September 13, 2012
So Apple took the wraps off the new iPhone 5 on Wednesday, revealing little new that hadn't trickled out through the rumor mill in the past few months. But the event did confirm that this is yet another nice upgrade.
I still don't know what to think about the new phone just being taller and not wider. This may have been a decision based a lot of not wanting to reduce the pixel density of the screen. Apple says it had a lot to do with holding the phone in your hand. I tried out a friend's Samsung phone that is a bit wider. I probably couldn't reach my thumb all the way to the right side holding it with my left, but I can't say that I do that much. I think the slightly larger keys available on a wider phone would've been nice, but it's not like the display is small and unpopular. Seeing the extended height in use on the Calendar app did make me appreciate the height. On my 4S, I can just see one event below the calendar. On the new one, you get more.
The really big addition to the phone was 4G LTE. Carriers running what I call "fake 4G" tried to claim that the last iPhone had 4G -- AT&T even got Apple to make the phone say "4G" when it connected to its slightly upgraded 3G network. If you talk to someone who isn't in phone marketing, 4G means LTE. The iPhone 5 has this now for AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Considering my Verizon 3G connection is usually blazing by at less than 1Mbps and LTE can theoretically go up to 100Mbps, I would call that an upgrade.
What may be lost in that debate is the improved WiFi connection as well. Recently I moved my home's WiFi base station, one made by Apple that has dual-band 802.11n. That means I can connect at 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. The 5Ghz frequency isn't as affected by other devices, which has made the WiFi connection on my iMac and iPad much better than my iPhone. This will probably be a help to many people, especially if you have any 2.4Ghz cordless phones sitting around or are in an apartment with a lot of 2.4Ghz networks.
The Apple Dock Connector got ditched in favor of the Lightning port. The fact that the Lightning connector will work both ways instead of the need to get lucky pointing it the right way the first time is worth the change. I was amazed by this change with car keys a decade or so ago, and I can't tell you how many times I have tried to plug in the old ADC connector but failed the first time because it was the "wrong" way. I haven't heard whether it would charge or transfer data any faster, which is a huge deal if you own one of the latest iPads. But the new port at least can't do worse.
Since I'm not upgrading myself unless someone drops a few hundred bucks in my hand -- yes, Verizon is more serious about you not getting another discount in 12 months on a new phone than AT&T -- the new EarPods headphones look intriguing. I love the old earbuds, but the surviving pairs I haven't destroyed have trouble putting the music at the right spot in my ear. When it's right, they sound great. But otherwise it can be like listening to AM radio. I plan to pick one of these up ASAP since they are already available.
The real upgrade will come from iOS 6, available next week for the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, iPad 2, new iPad and fourth-generation iPod touch. A lot of the new features you heard about are yours if you already own one of those devices. The enhanced Siri with better sports and dining information will be available on the iPhone 4S and new iPad. I just discovered that the new panoramic photo feature will be available on the iPhone 4S as well. It allows you to take a panoramic picture by slowly moving your phone across a subject. The software then merges multiple pictures into one panoramic shot. People sitting high at football stadiums, I await your use of this feature.
What I'm really really really really interested in is Passbook. I have less and less use for my wallet as time goes by. You have the obvious need to hold cash. But after that, with devices like the iPhone and other smartphones, do we need physical cards anymore?
I am already able to pay at Starbucks using my gold card by opening the app and letting the barista scan a code. I started doing this recently instead of digging out the actual card, and it works much better than it did a year or so ago. With Passbook built in to the operating system, it will now be able to open up a pass when you arrive at a certain spot. Apple showed a boarding pass notification coming up when arriving at an airport in its demo Wednesday. With the demos of baseball tickets, movie and concert tickets, store coupons, etc., this has great potential to make life easier.
What would be even nicer is if our insurance companies and DMV could adopt this technology so I wouldn't have to carry a physical driver's license or insurance cards anymore. You get to that point, plus get all these numerous store loyalty cards using Passbook or a similar service on competing phones, and all you will need is an iPhone case that carries cash.
Sign me up!
Phil Schiller wasn't kidding when he said everything was updated on this new iPhone. When he got to talking about the improved earphone and speaker, I knew he meant everything.
So if you're looking to upgrade your phone, this one looks like another winner. But if you have an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S, you should upgrade the operating system first to see if all your needs are satisfied. The iPhone 4 was the beginning of the retina display, which is the major feature I recommend the iPhone for nowadays. I kept telling people to stay away from the old 3GS because it was worth the extra $50 or $100 -- depending on the deal you could find -- to get the iPhone 4. Now the iPhone 4 is free, and the iPhone 4S with 16GB of storage is only $99. Apple's previous $99 phones have only had 8GB of storage, so that is one amazing deal if you don't want to spend the extra $100 to get the iPhone 5.
Michael Buckelew is a contributing writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post.
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Apple is holding an event in San Francisco during which it is announcing a new iPhone, capable of faster data speeds and sporting a taller screen.