams where the top and bottom pieces of the phone meet the back plate. Given that Apple went to great lengths to make the current design nearly seamless, I can’t imagine they would now be ok with seams. But this could easily be a pre-production mockup, with the final product getting a much smoother finish.
– There is a strange, small hole sitting between the LED light and the rear camera lens. It could be a mic, and I’d place bets that’s what it is, but why is it there? The current design doesn’t employ such a visible mic so it’s hard to imagine why the new design calls for it to be so prominent.
These reservations aside, I think we are looking at the next iPhone. It’s a design that is in keeping with Apple doing what they do best: Give owners of an iPhone 4 or older model a strong reason to upgrade once they’re free of their contract, while not making people who just bought an iPhone 4S feel like they’re the proud owners of obsolete technology. This iterative, evolutionary approach to their product development can be seen across Apple’s line of devices and the next iPhone will follow this model.
Now, in case you’re sitting there feeling glum that Apple won’t be surprising and delighting you with a new, magical and revolutionary product come the fall, don’t fret just yet.
There’s still plenty of reason to think that Apple will finally make good on its much-rumoured move into the HDTV space, plus we keep getting hints of a new, smaller iPad model. This may yet shape up to be one of Apple’s most interesting years.
Love your iPhone 4 or 4S? Sure you do. Hate that it can barely get through a full day without needing to be plugged in? Join the club.
One thing almost all iPhone users agree on: the battery life could do with some serious enhancement. But since this has been a complaint of the iPhone since its debut in 2007, it’s pretty clear that Apple doesn’t consider it a top priority.
But what are you to do if you depend on your phone to keep you connected for long periods of time? The first thing you should do is read our 12 Tips For Extending Your iPhone’s Battery Life. But if you’re still hungering for juice, you may want to consider Third Rail’s Slim Case + Battery solution. While not new to the market, the product is now shipping to Canadians from Amazon.ca for the first time.
Unlike other snap-on batteries or cases with built-in batteries, Third Rail’s product doesn’t force you to compromise on form in order to get the function.
The Slim Case is a sleek matte-black unit that provides a perfect fit for both iPhone 4 and 4S models. It adds only a millimetre to the phone’s sides, top and back with the only noticeable bulk being on the bottom edge where it lengthens the phone by just under a centimetre.
The slightly rubberized texture provides excellent grip and as any phone case should, it provides enhanced protection from bumps and drops. But the truly clever part of the case design is on the back, where 4 discreet slots accept a slide-and-snap on Smart Battery pack.
Rather than carry the extra bulk of the battery around with you all of the time (see the Mophie Juice Pack), or rely on bottom-mounted battery-boosters (Scosche iBAT2) that could easily damage your dock-connector port if it were bumped the wrong way, the Third Rail Slim Case lets you add the battery when you need it, remove it when you don’t, and while it’s doing its job, it sits where it should: on the back of the phone.
If the Slim Case system only did what I just described, it would be a worthwhile choice. But it has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a no-brainer for travelling road-warriors.
The snap-on batteries have built-in power meters: a series of 5 green LEDs that indicate the level of charge at the touch of a button. The batteries can be recharged on their own via a supplied micro-USB cable, or they can suck their power through the Slim Case’s bottom-mounted micro-USB port (which BTW, doubles as your iPhone’s Sync/Charge port) while you charge both the external battery and your iPhone’s internal unit.
You can use the batteries to charge almost any other USB-powered device (MP3 player, Bluetooth headset or keyboard etc) through a secondary, proprietary port which connects to the included USB-A female adapter.
The Slim Case has a bottom-mounted switch that lets you control the flow of electricity from the battery pack to the iPhone so there’s no need to remove the battery if you aren’t ready to boost your iPhone’s battery just yet. The same switch controls the recharging of the battery pack from the micro-USB port.
Finally, the Third Rail battery packs are stackable – up to 6 of them can be snapped together – to create a truly flexible charging system.
In practice, I found that a single snap-on battery could take my iPhone 4S from 30% charge to 60% over the course of 2.5 hours while the phone was still powered-on and in regular use, while it could bring the phone from 3% to 50% when the phone was powered down over about 2 hours. When you take into account the price, which is very competitive with other case-based recharging systems, and the additional flexibility Third Rail offers, the Slim Case system seems like a good buy indeed.
It’s not completely without drawbacks however. As with any case that covers your phone’s dock connector, you won’t be able to dock your phone without first removing it from the Slim Case. Since I like to charge my iPhone on a bedside alarm-clock charger, this was a little frustrating.
If you like to pocket your phone when not in use, you’ll find that the battery pack creates a lumpy shape and might not be very comfortable for long periods.
You’ll need to decide how you want to tote around your back-up batteries – attached to the case, in a separate pocket, or somewhere else?
The Smart batteries are rated at 1250 mAh, which means if you want to fully recharge your phone from zero, you’ll need two fully-charged Smart batteries.
Overall though, I think you’ll find Third Rail’s Slim Case an excellent choice for extending the life of your iPhone when out of reach of an electrical outlet.
Apple’s iCloud is possibly the best thing to happen to smartphones since the touch-screen. Not only does it seamlessly synchronize your data between all of your iOS devices, it does the same thing for your Mac or PC – and – it acts as a tether-free way to backup the contents of your iPhone.
When I recently switched from my iOS 5 equipped iPhone 4 to the loaner iPhone 4S I started using last week, I used the iCloud restore feature to port all of my settings and apps. The result was astounding. After the restore, which by the way was completely done over Wi-Fi – no tethering to a computer or iTunes – my 4S looked like a complete clone of my 4, right down to the wallpaper for my lock and home screens. The only thing I had to do was re-enter my Wi-Fi passwords.
But I digress…
One thing I noticed about this process was, while the backup and restore via iCloud was impressive, my backup size was really big. In fact, I had already come close to using up all of the free 5GB that Apple allots to all iOS 5 Apple IDs. If I only had the one device, that might not be the end of the world. But the iPhone is just one of three iOS devices I use under my Apple ID and there’s simply no way I was going to be able to back the other two up without needing some more room.
But it turns out there’s a simple way to drastically reduce the size of your iPhone backup.
When you go into your iCloud settings, and check out the options for Backup and Storage, you’ll see that each and every app on your device can be set to have its data backed up, or not. Including the Camera Roll. That’s key, because if you’re like most iPhone users and you make regular use of the awesome camera on these phones, you probably have plenty of photos and videos.
When I checked mine, it was sitting at 4.4 GB!
No wonder I was almost out of room. So I turned it off.
Huh? Yep, I turned it off and saved myself nearly all of the storage space I had been sucking up. I know what you’re thinking, but my photos are *still* backed up.
Here’s why: The PhotoStream feature on iOS 5, when turned on, automatically keeps a copy of the last 1,000 photos you’ve taken, regardless of which device you used, on a 30-day rolling period. And those photos do NOT count toward your Backup and Storage capacity. It’s free storage from Apple, and it’s even better than using your iCloud storage space. PhotoStream sends your photos to your computer which is ultimately where you want them anyway.
There’s only one caveat. If you take a lot of video on your iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll need to remember to back these up manually, since PhotoStream doesn’t backup your videos – only your photos.
One last thought if you’re thinking that backing up your Camera Roll is something you want to keep doing: your iCloud storage space isn’t the only area that is impacted.
When your phone is locked and plugged into power and connected to Wi-Fi, it will automatically backup your data. For most people, that means overnight while you’re sleeping at home.
Consider that even a backup of 2GB can consume a good chunk of your bandwidth cap, it’s well worth keeping your backups as small as possible.
Make sure you check the full list of apps that are backing up to iCloud – most use virtually no room, but some can be hefty. Check out those Songify and Kindle items in the image above. Only 70Mb between them, but I have very few books or songs in there. It could go much higher.