[Op-Ed]In defense of the iPhone 5

Like clockwork the new iPhone 5 was announced and the naysayers came out in force.  Where’s the innovation they asked?  A 4″ screen – welcome to 2010.  An LTE modem – welcome to 2011.  Only 1GB of ram?  No NFC?  How can anyone possibly consider the iPhone 5 to be anything other than an incremental upgrade?

While some of these points are valid, to say the iPhone 5 is anything but one of the top 3 smartphones on the market using any criteria is ridiculous.  It has a brand new cutting edge A6 CPU.  It has three PowerVR SGX543 GPU cores.  It has one of the absolute highest quality screens in the business and is the first phone available with in-screen touch sensor technology .  It gets excellent battery life, has a fantastic camera, and is built from premium materials (something Samsung could learn from).  By the way, it’s also one of the thinnest and lightest smartphones currently in existence.

(Photo courtesy of apple.com)

I had a chance to use an iPhone 5 on launch day and came away impressed.  It’s an excellent phone and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

What it isn’t is the unquestionable best smartphone on the market anymore.

From the time the first iPhone was launched in 2007 through the iPhone 4 in 2010 the iPhone was the best smartphone on the market and everything else was playing catch up.  Sure some of the Android phones were great, but as an overall package the iPhone was better.  Part of this was due to software, but the hardware was also behind.  Whatever the newest iPhone was had the best CPU, the best GPU, the best camera, and the best screen.

Then a funny thing happened.  Between the release of the iPhone 4 and the 4S the Android manufacturers started to close the gap.  The Samsung Galaxy S II was the first Android phone that felt like it was every bit the equal of the top iPhone at the time.  It had a beautiful Super AMOLED Plus screen, a fantastic camera, a cutting edge CPU and GPU and was also quite a bit thinner than the iPhone 4.

(Photo courtesy of Androidauthority.com)

When the iPhone 4S was announced in October of 2011 the general reaction was disappointment.  It didn’t have LTE (something Android phones had since March of 2011) and looked identical to the iPhone 4. It moved to a dual-core processor, but Android phones had been dual-core for almost a year by this point.  It still had the best GPU of any phone on the market, but again the gap had been closed by phones like the Galaxy S II.  By the end of 2011 multiple Android smartphones had 720p screens, dual-core processors, state of the art GPU’s, more ram, removable batteries, sd card slots for expandable storage and LTE.  The iPhone 4S lacked many of these features and was no longer the undisputed leader of the smartphone market.

In many ways Apple is a victim of its own success.  The iPhone was years ahead of the curve, but it was inevitable that other manufacturers would catch up.  Over the last couple years that’s exactly what’s happened.  The backlash against the iPhone 5 stems from the fact that most people still think it’s light years ahead of the competition when that’s no longer the case.  In fact, in a lot of ways the iPhone 5 was catching up to the current crop of Android flagships.

Does that mean that the iPhone 5 is no longer one of the best phones on the market?  The answer is clearly no.  The iPhone 5 is an absolutely fantastic device and still one of the top phones available.  But the fact that it is one of the best, and not the best, is a relatively huge shift in the industry.

Apple has forced all the other manufacturers to step up and produce better phones, and the other companies have responded.  Now Apple needs to step it up with the iPhone 5S if they want to be the undisputed king again.  I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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