I like my gadgets, and generally consider myself an early adopter. When my friends are looking at buying a new piece of technology, I’m the one they ask as they know I’ll either own it or have tried it.
So you might be surprised to learn that my phone is an iPhone 4S and that after yesterday’s unveiling of the 5s (no, I don’t know why it suddenly became lower-case either), I’m planning to wait for the iPhone 6 before upgrading.
It’s not that the 5s isn’t impressive from a purely technological viewpoint. It is. A 64-bit phone? That’s a pretty incredible achievement. Delegating sensor functions to a separate chip to enable constant use without the usual battery-drain? Brilliant. A truly state-of-the-art fingerprint sensor? Fantastic. A larger phone sensor with lower pixel-density? Exactly the right approach, and I was delighted to see Apple refusing to join in the stupid megapixel race.
But I’m still not going to buy one, and the reason for that is two-fold. Before I get to that, one piece of context. In the U.S., upgrading can be a no-brainer as you end up on the same tariff either way. In the UK, it’s better value long-term to buy the phone outright at full retail (around $1120 for the 64Gb 5s), so you have to balance incremental benefit over other gadgets you could buy with the same money – like a new iPad. So, back to those two reasons …
First, much as I love hi-tech solutions for their own sake, I still need to see practical benefit. While I am wowed by the 64-bit CPU, I can’t honestly think of a single occasion when I’ve been using an app and wishing my phone were faster. Perhaps I would if I were a gamer, but I’m generally not. My experience of using my 4S is that I touch a button and something happens. Mobile data delays, sure, but waiting for the processor to do something? Doesn’t ever happen for me.
It’s not like a laptop. The switch from 32-bit to 64-bit there was night-and-day with some tasks, like processing lots of photos and video editing. But those processor-intensive operations aren’t the kind of thing I do on my phone.
The M7 co-processor really is a piece of genius. If you’re not familiar with the concept, normally the CPU – the A7 chip in this case – does pretty much all of the work. Not just running apps, but also all the background stuff too: keeping track of the phone’s orientation, looking out for new wifi networks to join, that kind of stuff. What the 5s does is have a separate chip to take care of the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. For example, if you’re running a fitness app, instead of the CPU being active the whole time, collecting that data and passing it to the app, the M7 chip simply logs it all and makes it available later to any app on demand. That means the A7 chip has less to do, and you get better battery life.
Fantastic. But in my typical usage, it’s rare for me to run out of battery life. My office is at home, and I have an iPhone dock in my car, so the phone generally only needs to operate on battery power for a few hours at a time. There are exceptions, but for most of those the 4S still copes – and there are battery-cases for the few times they are needed (like cycling holidays).
Fingerprint sensors aren’t new, and they have even made it into phones before, but the 5s one is incredibly advanced. With many fingerprint sensors, you have to roll your finger across them, and the finger has to be in a consistent orientation. With the 5s sensor, all you do is touch, and it offers 360-degree recognition, so it doesn’t matter how you are holding the phone or how you apply your finger.
I love that. But it’s not enough. Give me fingerprint-protected NFC, so I can leave my wallet at home and only carry my phone, and I’d have been setting up camp outside my local Apple Store. Let me unlock my banking app and Paypal account and I’d have been pretty tempted. But just to unlock my phone? That’s a waste of good technology.
That new phone sensor and f/2.2 lens? Ok, Apple, I admit you did tempt me there. While everyone else crams in more and more pointless megapixels to a tiny sensor just so they can put an impressive-sounding number on the box, you actually understand photography. You know that once you have enough megapixels to produce a decent-sized print (and honestly, even 4MP achieves that), what matters is the quality of those pixels. And for quality, sensor size is king. Couple that with a wide-aperture lens to let in as much light as possible and you have a camera that will be incredibly capable in low-light conditions.
But when I want to take proper photographs, I use my DSLR. My iPhone is what I use for snapshots, where it’s about the memory rather than the art. Improved quality is always good, of course, even for snapshots, but it’s not a massive selling point for me.
The new styling? Hmm, sorry, Jony, it’s pretty and all, and you’ve achieved an absolute miracle in creating a non-tacky-looking gold phone, but I honestly prefer my all-black 4S.
All of which brings us to the second reason I won’t be buying one. My two-year-old iPhone 4S still looks new. It still looks modern. It still performs beautifully. The buttons and switch all work perfectly. The attention to detail and manufacturing quality that made it a winner then leave it still a winner today. In short, if I were to walk into a phone store today and buy my 4S, I’d be happy with my purchase.
You got me to upgrade from the iPhone 4 to the 4S. Siri did that. But I’ll be able to get the iOS 7 goodness on the 18th just like those who’ve splashed out on the 5s, and there’s nothing else I want enough to join them. In essence, Apple, by creating a quality phone and then allowing me to update it to the latest software two years later, you’ve cost yourself a sale.
But then that’s also the reason I’ll likely still be a customer many years from now. Long-term, Apple’s strategy is bang on the money.
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