Monday, September 24, 2012, 07:04 am PT (10:04 am ET)
Review: Apple's iPhone 5 running iOS 6
Software features in iOS 6: Siri
The tight integration between iPhone hardware and iOS blurs the line between each. The camera, for example, has both hardware improvements as well as new software features, many of which are shared with earlier models. There are three competitive areas that Apple seemed to target in delivering iOS 6: new social connectivity with Siri. Photo Stream sharing and integration with Twitter and Facebook; the company's all new maps and navigation; and electronic purchasing in Passbook.
Siri has expanded its specialized knowledge base to provide useful answers to questions about sports, movies and restaurant reservations. Siri is an interesting example of extending the user interface with an assistance layer; that layer handles tasks such as creating an email, then hands the completed item to the referring app. This works well for calendar events, contacts, messages and notes, and is useful for pulling up new kinds of information such as game details, player stat cards, and movie listings.
However, Siri needs some refinement in some areas, particularly in the new movies, where you can look up what's playing and where, but once you find a theater it's not easy to see what else is playing at that location. Click on the theater in Siri's movies mini-app mode and you get a map and directions, which then leads you toward Yelp, where you get theater reviews but not what's playing.
Ask any question, and Siri's answer only hands around for a certain period of time, after which you have to ask it again to return to the answer. Siri hasn't seen the kind of advancement and third party extensions we hoped to see after a year, but at least it's making recognizable progress. It's also handy that you can now open apps with Siri, which seemed like an odd omission at launch.
Software features in iOS 6: Maps
Apple wrote the original mobile client app for Google Maps, but for iOS 6 it built out a huge project to replace Google's data, while also building a mobile turn by turn GPS navigation system for driving and walking, a 3D model Flyover mode similar to Google Earth, but with greater detail, and scalable 2D vector-based maps. It partnered with Yelp to provide local search, and began its own crowd-sourced system for real time traffic data.
Apple apparently didn't count on its critics and competitors jumping on the new Maps as being miserable, worthless, all around terrible and likely to get you lost. Nobody at Apple had any reason to think this would make global headlines, because the new Maps is a huge advancement in several respects over the old product powered by Google. It's not without flaw, but the majority of these flaws are Flyover rendering issues or missing or flawed place names, not problems that make the new maps unusable.
There's plenty of room for Apple to improve upon its global maps product, but the common media's convulsions about Maps has inched toward absurd. As with the Antennagate hysteria than greeted iPhone 4 or the war on Siri at the launch of iPhone 4S, those reporting in great detail how a series of place name flaws were discovered around the globe all seem to have forgotten about all of the blogs and tumblers that catalogued the comical flaws in Google Maps.
Most egregiously however, Google itself has jumped in with an attempt to propagate the notion that iOS 6 Maps will get you "iLost," something that doesn't really seem appropriate given that it was just a few years ago that CNET editor James Kim from San Francisco died while stranded in winter conditions, with his apparent reliance on Google Maps a contributing factor. Nobody was foolish enough to blame Google for Kim's tragic death, and Google should be smart enough to avoid similar associations, given that no GPS system's directions should be relied upon with one's life.
The fomented outrage about Maps, stoked by a small number of reports, is particularly nutty given that one can access Google Maps from the web. There are some growing pains for Maps, including the fact that there aren't yet third party apps to plug into for transit directions. There also aren't complete maps in all areas, nor many 3D models anywhere outside of the top U.S. metro areas. It is odd that Apple didn't add a bug button to report Maps errors, as it did in launching Safari 1.0.
But if you're judging iOS 6 Maps against iOS 5 Maps, it's hardly a comparison. Anything you liked better in the previous version (apart from the Street View that few people even seemed to know existed) can be accessed via Google's web app. The new parts Apple introduced, including 3D buildings, vector maps, turn by turn navigation, improved local search and traffic reports, will all continue to get better.
Software features in iOS 6: Passbook
Another notable software feature associated with the launch of iPhone 5 is Passbook. It deserves comment because of what iPhone 5 doesn't have: an NFC (near field communications) chip capable of authorizing tap to buy transactions. NFC isn't much of a feature. It replaces magnetic swipe cards or barcode coupons with a radio link that is similar to but not quite Bluetooth.
NFC is fraught with problems, the largest of which is that there's no unified standard. It's also a solution to issues that don't really exist. People don't want to tap rather than swipe their credit cards. As Square has shown, it's possible to arrange payments without even needing a card or number.
What Apple did with Passbook is address, in software, a variety of issues related with making secure purchases on an account, handling tickets and boarding passes, and delivering new features for coupons that lets apps combine several technologies to reach customers. Passbook is geolocation aware and can use push alerts to update items, providing interesting ways for third parties to handle passes, coupons, store credit and other secure electronic documents.
It's a sophisticated but simple approach to solving what NFC addresses with such problematic complexity that it's never really gained any traction. It's also available to all iOS 6 devices, which means tens of millions of users can begin using Passbook now, rather than slowly rolling out only on new phones outfitted with a special chip.
iPhone 5 in Review
The newest iPhone reimagines the world's most popular smartphone in a much improved package with faster speed, particularly in the area of mobile network compatibility. Apple spared little expense in producing the model, giving it a variety of both important and rather whimsical improvements that overall cost more than previous models. No need to worry about the company's bottom line however, as it will likely sell substantially more units of the device than it did with iPhone 4S.
Apple satisfied the primary complaints one could make about the iPhone when comparing it against high end competitors. The company also addressed issues that nobody had identified as areas needing to be fixed. And outside of technological improvements that will result in a new model next year, it's hard to point out any significant flaws in iPhone 5.
This is why comments are being focused on the new Lightning connector and the fact that users might want to buy an adaptor or extra cables, and the new Maps app: there's simply nothing to really dislike about the phone itself.
iOS 6: Rating 5 out of 5
A free download for exiting iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4/4S users: an awesome deal.
iPhone 4: Rating 2 out of 5
Cheap lower end alternative to iPhone 5, with limited 8GB storage and no Siri, no 3D Maps, no Panoramas, no 4G.
iPhone 4S: Rating 2 out of 5
Slightly cheaper than iPhone 5, but missing 4G LTE data, a much improved new case and larger screen and a variety of other substantial improvements. Hardly worth settling on to save $4 per month over a two year contract.
iPhone 5: Rating 4 out of 5
Best iPhone by far, and currently the world's fastest smartphone with a classy design, 4G support, a big bump in speed, and a taller new display.
- Solid construction and feel, very light with less fragile back
- Great battery life even when using LTE 4G
- A6 processor delivers lots of speed and better graphics
- Improved front facing camera
- Price competitive with similar smartphones
- New Lightning connector means you might need an adapter
- Some features require carrier support (voice codec, FaceTime over cellular)
Those upgrading to the iPhone 5 can also check out AppleInsider's breakdown of trade-in offers for previous-generation iPhones. A number of online providers offer cash in return for a used iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, or iPhone 4S, making the cost of the new iPhone 5 easier to afford.
On Topic: General
- Ousted Apple exec Scott Forstall reportedly advising startups, focusing on philanthropy
- Apple Stores offering free 'Hour of Code' development classes this Wednesday
- Apple joins Google, Microsoft, others in support of government surveillance reform
- Apple honors Nelson Mandela on company homepage
- In lieu of a Retina Thunderbolt Display, Apple now selling 4K IGZO Sharp LED monitor