iPhone 5: Playing Stylish Second Fiddle

Today, it’s likely that a good portion of you with eligible cellular contracts are, even at this moment, standing in line at an Apple, Verizon, AT&T or Sprint retailer, waiting for your chance to fork over $199 plus tax for something that Apple wants you to think is the greatest thing since sliced bread! Let’s not forget that the last time you bought one of these, it was also the best thing since sliced bread! And the time before that, and the time before that, all the way back to 2007.

Grain foods aside, it’s time for the next iPhone. With sales projections being measured in fractions of the US Gross National Product, it’s hard to ignore this juggernaut of a cellular telephone, which has ushered in a new age of “sexy” mobile devices, eschewing matte grey plastic for glass and steel.

As much as these devices are pleasing to the eye and a good number of people own iPhones just to be seen owning iPhones, it fascinates me that Apple has successfully brainwashed the general public into thinking that they invented the concept of a modern smartphone. It is the right of all people to be ignorant if they choose, but people should not be allowed to be wrong in their facts. Therefore, rap with me as I go through an abbreviated list of the iPhone 5’s “new” features and show you exactly where they came from and which device was really the first to implement them. One disclaimer: I love Apple’s computers (I’m typing this article on a current-gen MacBook Pro), and have no interest in insulting the memory or the designs of the brilliant Steve Jobs. My motives are purely academic. With that said, let’s take our first bite of the Apple.

Feature 1: iOS

This much-lauded touch-based operating system, while visually very appealing, can trace its roots all the way back to 1994 on the IBM Simon—the first touch-screen phone to introduce some of the core features still found today on iOS, such as the ability to store contacts, write notes and send/receive faxes, e-mails and pages. More recently, the operating system found on PalmPilot’s early Treo line of smartphones introduced the idea of multiple “applications” (later shortened to “apps”) accessible from a central home screen filled with tappable icons—another idea still in use to this very day.

Feature 2: Retina Display

High-resolution displays on cell phones are not a notably new concept, and the iPhone 5’s 1136×640, 326 pixel-per-inch screen actually operates at lower resolutions than several of its much older Android competitors like the Galaxy Nexus, which runs at 1280×720 at the same pixel density.

Feature 3: 4G Wireless speeds

Here, Apple is actually playing catch-up. 4G LTE, which is rapidly becoming standard across all US carriers, has been available since March 2011, and was notably omitted from the iPhone 4S, despite the fact that nearly all of its Android competitors were touting it as a major feature. One could make the argument that Apple was waiting for LTE technology to mature, but it nonetheless left the door open for many of Apple’s competitors to beat the iPhone on that particular feature.

Feature 4: Turn-by-turn GPS navigation

Another instance of catch-up. Although Apple has included a GPS-enabled map app since the very first iPhone, it has always lacked the ability to directly track your position and read instructions to you like a standalone Garmin unit. By contrast, Google’s Android has included turn-by-turn navigation as part of the Google Maps bundle since the very first Android phone in 2008—a four-year feature gap that Apple is just now closing.

Feature 5: A6 processor

Here, Apple isn’t even trying to play catch-up. Releasing a phone with a dual-core processor when quad-core phone processors are already in place in Europe and Japan is almost lazy. Despite the fact that the software and hardware of the iPhone 5 were custom-built to work with each other, Apple’s phone is likely to go obsolete in record time due to the underwhelming specs of the A6. 

Feature 6: Panoramic photos, 1080p video, and FaceTime video calls

Another instance of catch-up. Third party apps have performed these same functions on both iOS and Android for years, and equivalents were made standard in Google’s release of Android 4.0.

Feature 7: Siri

While Siri is a unique take on a voice-operated system, some of her basic features (“call number,” “text person,” “set alarm”) were available on dumb phones as far back as the original Motorola Razr, and certainly standard on every Android phone since the very start with Google Voice Actions.

Feature 8: Passbook

Perhaps the most exciting feature of iOS for me. This app does, in fact, make it much easier to store loyalty cards, boarding passes and movie/sporting tickets all in one app. However, we should not forget that third party apps could provide this service long before Apple made it a standard part of their user experience, and while it may be the best attempt at loyalty card management so far, it is most definitely not a unique idea, nor a universally accepted one.

So there you go. I’ll wager a guess that this article will not influence most of you who have already decided to buy an iPhone 5, and I hope you’ll all be very happy with your sexy glass-and-steel smartphone. Just remember: the iPhone 5 is the culmination of years of lesser attempts at the same user experience, not the inventor of the experience itself. 

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